Virtual Legal Assistant - Is This Your Magical Career?

Woman.at deskWhen you work as a Virtual Legal Assistant, you can choose to work as an employee or you can set up your own business. There are pros and cons to each arrangement. When you work as an employee, you don't have to invest any money up front or find your own clients, but your pay rate, work hours, and how you work will be more restricted. When you work as an entrepreneur, you face other challenges.


Over in Decatur, Georgia, Katrina Johnson sits back in her chair and smiles broadly. Her eyes are bright as she recounts her success story as a Virtual Legal Assistant and starting her business: ABC Virtual Assistant Services. “I am a 40-year old single mom with a profound passion to help others fulfill their entrepreneurial dreams. My purpose is to help those who have the desire and idea but lack the knowledge to get their business off the ground. I have worked in the legal field for approximately 15 years and have acquired a lot of knowledge that I don't mind sharing with others to get them on the road to becoming their own boss.”


Wow! Someone with the talent, knowledge and expertise to help newcomers reach new heights along a new career journey. Talking to Katrina, you have to wonder how she started her successful Virtual Legal Assistant business. Here is a motivated, talented woman succeeding in a hot new cottage industry.


“The idea for my business was birthed back in 2016 but was halted when my father fell ill and my mother needed my support and assistance in caring for him. While my father's health was failing, he was and still is my biggest cheerleader. I shared my idea with him before his health got critical. He was excited at the idea of me working for myself, which made me want to move things along faster. I lost my Dad in February 2017 and decided that once I was financially able, I would pull the trigger on starting my business. That day came to pass in January 2018 and I have not looked back since the start of my business."

Going into business was a longtime desire. Her childhood was not an easy path. “I grew up in East Lake Meadows, one of the harshest and crime ridden government housing developments, formerly in Atlanta, Georgia; the housing project has since been revamped”, she says. “I decided one day that I wanted to be a go-to person for small businesses. I figured since I had been so successful working with other small business over the years, it seemed like a no brainer to go into business for myself, aiding smaller business or start up. I felt like I had a plethora of knowledge, patience, and attention to detail, all things I feel are imperative in running and operating a small business. I decided that I wanted more control of my time. I did not want to go back to school, so after much research and critical thinking, the field of virtual assistance found me.”


What does it take to become a Virtual Legal Assistant? “I have worked as a Personal Injury Paralegal, a Real Estate Closer/Pre-Closer, Administrative Assistant and Data Entry Clerk,” she says, “and also for a very small time, a cashier at AutoZone. I researched this specialty thoroughly on Google before entering.”


As with many paralegals, no one really says, “When I grow up, I want to be a paralegal.” That is like saying, “When I grow up, I want to be an actuary.” So, what did Kristina think she would be when she first started out? “I always felt like I was destined for a grander purpose and I felt by deciding to venture out onto the entrepreneurial playing field, the worst-case scenario was, I failed. In my many years, I have culminated the ideal that failure is a part of the path to success and that if I don't try, nothing happens.”


There are ups and downs in any career. What is the most interesting aspect of her job? “The most interesting thing about my job is that I get to meet phenomenal people with their eyes set on their passion. I get to be in on the ground floor of someone's lifelong dream coming to fruition and that is a feeling for which I do not have words.”

While the Virtual Legal Assistant handles many different and diversified assignments, helping clients to succeed is one of the primary high points of the career. “I am presently in negotiations with a client who desires to start a staffing service. I have helped her, on a preliminary basis, by engaging in a bit of research on her target market, her competition, and her Secretary of State licensing information,” she says. “I feel that a lot of people lose their desire to start their own business because of the "hindrance" called administrative tasks. While I understand that, that should not be a deterrent. I like to put myself in a situation where my clients handle the meat and I take care of the sides, giving them an opportunity to focus of the product or service they are selling.”

What does she dislike the most? Ah, the consummate politically correct answer: “The only thing that I dislike is that there are only 24 hours in a day. My clients are awesome!!”

A critical strategy for Virtual Legal Assistants is to continuously analyze the growth pattern of the business. “I am satisfied with where things are. Along with the clients I have now, I am looking forward to obtaining more. With the use of craigslist.org and word-of-mouth, I anticipate that I will be getting more clients very soon. At present, I am serving three clients, two attorneys and a small business on the horizon from the ground up. Because I only started my business in January 2018, I have already excelled past my original goal of getting at least one client within the first 6 months.”

Planning the future is an important strategy. “In the future, I would like to move into doing some business consultations where I am brought in to advise a business on how they can operate more efficiently, less costly, and how to generate more revenue.”

