Whether you want to believe it or not, professional growth is entirely up to the individual. It is not the responsibility of the law firm to ensure that your career and knowledge is extended.
Paralegal Managers and paralegals who refuse to take responsibility for their own growth wonder why they are passed over for higher level assignments and promotions. It's simple. These folks do not understand the tactical techniques necessary in order to grow professionally step-by-step-by-step. They are of the opinion that if they get noticed, they will automatically ascend into Paralegal Heaven.
A good example is set by the very nature of attending school. All you need to do is dress accordingly, be nice to your fellow students, do your homework and you are automatically promoted into the next grade. That's what we are taught. When we enter the adult world, we are shocked to find it's another story entirely.
Here is one proven technique I have used for 20+ years that will show you how to climb the paralegal ladder that is most often, a horizontal climb outward not a vertical climb upward.
A calendar memo is one of the most important tools for saving time, upgrading assignments and educating attorneys about your capabilities in a non-confrontational manner. Presenting a memo on a regular basis reinforces your position, telling attorneys (1) what you can do and (2) suggest assignments you have never done but know you can do it (or find out how to do it).
A calendar memo is based on the firm's master calendar. By checking the master calendar, you will be aware of all events well in advance of their occurrence. You will see events that could involve paralegals, even if your firm has never utilized a paralegal for that assignment.
Let's say that you see that a document production in the ACME case will occur in three weeks. Send a standard deposition calendar memo to the attorney on the case. The memo lists all of the assignments a paralegal in your firm can perform in regard to a deposition. The memo also includes assignments paralegals do not yet perform but could.
a) Acts a forerunner to a work plan
b) Gently gets the attorney to think ahead regarding your involvement,
c) Alerts you in advance of what's coming.
Here's how one might look:
In Acme vs. Acme, a document production is scheduled at 9:00 a.m. on Wednesday, June 3rd. In order to advance plan for this event, please check the areas in which you will need paralegal assistance.
(Then list everything that a paralegal could possibly do such as:)
Prepare a Meet and Confer
Prepare a Litigation Hold
Select appropriate software
Set up database
Prepare response to demand for inspection
Prepare privilege list
Prepare motion for protective order (something that paralegals are never
asked to do at your firm)
See me (good if checked because the paralegal has a face-to-face meeting)
You're probably going to have to send these out several times before you get a response. Gradually, attorneys will check something off as they see that this is now standard operating procedure. You will have educated them as to what paralegals (and you) can do. They will give you a chance because it is in writing. Therefore, it must be so. (Big belief by lawyers.) Don't confuse the Calendar Memo with a "Uses and Abuses of Paralegals" memo that simply lists what your job description says.
Gradually, you will experience an outward movement towards professional growth in upwardly sophisticated assignments leading to other positions such as Case Manager, International Manager of Paralegals, Practice Support Director, senior paralegal and more. The most important thing you can do is get the title. That's even more important than a raise when it comes to professional growth. Reason? If the firm now fails to move you up, you can take that title with you.
Chere Estrin is the CEO of Paralegal Knowledge Institute. She is a co-founding member of IPMA and has written 10 books on the paralegal career. She has been quoted in Newsweek, Chicago Tribune, Los Angeles Times, and other prestigious publications. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.