• How can paralegals maintain their profession’s highly valued niche within the legal system?
  • How do paralegals enhance their individual value to law firms and legal departments?
  • What behaviors decrease their value?
  • How can paralegals collectively enhance their profession for those following in their footsteps?

How Can Paralegals as a Profession Maintain Their Highly Valued Niche

  1. Love what you do, respect your employer and co-workers and have empathy and compassion for those who really pay your wages … the clients. And, if you don’t…well, how can you be helping to enhance your profession?!
  2. Always make the effort and take the time to ensure the glamorous and not-so-glamorous parts of your job are done right the first time. Any true professional understands and does this.  They also know professionalism is not something we turn on and off at the office door…it is a 24/7 commitment.
  3. Encourage risk management, marketing, conflict resolution, stress management & appropriate technology know-how (e.g. proper and professional use of social media and within parameters of firm’s internet policies) as must-have knowledge and skills for all paralegals. Include these critical topics in all CLE programs…all! Don’t consider them subject matters for just the attorneys, IT folks or others to know…these are critical areas to every office and paralegals must become more knowledgeable and learned in all these areas.
  4. Respect the contributions of all others working within the legal system regardless of their title or designated low place on the totem pole.
  5. Police yourselves (e.g. if you know a paralegal is engaged in unethical or criminal activities, get help from the appropriate persons to ensure they are stopped sooner than later).
  6. Do not accept same old, same old CLE programs as enough for meeting the Bar’s annual CLE requirement….be progressive, broad-minded and attentive when it comes to offering programs of interest, value and excellent learning opportunities for all paralegals.  Ditto re seeking speaking opportunities at attorney CLE programs to teach subjects such as: Working Effectively With Your Paralegals; The Value of Paralegals in Family Law Practices, Criminal Law, Corporate Legal Departments, etc. Ditto re community speaking opportunities…help educate the public regarding how to work efficiently and successfully with their attorneys and legal staff, what paralegals do, etc.
  7. Delegate if you’re fortunate enough to have that option…by effectively delegating yourself, you will be demonstrating first hand to any attorneys who are not good delegators the value of trust, respect for others and delegation.
  8. Be proud of being State Bar certified if you have successfully achieved this goal, but do not assume a better-than-thou attitude regarding non-certified paralegals.  Instead, work together on opportunities to share data and tools rather than forming cliques or trying to distance yourselves as the “real” paralegals via that ol’ egotistic pedestal. What nonsense….anyone –regardless of their titles or degrees — working for a law office or legal department should be bringing value to it or they shouldn’t be there.
  9. Build a solid foundation for all those following in your footsteps via thoughtful succession planning for future paralegals and the profession’s future leaders.
  10. Be willing to do any and all legal staff jobs necessary when extra hands are needed….your paralegal skills are critically valuable to attorneys and expected….employees MOST valued, however, regardless of titles or certifications are those known for their willingness to do what’s in the firm’s best interest with a great attitude and in spite of it not being in their job description (you know, however, that this does NOT include the unauthorized practice of law!)

How Paralegals Can Enhance Their Individual Value

  1. Have the courage to look in the mirror often & to make changes as and when needed (i.e. Pros/Cons checklists regarding personal strengths and weaknesses and your job’s positives and negatives).
  2. Initiate (e.g. firm doesn’t have social media policy? Draft one for consideration) and be innovative, creative, and resourceful (and hold onto a good sense of humor too…a must-have for everyone working within the legal system!)
  3. Be an excellent team player, leader and follower when appropriate.
  4. Know, respect and work within the ethical rules and other related regulations, not putting one’s head in the sand if malpractice or ethical violations are likely or already occurring, and at all times avoiding even the appearance of the unauthorized practice of law.
  5. Never quit using well-designed checklists to help minimize the chance of human errors and never quit learning new things and honing our skills.
  6. Communicate clearly and respectfully with attorneys, co-workers, third parties and clients (this includes being attentive listeners)..by the way, dress in a professional manner too…you’re at the office, not a cocktail party!
  7. Go beyond traditional expectations when it comes to writing skills (e.g. pleadings, correspondence, contracts); learn how to professionally, effectively and ethically use social media, blog, create excellent website content, etc.
  8. Be solution seekers vs. contributors to gossip pollution or the fallout of unresolved disputes.
  9. Brainstorm and apply ways to save the firm or legal department money.
  10. Create, implement and closely monitor strategic plans for your professional and personal lives.
  11. Do what’s necessary to maintain good mental and physical health.
  12. Possess and demonstrate consistently positive, can do/ will do attitudes.

Behaviors that Decrease a Paralegal’s (and any Employee’s!) Value?

  1. Verbally abusive (e.g. gossipers, whiners, criticizers)
  2. Resistance or down-right refusal to learn new systems, technology, etc.
  3. Insecure, shows little or no initiative, requires too much hand-holding
  4. Overly defensive to constructive feedback
  5. Jealous of co-workers’ successes
  6. Enjoy stirring up conflict rather than avoiding or resolving it
  7. What’s-in-it-for-me attitudes vs. what’s best for the clients, firm
  8. It’s-not-my-job attitudes (I.e. non-team players)
  9. Holier-than-thou attitudes with other employees
  10. Think they know more than anyone else including the attorneys
  11. Unhealthy habits (e.g. workaholic, little or no exercise, poor stress management)
  12. Too busy whining, being negative to stay focused properly on the moment and task at hand

Enhancing The Profession for Future Paralegals

  1. Each and every paralegal must work hard at enhancing their value to firms and legal departments by behaving as noted above and more.
  2. Paralegals should collectively and unselfishly do things today that will create long-term payoffs for future professionals — payoffs that may not be reaped until after the “planners” themselves have passed the torch and retired.
  3. Work well collectively overcoming jealousies and pre-judgments that impede real progress (i.e. ditch the negative “layers” — the politics, cliques, insecurities and non-productive attitudes)
  4. Assign tasks in association work based on strengths and skills vs. seniority and select leaders with characteristics needed for effective leadership
  5. Love what you do, respect your employer and co-workers and have empathy and compassion for those who really pay your wages … the  client.*

*Warning — If you don’t or can’t feel the love, respect, empathy and compassion noted in #5 above, you just may need to change employers and/or professions asap!

Related Materials:

Staff Plays Key Role in Law Firm’s Survival in Tough Times

Workplace Gripes? Quit Complaining, Start Resolving

Checklist for Managing Stress (Short Version!) and My Top 4 Stress Management Tips

Our Mental Health and Toxic People

Morale Busters and Boosters

My Problems with the Word, “Non-Lawyer” and Related Links

Attire in the Workplace (and oh-so-sexy Voicemail Greetings too…another one of my sore spots!)

Lawyers Lives Out of Control = Ethics Violation #1 , Hidden Dangers in Law Firms & Other Articles

About the author 

Nancy Byerly Jones

Nancy Byerly Jones and her husband reside on their mountainside ranch (“Little Hee Haw Farm”) with an energetic “family” of horses, donkeys (large and miniature), dogs and cats. Their favorite pastime is sharing the joy and fun of their animals and ranch life with their family, friends and clients.

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