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.)


The Florida Paralegal by Wm Statsky, Robert Diotalevi and Pam McCoy Linquist

Man carrying documents They send me books.  Lots and lots of books. Who??? you're asking?  The publishers, that's who.  They seem to think that we're going to review every book that's come our way.  I haven't gotten to Ludicrous Laws & Mindless Misdemeanors yet.  The Inspiration Factor was uninspiring and Fame 101 was content -free.  What the heck did they expect me to do with The Florida Paralegal, I ask you.

Turns out that The Florida Paralegal, a resource guide written by William P. Statsky, Robert N. Diotalevi and Pam McCoy Linquist could be a very good textbook.  I would prefer that the layout and design made more sense.  The book serves as a reference containing a great deal of information that is essential for paralegals. It is Internet-rich with resources that will help paralegals in many aspects of their day-to-day classes and jobs.  Even if you're not in Florida, you'll find this book helpful when dealing with cases out-of-state.

Statsky, of course, is the prom writer of paralegal text books.  Hardly anyone these days goes through a paralegal course without running into at least one Statsky book.  I remember meeting Bill at a Los Angeles Paralegal Meeting some years ago that took place in the Marina del Rey.  When I finally realized who was speaking, I was blown away.  Here was a good-looking guy wearing tight jeans, a camel color sports jacket and boots  He had the bluest eyes I had ever seen.  Addressing the audience, he took command and showed up as a real leader. Because he had written so many books at that time, I was expecting someone else entirely.  Someone well, scholarly perhaps.  Tweed jacket with leather elbows, that sort of thing.  Ever since that meeting, he and I have kept up via e-mail.  Flash forward and now, I have a picture of him with his grandkids.  I'm not sure where the time has gone - except I still see that good-looking guy with the sports jacket and jeans, blond hair rippling in the wind, blue eyes twinkling.....wait! Snap out of it, Estrin!  But I digress here.

The book is a good resource for paralegals in every state.  It is Internet-rich with resources that will help paralegals in many aspects of their day-to-day responsibilities.  Some key features:

  • Introduces the reader to the paralegal career in Florida
  • Provides a comprehensive legal dictionary
  • Provides ethical opinions governing paralegals
  • Covers the unauthorized practice of law in the state
  • Explains the judicial, legislative and executive structure of Florida government
  • Provides time lines for typical civil and criminal cases in Florida courts
  • Provides examples of local citation rules

It is a text book.  However, if you are a practicing paralegal, you're going to want to have this book on your desk in arm's reach.  It can help you shine as a paralegal and serves as a mecca of information for those searching to get the assignment absolutely, positively correct.

Delmar Cengage
ISBN 13 978-1-4180-1292-2.
560 pages
Purchase: www,ichapters.com


"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.'"


Paralegals staff voting question 'hotlines'

Helping people vote legally & successfully is a good thing:

"South Carolina voters will have a lot of company at the polls on Election Day as several groups say they will watch for problems across the state.

[snip]

"The U.S. Justice Department will dispatch more than 800 observers nationwide, a record for a non-presidential election year, but will not make an announcement about where poll watchers will be located until Monday, agency spokeswoman Cynthia Magnuson said Friday.

"Meanwhile, several voter groups will document voting problems and a task force made up of U.S. attorneys and FBI agents will investigate any allegations of election fraud.

"The poll watchers will be looking for incidents like when several students, were turned away momentarily from a precinct at Benedict College in 2004 after poll watchers affiliated with the Republican Party contested the legality of their vote.

[snip]

"In addition to having volunteers at the polls, voters who encounter problems can call 866-OUR-VOTE as part of a national effort organized by the Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights Under Law.

"Callers to the hotline will reach a legal assistant trained in South Carolina election law. If the caller needs immediate legal attention, it will be routed to Columbia, where attorneys will be standing by."


"The Making of a Public Records Researcher"

This most helpful article was written by Genie Tyburski of The Virtual Chase:

"What constitutes public record, public information and private information sometimes is as clear as mud. (For a discussion of the differences, see The Art of Public Records Research.) [link in article] In a recent e-mail exchange concerning a proposal for a distant education course for journalism students on public records research, one professor expressed concern that students wouldn't have access to commercial databases containing personal information. She also commented that drivers' records 'are available to private investigators, but not to reporters.' How, then, should the faculty handle the instruction of the use of such records in journalism research?

"In a nutshell, students and journalists don't have full access to commercial personal information aggregators because the vendors forbid it. Arguably, these groups would not have a permissible use for the data protected by two major privacy laws – the Gramm-Leach-Bliley Act and the Drivers' Privacy Protection Act. But, just because journalists don't have access to private or sensitive information through these research systems, doesn't mean they can't find what they seek – legally."

Originally published in The CyberSkeptic's Guide to Internet Research (February 2006).


"Celebrity Brockovich plaintiff in 2 suits"

We're in favor of legal assistants righting wrongs...& making big money:

"Erin Brockovich, the resourceful legal assistant made famous by Hollywood's depiction of her epic fight against Pacific Gas & Electric, now is going after two of San Diego's largest hospital operators.

"She is the plaintiff in a pair of lawsuits filed recently in San Diego Superior Court that claim Scripps Health and Sharp HealthCare charged Medicare millions of dollars for fixing mistakes made by hospital staffers.

"The suits allege that the federal government's health insurance program for the elderly wrongly paid for treating infections, injuries, botched operations and illnesses.

[snip]

"The San Diego cases are among 40 suits filed across the country in recent weeks by two law firms seeking to capitalize on a federal law that lets individuals sue on behalf of the federal government to recoup Medicare overpayments.

"The suits seek reimbursement of those costs to Medicare, an amount that could reach into the billions of dollars according to one calculation. That money could help offset some of the skyrocketing costs predicted for the health insurance program in the coming years, according to Brockovich's lawyers.

[snip]

"Brockovich and the lawyers involved could pocket millions of dollars by sharing in reinbursement and damages ordered by the courts."