The career is not without its challenges. Katrina’s biggest challenge is juggling being a full time Mom. “It can be a bit challenging,” she says, “but Mom is my most important role and I make it work. I make it work well.”

Katrina is sensible about starting a Virtual Legal Assistant business. “Starting my business has not been costly at all. In fact, the most expensive thing I have paid for since I started my business is my credentials to start my business. I used Legal Zoom and I've already seen what I paid Legal Zoom ten-fold.”

What advice does she have for someone getting into this arena? “Be patient, understanding, and steadfast. I love what I do and I can't wait to start the next chapter of Business Consultations.”

16 Websites to Help You Find a Virtual Assistant Position
Where do you find virtual assistant jobs? Whenever you are working as a virtual assistant, you are going to have to find virtual assistant jobs for yourself. Thankfully, this is something that you can do online if you know where to look.

There are a number of free job listing websites that will list virtual assistant jobs. This may not be the best way to find a Virtual Legal Assistant job as few seem to be listed. However, a good, diligent search will uncover several. Many of the jobs that you will find on these websites are small, short jobs that need to be done quickly. While this can be a great way to build up your skills and get your name out there, these jobs are not going to pay you a lot of money. Be careful that a number of these websites charge a small fee. This fee will either need to be paid whenever you get the job or once the job has been completed.

While there are many websites for finding virtual assistant jobs, there are none strictly for Virtua Legal Assistants. These websites are seeking Virtual Assistants already set up in their own businesses to join with them.

Here are just a few you can explore and register your new business or apply as a Virtual Legal Assistant:

24/7 Virtual Assistant 
Assistant Match 
Belay 
VaVa Vitual Assistants 
People Per Hour 
Fancy Hands 
Freelancer 
FlexJobs 
Guru
Red Butler 
Time Etc. 
Uassist.Me
Upwork
Virtual Assistant USA 
Virtual Staff Finder 
Zirtual 


Create a Website
In order to find a Virtual Legal Assistant job, you are going to first need to create a website. The website can simply list your qualifications, contact information and payment terms and a list of what you can do including specialties. It doesn't have to be anything fancy or flashy but a simple, professional-looking website to help you obtain clients.


Don't Underestimate Referrals
Make sure that you communicate with your clients. Remember, it is different whenever you work from home because your "boss" cannot see you hard at work. It is important to make sure that you respond to your client's emails and phone calls promptly. By doing so, you will create trust, put your client at ease and show that you really are a competent online Virtual Legal Assistant. Make sure that you provide high quality work and meet all critical deadlines. Whenever you know that you have done these things and that your client is a happy camper, ask them to give you a referral. This way, you will be able to help your business continue to expand.


Make Networking a Regular Part of Business Development
It is important to join at least three networking groups, either online or in person, because no one will know that your business exists unless you get the word out. You can find these groups on Google. Network with paralegal associations, Bar Associations, and other related organizations such as the ALA - Association of Legal Administrators.
Get on Facebook and LinkedIn. Find related groups who can use your services. Think in terms of hanging out where attorneys and hiring authorities are most likely to be found.


Spend Time Marketing Yourself
Make sure to consistently market your virtual legal assistant business. Find websites that will allow your resume to be viewed by numerous businesses. While these websites may charge you a small fee, this can be a great option because it will allow serious long-term employers to find you. Utilize social media. If you don’t know how, find someone who can show you.


Check Out Other Virtual Assistant Websites
Take time to look at other similar websites. Many will tell you if they are looking for a virtual assistant.
You are going to need to be patient whenever you are looking for online Virtual Legal Assistant jobs. In most instances, it may take between four to six months to land your first client.


Starting down the path to a new career can be fun, risky and rewarding all at the same time. With the trend towards working from home growing by leaps and bounds every year, this new career can ultimately offer you a missing element from your present situation. Investigate and discover for yourself whether this journey is right for you. And who knows? Here may be the magic career path you have ultimately been seeking!

Chere Estrin is the CEO of Estrin Legal Staffing; CEO of the Paralegal Knowledge Institute and President of The Organization of Legal Professionals. She can be reached at chere@estrinlegalstaffing.com. 


Are You Playing A Good Game? How to Improve Your Career and Move to the Major Leagues


BicyclesBy Chere B. Estrin


Have you ever participated professionally in a competitive sport? Are you familiar with the approaches in which professionals train for one? If you look deeply, you will see a strong resemblance in principal to sports and the legal professional field. The reality is, if we focus on the actual mechanics of what we do over a period of time, we can see that we receive results through our reflexes.

