PARALEGAL TIDBIT: Confidently negotiate specific terms of your employment.

I recommend that all paralegals keep abreast of paralegal salaries in your geographical location and your specialty area.  There are a number of national and local associations which make this information available on their web sites.  Make it your business to collect, tag or bookmark this information for easy and quick reference.   Virtual paralegals should network with other virtual assistants and paralegals for this information.

When I interviewed for my position and negotiated my salary, I was so excited about getting back in the legal profession that I failed to nail down some important specifics.  I accepted a starting salary at the lower end of my expectations.  I guess I expected that would be necessary to get my foot back in the door.  It was my mistake when I failed to discuss when that initial salary review would occur to get me back up to current market levels.  I also should have discussed annual salary and performance reviews.

At that point in time, I already knew I was going to re-take the certification exam with NALA, and this was discussed in general terms.  Again, I failed to negotiate the specific terms of how my future employer would (or would not) support my career goals.  Their idea of support and my idea turned out to be two very different perspectives.  I accept responsibility for that lack of communication.  It was important to me, and I should have made a specific reasonable request.

Before accepting the position, ask for a complete tour of the office.  Take a look at the office/workspace where you will be working.  Ask to see the offices of the primary attorneys you will be working with.  Sometimes first impressions can be very revealing  Don’t walk into a new job like a blind date!

PARALEGAL TIDBIT: When searching for a paralegal position, contact your local bar associations to determine if they have a legal placement service.

Once I felt sufficiently updated on my computer skills and was happy with my resume, I began my search for a paralegal/legal assistant position.  I was armed with a good reference letter from my old boss in Texas.  One of my first contacts was the placement service for the local County Bar Association.  I emailed my resume to the director, and then we met to discuss my career goals.  The director then arranged several interviews and before I knew it, I had my opportunity to re-enter the law firm setting.

When searching for a paralegal position, contact your local bar associations to determine if they have a legal placement service.  If no official service is available through the bar association, make your availability and background known to the Bar officers by sending your resume with a letter. You never know when they might have the inside scoop on a new position opening.

Network, network, network!!!

PARALEGAL TIDBIT: Always keep your resume updated.

Updating your resume can be a daunting task!  The old one I pulled out of my career file looked…well, shall we say old and outdated.  It was! While the main content of a resume may be similar, resume styles have certainly improved.  That alone is a reflection on your ability and professionalism.

I went back to Google and began searching paralegal resumes.  I found some samples and began making changes.  A word of caution here!  All forms found on the internet need to be carefully reviewed and critiqued by you.  Your resume should reflect your professional style.  Use that form as a starting place.  I also suggest you begin reading articles by attorney Sally Kane at About.com:  Legal Careers.  My understanding of the current paralegal job market began to expand as I read paralegal career articles.

Always keep your written resume updated as you learn new skills and gain new experience. In fact, you should schedule that update process on your calendar.  If you suddenly lost your job and needed to look for a new one, it would be difficult to recapture with clarity all of your accomplishments and skills.  Once a case is behind you, some of the details begin to fade.  The same truth applies to the use of our skills.

Begin building an online resume and professional network at LinkedIn.com.  Professional relationships matter.  You can build a network of professional relationships from the people you talk with every day.  They do not have to be your boss!  As noted in several paralegal blogs recently, it is important to build your network before you need it!

Related Article:  Paralegal Students “Using LinkedIn:  It’s a No-Brainer”

Beware of Online Sample Paralegal Resumes

PARALEGAL TIDBIT: Refresh your computer skills.

A friend told me about Lynda.com for software training.  There are literally thousands of training videos you can watch for many different software programs and computer applications.  Lynda has now added a certificate program which you can use as documentation that you have completed certain training.  I signed up for the no-contract month-to-month plan and began work on those computer skills.  I now know there are number of similar computer training web sites.  I’m sure some have advantages over others.  The important thing:  Pick one and begin updating your skills! And don’t forget to update that resume noting that recent training has been completed!

PARALEGAL TIDBIT: Add minutes to your day by learning software shortcuts.

If you want to be successful in the paralegal world, it is imperative that you stay abreast of technology changes.  That is not an easy task!  Every single day brings new advances, new devices, software updates, and new tech terminology.  I realized this will be an ongoing task — computers are here to stay, in one form or another.   I began noting the software skills listed in the local professional job listings.  Law offices in my area were using some version of WordPerfect or Microsoft Word.

I recently read that the time required to edit the formatting of a legal document could be cut from several hours to minutes if the assistant had originally used the application’s style tool.  Skills and shortcuts within each software application are endless.  Read a help topic or watch a tutorial video to learn at least one new shortcut each week.  You will add minutes to every day!

PARALEGAL TIDBIT: The paralegal profession is constantly changing!

In the fall of 2008 I registered with NALA again for that frightening exam, and I’m happy to report that in May, 2009, I learned I am once again “certified”.  This time I’m opting for the designation of Certified Paralegal.  The legal landscape is changing — the paralegal landscape is changing.  A new landscape requires a title change, don’t you think?

The paralegal profession is constantly changing.  Don’t fight it, embrace it!  There are now more opportunities than ever for paralegals!

PARALEGAL TIDBIT: When you identify a paralegal blog you like, subscribe for updates by email or RSS feed.

The paralegal landscape seems to be changing daily.  As I chronicle my own journey to become relevant in today’s legal world, my desire is to connect with other legal professionals and share what I’m learning.  I’ve been networking and making some new friends! I have identified a number of paralegal blogs, attorney blogs and technology blogs that I want to follow on a regular basis.  By subscribing to the updates by email or RSS feed (a/k/a Really Simple Syndication), I will not miss a single post!  In the next few days I will begin revealing my favorite blogs.

Paralegal Gateway.Com has added a really cool paralegal toolbar which you can download.  It keeps many of your favorite resources right at your fingertips, including Paralegal Blogs and Paralegal Tweeps.  Check it out!

PARALEGAL TIDBIT: Paralegal associations offer webinars, teleclasses and live conferences

I did Google searches for the terms legal assistant and paralegal.  Then I added Legal Assistant Today (LAT) and National Association of Legal Assistants (NALA).  I was already familiar with these organizations.  Much to my delight I found that technology was on my side because there was a wealth of information available on the internet.  Numerous web sites provide free information to individuals willing to make a time investment.  There are numerous webinars, e-courses and teleclasses available at reasonable rates.  My mind began racing with possibilities and excitement!  Paralegal associations offer webinars, teleclasses and live conferences.  Check for local and national associations.  By joining their membership, you often will acquire a discount on meetings and classes!

PARALEGAL TIDBIT: Legal dictionaries are available online and as cell phone applications

So, what if you have lost touch with the constantly changing legal field during those years at home? Where do you begin to find your open door back into this fast-paced professional arena? How do I plug myself in? When I left the profession, there were almost no electronic court filings (ECF). Email communication with clients and opposing counsel was in the early stages. “E-Discovery” and digital data were non-existent in my everyday litigation world.

Where do I start?

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