10 Ways to Sink Your Paralegal Career - Guaranteed

Surprise2It's a game, really, this business of careers.  If you think about it, every move should be strategic,  every decision made carefully, and  each accidental event acknowledged as it affects your outcome.  To top it off, the results are win, lose or draw. 

Why we make the bad choices we do can sometimes be thrown into the mystery category but other times, it's because we're just plain unaware that these actions (or non-actions) are guiding the outcome of our careers.

Here are 10 top reasons why your career may be stalled, dead-ended or become routine and repetitious:

1.           You Are Your Own Worst Career Manager

If you don't watch out for your career and goals, no one else will and you may become a candidate for right-sizing, downsizing, merging or purging. A critical task for all paralegals is to examine your current skills.  Check current job listings to find out what you may be missing. You must identify and evaluate your skills to determine if they are still relevant and in demand. If your skills are not relevant, are in low demand or if you have gaps in your skills, start making a plan to update them immediately.  Your action plan might entail self-education, classes or a new or additional practice specialty. Develop and implement this plan with realistic and measurable objectives that will solidify and enhance your skills. This holds true for professional knowledge as well. Read trade journals, paralegal publications (KNOW, the Magazine for Paralegals is a good one- www.paralegalknowledge.com), attend conferences, take online courses (avoid travel and expense), learn what new products vendors are offering; join your local paralegal association; attend office meetings, read law blogs, and join forums.   

2.         Breadth, Not Depth of Skills

You do not want to be a one-trick pony. In today's paralegal field, there is a greater emphasis on the breadth of your skills not just on the depth. Many new and emerging technologies and practice specialties have recently emerged.  Law firms expect you know in-depth about many things instead of the old, "knowing just a little about a lot of things."  Skills are now a blend of what were once separate and distinct. As an example, litigation paralegals are now expected to not only understand the process of litigation but to thoroughly understand eDiscovery and related technology.  In most cases, you cannot have just one skill. This means it is the breadth, not the depth of knowledge and experience that wins - or keeps - paralegal jobs. Ask yourself, “Why set myself up for extinction?”     

3.         Don't Be a SMEL (Subject Matter Expert on Life)

We all know these folks - the ones who have the answer to everything.  They’re annoying, really.  There is a vast difference between self-confidence and overwhelming arrogance; the former can be an asset, whereas the latter can be a career buster. If you are viewed as unable to work as a team player (either from your end or your colleagues refusal to work with you) you can be creating a Resume Generating Event (RGE)  and promoting yourself as a candidate straight into the career-ending avenue of the field. If you find that managers and coworkers are making excuses to avoid working with you, wake up!  Do not make a habit of claiming sole credit (or pass the blame on to others) for the success of an assignment. Make sure others are mentioned. Seek input from your team; your colleagues will not only feel as if they have contributed to the project but may surprise you with unique solutions.

4.         Not Being a Tall Tree

You want to be noticed in a positive manner. Do not try to blend into your paralegal department to avoid attention. Even though the economy appears to be recovering, layoffs have not diminished and consolidations, mergers and splitting up are still occurring.  Don't try to go unnoticed.  Even though it may seem to be a good idea; it most likely will backfire. Be noticed, but in the right context. Becoming more proactive, showing initiative, motivation and participation is important. Be positive. High-profile assignments at your firm can offer a prime opportunity to prove your value and demonstrate unique skills to attorneys and supervisors. Don’t be shy about acknowledging your achievements and be sure they are known by higher authorities.

5.         The Living Resume

You’ll hear over and over to keep your resume up-to-date. There must be a good reason. Your resume may be viewed by people who are not familiar with the paralegal position nor your specialty, so you need to sell yourself (and a resume is your sales brochure) in non-technical terms. Describe the scope and types of projects that you've worked on. While providing examples and quantifying the success of the project is a good idea, don’t go overboard!  For example, saying that you worked on a winning team in a $6 million award is one thing but  to claim victory as the sole hero is not too kosher.  

The accuracy of your resume is important. There is always the temptation to "enhance" your education, accomplishments, titles and roles. If a prospective employer investigates the veracity of your resume, you might have a potential career-ending situation. If you are not an expert on a particular skill as stated in your resume, you will have a hard time fulfilling that role once on the job.  Busted again!

6.         The Written Word (and Picture) Remains

What you write in emails and instant messaging can be used both for and against you. It is very easy to send a message, but will that message be received and understood by your recipient with the same intent you had sent the message? This message is a permanent record of communication, which may be archived under State and Federal mandates. Under the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, all electronic correspondence can be used as evidence in legal proceedings, both for and against you. There is an assumption that electronic communication is private between you and your recipient, unless the recipient decides to forward on to someone. If you must discuss personal or confidential matters, this might be a time to use a phone or discuss it in person. Any inappropriate emails, texts or pictures (even if just forwarded) may become a Resume Generating Event.