Throughout our working day, we continually encounter a multitude of seemingly minor circumstances, objections or stop-gaps that require us to respond, perhaps by additional probing questions, perhaps with rebuttals. If these situations are handled properly, we gain additional information or we overcome the objection or stop-gap and proceed to our next step. Does this always happen? No. But to the degree we do respond with maximum effectiveness, we improve our production considerably...with no extra time in the office, on the phone or hammering out lengthy emails to attorneys who don’t want to hear about it anyway.

Consider it. An attorney says she has an assignment for you that has impossible deadlines but you can’t help her. The IT department cannot assist you immediately. Clients say they can’t reach your attorneys but you have no answer for them. You are having trouble meeting billable hours and it’s because the firm doesn’t have enough work. Several times a day we encounter situations where we might respond a bit better. But do we? Maybe. But if, as it has been said, baseball is a game of inches, getting our best results is a game of improving the odds by enhancing your skills in terms of how you respond to the situation.

DEVELOPING NEW REFLEXES

Sharpening your reflexes is a two-step process that can be repeated indefinitely as you see additional areas to improve your performance.

The first, of course, is identifying the areas where sharper reflexes will result in incremental upward career mobility. This could mean increased billable hours, improved and more sophisticated assignments, even a promotion. This does not have to only include obvious areas such as getting the assignment correct from the beginning. Are you glancing at the assignment and not delving in-depth as to what it is about? Are you doing routine and repetitious work and wondering why you are getting bored with your job? Do you ask questions to elicit more specific information rather than making statements? These also are considered reflexes.

WHERE TO FOCUS

Your first step is obviously to narrow your focus. Don't think you can just say "I need to do better" and leave it at that. You must train like a professional athlete. What does that mean?

There is a major difference between how amateurs and professionals train. An amateur just does more of his sport. For example, Kate plays more soccer or tennis or Brian runs more often. By doing so, they may improve slowly, but will never progress past their amateur level. We call this “victims of empty-loading.” It is the same as saying, “I am going to upgrade my career.” So instead of summarizing six depositions a week, you summarize twelve. More of the same with no improvement or upward movement.

A professional determines which specific area he needs to improve, and then spends time focusing on precisely that arena.

To do so, you must find your weak spots which is not always an easy task.

SELF-REFLECTION

Initially, ask yourself where you could improve. Over the years, chances are you've noticed or been told about certain improvement areas, and have said to yourself "I need to work on that." Have you? Probably. But has the problem been fully corrected? Maybe not.

TAP INTO YOUR MANAGER- A MAJOR RESOURCE

If you have a manager, it's a mistake to think that she can't help you. If you haven't indicated a willingness to improve, she may just be concentrating on new people or those who ask for help. Tell her you're ready to learn more and ask for assistance. Have a plan ready as to how to get the help you need.

If you are the manager, ask your most effective legal professional, HR manager or attorney for some suggestions. He won't think you're "showing weakness" by asking for help; he'll respect you for wanting to improve...and he should.

ANALYZE YOUR CALLS

Professional athletes record and evaluate their performances all the time to improve. You should, too. Consider recording your voice and what goes on in a phone call. Fifteen minutes a day, three days a week, listening to your own calls after hours will get any experienced legal professional realizing where you can improve.

Be aware there are laws in California and other states against recording two-way calls without consent. If you live in one of the states, you may be able to record only your voice.

Alternatively, you can take notes during your conversations. Jot down notes while the conversation is taking place. Not only the answers to your questions. That’s not what you are after. Instead: What specifically did you ask? How did you ask the question?

Notes and Numbers

Have a brightly-colored sheet of paper on your desk (so it doesn't get lost in the stacks). Whenever something happens that you feel you didn't handle particularly well, write it down. Keep doing it. Over the course of a few weeks, a pattern is most likely to emerge. Did your time get written-off again? Do you know why? This technique can track your performance via self-evaluation.

Don't concentrate only on the words that you say. The manner of your response or your reaction is not to be overlooked. It can be changed to equally enhance your production.

HOW TO IMPROVE

Notes on Your Phone

Take a look at your computer. Is there a note on it relating to improved performance? If not, you're missing an easy way to improve. Reflexes are habits. Habits, to change, require ongoing reminders. Put a new Post-it on your computer every week. Don't just leave it there until you have forgotten about it. Change notes regularly or, if it is the same note, change paper colors. Pick a date to change the note: Say, every Monday, the note gets changed.

While brief pieces of "script" are certainly possible, it is more likely that these will reflect your manner of presentation and broad principles. Some examples might be "slow your pace", "ask more probing questions", "listen more carefully" or "reinforce what you heard."

Role-Playing
No matter how good an athlete is, she practices. No matter how good a musician is, he practices -- every day. Do you?

Role-playing is our equivalent of practicing, and it will benefit you, the experienced legal professional, just as much as an entry-level. It is also likely to help you identify specific areas in which you need to improve.

Let's take an example. Your role-playing partner, playing the "part" of the attorney or supervisor, is giving you an assignment. In answer to your question, she replies that she just wants the assignment on Thursday and gives you very little information as to how to accomplish the task. Do you reinforce and ask for specifics? "Kim, I understand what you are saying. However, specifically what are you looking for? What resources do you recommend?” Or did you just say "OK" and go on to the next question on your list?

Don't make excuses and don't let your role-playing partner do so. You are creating a habit. And if you make a mistake in role-playing, there's a good chance that you are making it constantly when receiving assignments.

Consider Teaching or Speaking Engagements

Take it from the originators: Aristotle once said that "the truest knowledge of an art is achieved only by teaching it." You don't need to teach this field; you just need to do it. But teaching a subject or giving a talk on it will force you to organize your thoughts, consider the problem and the solution in depth, and formalize your knowledge. It also looks great on your resume.

Maximizing Your Commute

Serious professional-level athletes do not always "eat, sleep and breathe" their sport. But they do come close. So should you.
If you commute to work, you already know that it is not the most exciting or pleasant part of the day. Particularly, if you live in a major metropolitan city and encounter heavy traffic that has gotten incredibly worse over the years. Yet, there are excellent benefits you can achieve during this everyday time that is not going to disappear.

A 30-minute morning commute amounts to a solid ten hours a month of time spent driving to work. A 15-minute commute equals 5 hours a month. The time before you sit down at your desk sets up your attitude for the business day. Sign up for webinars and if you don’t attend the live session, listen in the car.

Is skill improvement the responsibility of managers to deliver to legal professionals? Probably. However, waiting for this event to happen can stall your career. Skill improvement is an individual responsibility and investing in yourself can pay huge dividends.

We always have to quote someone in the know: Andrew Carnegie wrote that a career is made or marred in hours after formal work is done. That’s true for you as well as you commit to improving your legal professional career. And, concentration on your career after hours is a great way to go.

THE LAST WORD

No matter how talented or experienced you are, meaningful career improvement is possible. Accomplishing it will not only give you a sense of upward movement - the hallmark of a successful person - it will make you a better legal professional, promote your journey and get you out of stagnating, career inhibiting situations. It just takes a little effort, change in attitude and a fresh outlook! 

Chere Estrin is the CEO of Estrin Legal Staffing; CEO of the Paralegal Knowledge Institute and President of the Organization of Legal Professionals, a non-profit eDiscovery training organization. She is the author of 10 books on the legal career and hundreds of articles; a national seminar speaker; Recipient of the Los Angeles Paralegal Lifetime Achievement Award; an Inc. Magazine Entrepreneur of the Year Finalist; former legal professional administrator and senior executive in a $5 billion corporation. She has been written up in Newsweek, the Chicago Tribune, the Los Angeles Times, Daily Journal and other publications. Her blog, The Estrin Report, has been around since 2005. Reach out to her at chere@estrinlegalstaffing.com


5 Biggest Networking Mistakes Guaranteed to Stall Your Career

Networking demands skill, talent and a knack for risk taking.

Woman.reddish brown hair.glassesNetworking. How many times have we heard it? It’s like saying, “bless you” when you sneeze. It has, in a sense, lost its real meaning.

No matter how you tweet, link, face, or gram, you have to succumb these days if you want to avoid career suicide. With all this online socializing, however, your knack for meeting strangers one-on-one (probably the best networking tool of all) gets rusty and pushed into the background of your skills.

There's no such thing as accidental networking. Networking is a mission. When you're headed to a function to meet and greet people who can further your career, you have a strong sense of Purpose. Even a chance meeting can provide a networking opportunity.

Once you discover that new acquaintances have professional power, you instantaneously decide to make the meeting worthwhile. There's no real secret to it. Most people, myself included, hate to admit we network because then we reveal we're actually using the world's greatest career-building trick. Maybe we think it smacks of cheating. You know you do it; I know you do it; others know you do it; and you read that you're supposed to do it, but somehow you deny you're doing it. I mean, only the etiquettely-challenged would introduce themselves by saying, "Hi, I'm Jane. I'm here to network." Yikes.

How you network can make all the difference in your career success. If you want to get ahead, your networking skills have to be sharp, savvy and yes, leveraged in such a way to propel you forward. Otherwise, you pretty much run the risk of getting overlooked for promotions, considered as a great candidate for a new job or spotlights that assist your career such as speaking and writing engagements.