7.         Don't Burn Those Bridges

What a temptation it is to “tell all” in the exit interview!  Telling your boss and colleagues what you really felt about them, particularly when you’re angry, is a potential future career buster. People talk to other people. Good references must always be available.  Bear in mind that the paralegal profession is a very small world. Any comments you Tweet, Blog or post on a Social Network site (positive and negative) are easily searchable. You don’t know when you will need a former boss or colleague to help you land a great position, so don’t alienate them. Your reputation is a precious commodity, one that you do not want placed in jeopardy.

8.         Don't Disconnect or Isolate

The reach of social networks and professional sites should not be underestimated – even for paralegals. Take a look at LinkedIn.  It is quite common for contacts to see if you are on LinkedIn or Facebook. There is some current controversy over potential employers who invite candidates for an interview and during the interview, ask for their Facebook password.  These potential employers want to see what you’re really saying now before you have a chance to cover up some of the not-so-great stuff. However, you are doing yourself a professional disservice by not creating an account on these sites. You do not have to be an avid Facebook or Twitter fan and create 5 posts a day. Besides, it cuts into billable time. You do need the visibility for your professional reputation. These sites are perfect for updating professional activity. It’s just no longer possible to remain a paralegal wallflower and advance your career.  That’s sooo ‘90’s.

9.         Technical Complacency, Ignorance or Denial

Never make the assumption that you have all the computer skills you need. New technologies are emerging at a furious rate and to remain relevant, you need to learn these new skills. The latest hot field is the Cloud (and also the Private Cloud) along with Predictive Coding.  Law firms are now clamoring for paralegals that have these skills. On the other hand, demand for support staff is rapidly diminishing as support for desktop OS is almost over. If you want to have a viable career and you do not want to worry about becoming extinct; find out what your firm is currently utilizing or find out from legal software vendors what is coming up. They have a handle on it. If you don't learn new skills, you run the risk of getting a reputation as technologically incompetent. 

Check out the Organization of Legal Professionals  eDiscovery certification exam and its upcoming Litigation Support Certification exam. Also, check out the Paralegal Knowledge Institute  for webinars and excellent online, interactive paralegal continuing legal ed courses.

10.       Lack of Soft/People Skills

In today’s market, paralegals that assume simply having updated skills will give them a ticket to career advancement, have their heads buried deep in the sand.  Today, the successful paralegal also has to have excellent people and communication skills. We all know of the paralegal that walks on water – can do any assignment, in fact.  But there are times when it is the paralegal that walks on the grass who is promoted over the water walker. This is due to soft skills. Paralegals with excellent communication skills, that interact with colleagues, clients and attorneys, are those in demand. If you want to move into the ranks of the MVPs (Most Valuable Paralegal), get involved in areas that emphasize your people skills in addition to your paralegal skills.

Above all, be responsible for your own career.  Being the master of your ship instead denying what’s going on at the helm, guarantees a move forward in a growing, changing and fantastic journey.

(With thanks to Randy Muller, MCT, MCTS, MCSE, CEH's for inspiration from his article.)


"Deleting embarrassing e-mails isn't easy, experts say"

So, you think those embarrassing emails sent to the computer's trash can are truly deleted, right? Uh, no:

"If Karl Rove or other White House staffers tried to delete sensitive e-mails from their computers, experts said, investigators usually could recover all or most of them.

"The House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform is investigating whether the White House or the Republican National Committee erased 'a large volume of e-mails' that may be related to the firings of eight U.S. attorneys.

[snip]

"Deleting a document or e-mail doesn't remove the file from a computer's hard drive or a backup server. The only thing that's erased is the address - known as a 'pointer' - indicating where the file is stored.

"It's like 'removing an index card in a library,' said Robert Guinaugh, a senior partner at CyberControls LLC, a data forensic-support company in Barrington, Ill. 'You take the card out, but the book is still on the shelf.'"


DOJ Official Brings Storm by Taking the Fifth

Fired US Attorneys, revealing emails, testimony before Congress, & pleading the 5th, oh my! This Law.com article has key details:

"Taking the Fifth Amendment is everybody's right. But it's a choice that can send up a red flag, often invoked by people who have something to hide. Think of Enron's Andrew Fastow and Iran-Contra's Oliver North.

"So when Monica Goodling said last week that she would refuse to talk to Congress about the firing of eight U.S. Attorneys, it was hard not to wonder what this 33-year-old party loyalist may have done wrong.

"Her pre-emptive move (Congress has yet to issue a subpoena) immediately raised questions, innuendo and gossip: Was she trying to avoid incriminating herself in a crime (and if so, what crime?), or, as her attorneys claimed, was she merely afraid that in the 'perilous' partisan environment, even an innocent witness could end up in trouble?

"Some D.C. defense lawyers remain puzzled by Goodling's strategy. Few would publicly criticize her, but some said that the decision ultimately draws more attention to Goodling instead of her superiors, who are ultimately Congress' target."

What do you think about this whole situation?


Five Strategies Key to Reducing Litigation Costs

Yay! Having several methods for cutting the costs of litigation is good news indeed:

"Smoking-gun documents and emails have been at the heart of the world's best known corporate legal battles, but the risks of information in litigation have suddenly grown with new U.S. Federal guidelines for e-discovery. How can companies get a handle on the exploding volume of online content to better address the costs and risks of litigation? Open Text Corporation (NASDAQ: OTEX, TSX: OTC), a leading provider of software that helps companies manage their growing stores of emails and documents, today released a list of five key technology strategies for litigation and e-discovery readiness that can help companies be as prepared in the courtroom as in the boardroom.