When given a choice, people will always do business with people they know or with a person that has come highly recommended by a valued and trusted member of their network. The benefits to networking are endless but you have to be good at it. Really, really, good. Great networking improves your ROI on:

• Friendship benefits: You’ll make new friends that last for a lifetime.
• Receiving and giving advice: You’ll get viewed as an expert.
• Opportunities: Whether you garner upward career mobility or are making a move, employers want people who are highly recommended from others in like or supervisory positions. Your network can give you that.
• Assistance on the job: You have somewhere to go for assistance, suggestions, referrals and you even have someone covering your back or giving you a heads-up when you goof.
• Positive influence: You become who you associate with.

Here are five of the biggest networking mistakes you can make:

Mistake #1. Avoid a great profile on LinkedIn:
LinkedIn is your biggest advantage for entry into good, solid social networking. It has become the winning social media tool for career networking. Whether you are trying to grow your reach, find content or explore opportunities, this virtual meeting vehicle is the first and last stop for many professionals. The latest trend is for employers to view your LinkedIn profile at the same time they review your resume. Potential contacts who can give you career help will also check you out first on LinkedIn.

One of the biggest mistakes people make is to assume that LinkedIn is only good if you are seeking a new job. Not so. It gives legitimacy to your current position. You may network with someone who will seek out your LinkedIn profile to find out more about the professional you. However, you will generate no interest without an interesting and dynamic summary. LinkedIn is not a playback of your resume. To attract contacts, you’ll need to demonstrate your personality, take on the business world and show your worldliness. If you want to be taken seriously, you cannot go without a full and professionally written LinkedIn profile. You will receive requests to connect and you should learn to reach out to others to grow your network.

Here’s an example: Personally, I have almost 19,000 followers. I reach into my network frequently. The list is rich with people who can help refer me to others for questions, articles, resources, candidates, employers, referrals, and questions I am asked but don’t have answers. Not so long ago, someone from Washington DC called me in Los Angeles. They needed a temporary litigation support paralegal in Denver. I was able to reach into my network and find someone within 15 minutes of the call at 7:00 pm.


Facebook is good. However, it is generally thought of for social, not professional use. You can get a little crazy on Facebook and distill your professional image. Although employers are “not supposed” to view Facebook, my bet is they are on it. It’s a fantastic networking tool but make sure you distinguish family and real friends from your professional network. Think about setting up a professional page designated for the sole purpose of career networking.


Mistake #2. Don’t go to association meetings, seminars and get-togethers.
It’s one thing to join your association. It’s another to work the networking advantages it brings. Face-to-face encounters render far longer benefits than an occasional email to someone you have never met. People tend to remember you. What will you learn from association networking? What’s happening in your community, new techniques, where the jobs are, the latest software, trends, what firm is doing what (so you can take that information back to your firm and be valuable to management), salaries, and important events. It’s a great way to stay current, uncover “hot buttons” in your field and who knows? You might even have a little fun and make good friends.

Mistake #3. Be sure to alienate every recruiter who calls you. In fact, stand them up when you book an interview. 
Networking needs to include recruiters. Connect with them. They are invaluable. They hold the key to hundreds of contacts: HR, managing partners, CEO’s, COOs, VP’s, supervisors, in-house legal counsel, legal service providers, colleagues, educators, speakers, other paralegals, and more. They know salaries, firms, trends, statistics, economics, and in particular, where the field is headed. In fact, they often know if your firm is in trouble before you do. Why? Managers are calling them, replacing people, perhaps talking about outplacing services. It might be they are witnessing a number of attorneys from your firm who want to leave – only the recruiter knows about it, not you.

Don’t be so smug if a recruiter calls or emails you about a new position. I can’t tell you how many times people ignore the call or treat the recruiter abysmally only to wake up a short time later to the news their firm is laying off, merging or otherwise purging. Then what? Do you know where to go? You think back. “Oh! I’ll call that recruiter who called me about that job.” Right. Try calling them back after you have snubbed or stood them up. Most likely, they won’t take the call or if they do, it is mostly likely will be with misgivings as to how you will behave professionally with their clients.  That’s not exactly an auspicious way to start a relationship with a key holder to a new position.

Mistake #4. Don’t network with colleagues in your firm.
One of the biggest mistakes professionals make is that they are networked in social media; go to association meetings; build a network; and reach out into the community but neglect to network within their own firm!  If you're able to build rapport with hiring authorities at your firm, you can be the first to find out about forthcoming internal promotions and great assignments and strategically position yourself for growth.

Similarly, you may discover the firm is opening a new satellite office in your dream destination, and if you're connected with the right person, you could get a head start on applying for the transfer. You can also be first in line for the juicier cases and matters, and because of your relationship, be thought of first in terms of utilization.

Who do you know? Some of the most important people to connect with are the conduits to the power in your firm. That is, someone who can speak for your job category. Network with colleagues, partners, associates, managers, administrators, staff – be sure to include everyone. In one firm I worked with, I got my best information from the receptionist who answered all the phones. People can tell you what’s going on in your own firm. You’ll get noticed. Everyone wants to be with a winner that people respect. Hanging out alone in your office or cubicle will not get you advanced up the ladder.

Mistake #5. Ignore the benefits of networking.
You can benefit as your contacts develop. Continuing to build new relationships and nurture existing contacts can be hugely beneficial to you as members of your network grow into the next phases of their career.

Success stories such as Ralph Lauren, Mark Cuban, and Jeff Bezos all rose from modest starts. You can be sure those who showed them support with no agenda during their growing pains enjoyed the ride once these icons’ careers exploded.

The key is to keep your networking process going without needing to ask for anything in return. Show genuine interest in other people and their hopes, wants, dreams and desires. Ask questions they would be excited to answer. Listen carefully to what they say and you'll have surrounded yourself with a circle of people who would not only be willing but excited to help take your career to the next level.

Chere Estrin is the CEO of Estrin Legal Staffing; President & Co-Founding member of the Organization of Legal Professionals, CEO of the Paralegal Knowledge Institute and a national seminar speaker. She is a former Paralegal Administrator for two major law firms. Chere has written 10 books on legal careers, hundreds of articles and has been written up in national publications such as the Los Angeles Times, Chicago Trib and Newsweek. She is a Los Angeles Paralegal Association Lifetime Achievement Recipient; a Los Angeles/Century City Chamber of Commerce Woman of Achievement Recipient; co-founding member of the International Practice Management Association and a former exec in law firms and a $5 billion corporation. Her blog, The Estrin Report, has been around since 2005. Talk to her at chere@estrinlegalstaffing.com.

 


How to Become a Virtual Legal Assistant

Career changeIs there a brand new career just waiting for you?

What exactly is a Virtual Assistant or VA? Simply put, a VA is someone who works remotely, online whether from their home or office. They are independent contractors or employees who work and use technology to deliver services. They provide administrative, technical, social media and creative services to clients.

Virtual assistants specialize in various industries such as marketing, real estate, accounting, law or financial services. Firms often hire virtual assistants to save money. They don't pay for the assistant's equipment (including computers), training, overhead, dues, materials, furniture, office space, taxes (if hired as an independent contractor), parking, or insurance.

What Do Virtual Assistants Do?

As a Virtual Assistant, you can do a variety of tasks. You can become a generalist or specialize in a legal specialty such as bankruptcy, litigation, real estate, estate planning or corporate. The Internet has made it possible to do a wide variety of things remotely, or, “virtually.”

A lot of people hear “virtual assistance” and think only of administrative tasks like typing and answering emails. But the range of tasks VAs do is much broader: There are countless services you can provide virtually. Here is a partial list:
• Email management
• Correspondence
• Answer phones
• Calendar management
• Travel arrangement
• Writing
• Ghostwriting
• Graphic design / creation
• Web design / development
• Researching
• Editing
• Audio / video / photo editing
• Consulting / counseling / coaching
• Bookkeeping
• Copywriting
• Marketing / Promotion
• Social media management
• Project management
• Customer service
• Transcription
• Programming
• App development
• Data entry
• Legal: Prepare litigation, estate planning, bankruptcy, corporate, real estate, family law, immigration and other practice specialty documents, schedule events and calendar management for law firms and attorneys; audit letters; handle correspondence; intake; anything and everything a legal secretary can do.

Before you close the door to your cubicle, pack up those Bekins boxes and head out for a bold new life, there are plenty of issues you’ll need to consider. A Virtual Assistant can choose two options: you can be an employee for a company or you can start your own business.

Dawn Draper graduated from Davenport University in 2003 with a Bachelor of Science and major in Paralegal Studies. “I worked as a paralegal “in-house” for 11-years, she says, “and although I found it very rewarding, I chose a different career path as a paralegal in the wireless telecommunications industry for about one-year. I soon realized I missed working in the legal field, but at the same time wanted to own my own business. In January 2008, I began researching the world of virtual assistants. I was amazed to find paralegals working virtually from their homes for document preparation services and law firms performing the same work, with the physical exception of putting files into a filing cabinet, as I did when working in-house. I made my decision to venture out into the virtual world of law as it seemed cost-effective and time-effective both for the attorneys and me.”