[snip]

"Open Text Executive Vice President Bill Forquer [scroll down for bio] sees some advantages in the new rules. 'Certainly, there are new risks and new challenges but the amendments add clarity. They create a sense of urgency and a mandate for companies to have good information management practices in their organizations.'

[snip]

"According to Forquer, these five key strategies can make all the difference:

"Define defensible policies: Map the governing regulations and internal requirements to the process of identifying what email or document constitutes a record. What is and isn't a record? How long should a record be kept or how long must it be kept? Does it need to be stored on a specific media? Kept in a specific location? Do your policies take into account metadata associated with records?"

Above is just one of the five outlined....


"How a County Attorney's Office Is Streamlining E-Discovery"

Hmm, sure sounds like this vendor might be worth investigating:

"While the revised Federal Rules of Civil Procedure pertaining to electronic discovery that hit the books in December may have caused headaches for many in the legal profession, some discovered unexpected benefits. Case in point: the Nassau County Attorney's Office in New York, which implemented new technology to meet the updated requirements and found that it made e-discovery more efficient than expected.

"Nassau County deployed Clearwell's Intelligence Platform -- a program applied to e-mail and electronic documents that automates the analysis, culling and review process -- in February, to comply with the amendments to the FRCP rules 16, 26, 34 and 37. Those rules now require anyone who can be involved in litigation in federal court to retain electronic records -- such as e-mails, instant messages and text documents -- and be able to retrieve them. The rules also require all parties to present a description of all electronically stored information within 99 days of the beginning of a legal case.

[snip]

"'The whole idea about searching to data is a complete transformation from the way we used to do things,' [said Peter Reinharz, chief managing attorney for the Nassau County Attorney's Office]. In the past, e-mail retrieval was turned over to the county's IT department, which would assign someone to isolate items from backup media and conduct manual searches. 'It was very labor-intensive for our IT department, so it was both cumbersome and costly,' he said.

"'Now, he said, any attorney can easily conduct Boolean searches and sift through PST files with a much greater degree of focus. And the IT department is thrilled.'"


"Paralegals and Smartphones"

I'm not saying you should buy a smartphone, but the Indiana Paralegal Association rightly points out the value of quick email replies:

"I am willing to go out on a limb with this one, but I have come to the conclusion that smartphones are quickly becoming a requirement for paralegals. Whether we like it or not, we live in a world of invisible fences and constant communication (as one of my collegues constantly reminds me). Several weeks ago, I finally broke down and purchased the Samsung Blackjack smart phone (I highly recommend this phone to anyone interested in a slim smart phone)."


"RIM announces Blackberry 8800"

Yay! It's way past time to get a new Blackberry, isn't it?

"Research in Motion (RIM) today announced a new Blackberry smartphone. The new 8800 merges the form factor of the traditional Blackberry with the piano-black design of the 8100. The new phone comes with integrated GPS and a n illuminated 'Pearl' trackball.

"Other than the original 8100 Pearl, the 8800 tries to appeal to traditional Blackberry customers with a security-focused, but enhanced feature set. As the original Blackberry devices, the 8800 is wider than the 8100 and offers a full QWERTY keyboard."

Oh yeah, it's stylish!


'What’s in an e-mail sign-off?'

It's sometimes hard to write meaningful letters, but email communication is even more challenging:

"CHAD TROUTWINE, an entrepreneur in Malibu, Calif., was negotiating a commercial lease earlier this year for a building he owns in the Midwest. Though talks began well, they soon grew rocky. The telltale sign that things had truly devolved? The sign-offs on the e-mail exchanges with his prospective tenant.

"'As negotiations started to break down, the sign-offs started to get decidedly shorter and cooler,' Mr. Troutwine recalled. 'In the beginning it was like, ‘I look forward to speaking with you soon’ and ‘Warmest regards,’ and by the end it was just ‘Best.’ ' The deal was eventually completed, but Mr. Troutwine still felt as if he had been snubbed.

"What’s in an e-mail sign-off? A lot, apparently. Those final few words above your name are where relationships and hierarchies are established, and where what is written in the body of the message can be clarified or undermined. In the days before electronic communication, the formalities of a letter, either business or personal, were taught to every third-grader; sign-offs — from 'Sincerely' to 'Yours truly' to 'Love' — came to mind without much effort.

"But e-mail is a casual medium, and its conventions are scarcely a decade old. They are still evolving, often awkwardly. It is common for business messages to appear entirely in lower case, and many rapid-fire correspondences evolve from formal to intimate in a few back-and-forths.

[snip]

"'So many people are not clear communicators,' said Judith Kallos, creator of NetManners.com [link in article], a site dedicated to online etiquette, and author of 'Because Netiquette Matters.' To be clear about what an e-mail message is trying to say, and about what is implied as well as what is stated, 'the reader is left looking at everything from the greeting to the closing for clues,' she said."