Finding Virtual Assistant Jobs with Employers

Let’s start with the fascinating discovery of Virtual Assistant jobs that are available through employers. This up and coming brand new avenue to positions is rapidly becoming a new career path for legal assistants. According to Virtual Vocations, (www.virtualvocations.com) a website offering a legal category, just a few opportunities you can land working for a law firm or company include:

• Telecommuting Trademark Clearance Paralegal
• Virtual Law Enforcement Transcriber
• Virtual Typist Legal Transcriptionist
• Paid Legal Intern
• Attorney Auditor: Review legal and non-legal invoices for services provided to insurance carriers for corporate legal departments.
• Compliance Paralegal
• Virtual Legal Writer: Work for a publishing firms. Core responsibilities include contributing well-written, informative articles to company's websites.
• Junior Legal Operations Analyst in Phoenix
• Legal Web Content Writer: A staffing agency needs an individual to deliver custom Web pages for customer's website products. Provide quick turnaround and be flexible.
• Freelance Legal Translator/Editor
• Sr. Legal Editor in New York City. Candidates will be responsible for reviewing Practical Law resources related to representing public companies in securities offerings and M&A transactions.
• Paralegal: Conduct legal research and initial case assessments. Requirements include: 5+ years of experience as a paralegal. Experience with transactional, family law, bankruptcy and/or probate experience required.
• Legal Secretary: A boutique civil litigation firm in Downtown San Francisco is looking for a part- time, remote litigation secretary. The ideal candidate will commute to the office once a week.
• Legal Application Analyst in New York City: A staffing agency is filling a position for a Bilingual English and Spanish Analyst. Create, modify, test, and maintain queries against data for topical view databases.
• Trusts & Estates Secretary: A well-known, international law firm in San Francisco is in search of an experienced secretary for 60% corporate and 40% probate.
• Remote Intake Paralegal in West Palm Beach: Must be able to assist on personal injury matter type cases. Work with medical providers to get medical records.
• Virtual Technical Assistance Manager - Nationwide position working remotely.

Starting Your Own Business
You can start your own business as a Virtual Paralegal or Legal Assistant. There are many different services you can offer, but even something more to consider is who would you like to work for? While some legal VAs are generalists and work on a wide variety of tasks, it's easier and more lucrative to choose a practice specialty. Figuring out what specialty you want to focus on can be a challenge, but if you mind-map your passions, interests, experience, and knowledge you can narrow it down relatively easy. Stick with your expertise.

When you set up your own business, you have more flexibility with scheduling, choosing clients, and setting your rates, but you'll also have to find your own clients, set up your business, and pay self-employment taxes. Setting up a virtual assistance business is easy and has relatively low start-up costs.

Some items you'll need to get started with are a phone line or cell phone, a computer, high-speed internet access, a printer, fax, and scanner, and a website to market your business. You can set up a website easily. There are several websites you can use such as WIX or WordPress that are very inexpensive and easy to use. Be sure to make your website as professional and “big-time” as possible. Your clients will judge your expertise on how professional you look. A rinky-dink website is not going to bring you a plethora of clients.

You will also need access to the mainstream software used by most law firms or know these programs inside and out. Just a few are:
• Word
• WordPerfect (Yes, some firms are still on WordPerfect)
• PowerPoint
• SharePoint
• Excel
• Relativity
• iManage
• Compulaw
• Chrome River
• Accounting software
• Summation
• Concordance
• Outlook
• Time Matters
• Essential Forms
• World Dox
• Lexis/Nexis Westlaw
• Juris
• Corporate Focus
• Legal Master
• Workshare, Worksite, ProLaw, Abacus, Adobe Acrobat, Conversion PDF to Word/Word to PDF, iBlaze

You will need to be proficient in styles in Word and up-to-date in the latest versions of almost all software. Don’t know the latest in some of the litigation support software and headed in that direction? Check out the websites. Relativity, (www.relativity.com) for example, has a website where you can take free tutorials.

You will also need to be very familiar with social media: Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook, Instagram, YouTube, Snapchat. Your clients may need you to know these. You should have Skype or FaceTime to talk with your clients face-to-face. You need to be able to text them. They should feel they can reach you easily and without stress.

It is important that you understand how to run a business. While you don’t have to have an MBA or draft a five-year plan, you do need to understand cash flow, accounts receivable, billing, accounts payable, how to balance a checkbook and other accounting and marketing functions. Your success doesn’t “just happen” because you set up a website and away you go!
“In order to effectively succeed as a virtual paralegal,” says Draper. “You have at least 5 years of experience in a law firm as a paralegal or secretary with at least a legal assistant or a paralegal certificate. Most attorneys I have spoken or worked with have raised the education and experience issue which is an absolute must to all of them. You must be able to provide services both locally and nationally to succeed. So, you would have to have the ability to follow state and local rules and procedures for any state you provide services to an attorney in.”

Do You Have What It Takes?

BrownNancy Brown of Virtual Gal Friday started her business in 1998.

“I started working as a secretary in 1986,” she says. “All of my experience is hands-on. Most of my background was in oil and gas before starting Virtual Gal Friday. I worked as a solo VA for 10 years and outsourced to the company’s first subcontractor in 2008. The company has grown to having full time in office employees that work with our clients as well as remote employees.

The Upside and the Downside
As always, there’s an upside and downside to every new adventure. In future articles, we’ll explore these. Bottom-line is, done right, you can find yourself in a very lucrative career, whether working for someone else or building your own business. But there is a downside.

Five Warning Flags Before Starting Your VA Business
Don’t be naïve! Here are just five of the “You don’t” zones you need to change to “You do” to create a successful business:
• You don’t have enough money to sustain you while you are building your business. This can be critical. It could take 4 months or more just to bring in your first client.
• You don’t understand how to market for a new client.
• You don’t understand how to bill clients and under or over bill.
• You don’t pay attention to your receivables and your collections are past due.
• You don’t have the expertise or enough experience to carry out the assignments. You are learning at your client’s expense.

Do You Have the Right Personality?

“I think you need confidence and the ability to sell your services,” says Brown. “If this is really something you want to do, you can do it. Make sure those around you support your efforts. Look at what you really enjoy doing and do that. If you don’t have a passion for your business, it turns into a job.”

Have the fortitude to be a great virtual assistant and make your clients love you. I did a little research and here are the 10 top personality characteristics I came up with you’ll need for success:

Ten Ways VAs Can Make Their Clients LOVE Them
1. Care about your client’s company as if it were your own. This isn’t always easy. Caring for your client’s company in subtle but important ways builds trust essential to the long-term VA/Client relationship.
2. Take initiative. Reminding your client that you are there to help, prompting them for tasks coming due, and reminding them when you don’t hear back from them are all ways that you show your client that you “have their back.”
3. Bring fresh ideas to the table. Clients often have set ways of doing things, but you, as a VA can bring them alternative ideas to do business. Stay on top of technological advances, try free trials of innovative new systems, and suggest ways to improve the bottom-line or staying ahead of the competition.
4. Be flexible and juggle priorities well. Clients really appreciate flexibility and a finite ability to juggle priorities. The old “multi-tasking” idiom applies here. You may have several clients coming at you at the same time. It is the same as if you were in the office working for five attorneys on one secretary. Yes, you are working remotely but you still need to juggle priorities.
5. Own mistakes. Mistakes do happen, and we hate it when they do, but they are inevitable. Client’s don’t like it when mistakes happen but they are more forgiving if you own up if the mistake is yours.
6. Don’t take criticism personally. This may sound trite but it is important. It’s business and you are there to get it right. Get over it! Grow up and stop taking feedback personally. Look at it this way… if a client is taking the time to tell you what they don’t like and what they prefer, then they are taking the time to groom you into a better VA. That’s a good thing. When they go radio dead silent and stop issuing ways to improve, they may be shopping for a new VA.
7. Endure isolation: Do you possess the ability to work on your own? Remember: you are working at home. That means that you are not surrounded by colleagues. Sure, your kids may be there, your dog may be running in and out of the house but you may also be isolated. On the other hand, you could be on the phone and that may be enough human contact for you. Can you handle that?
8. Don’t lose your temper: If you’ve worked in a law firm, you know that attorneys and peers can sometimes drive you nuts. Nothing has changed when you work remotely. Are you even- keeled and do you have patience? You will lose the client or lose your job if you lose your temper. It’s that simple.
9. Be a Problem Solver. Ultimately, you are there for your client to solve problems. When an obstacle emerges, don’t just contact your client and ask what you should do. Instead, inform your client of the situation and offer at least two possible workarounds. Select a recommendation and say why, and then ask your client which she prefers. Make life for your client as easy as possible.
10. Bring humor. Be careful not to go overboard and stay professional! However, my mother used to say you catch more flies with honey than you do with vinegar. She sure was right with that one.


Chere Estrin is the CEO of Estrin Legal Staffing. She is a former Administrator at two major law firms and a Los Angeles Paralegal Association Lifetime Achievement Recipient. She previously held the position of Sr. Executive VP in a $5 billion staffing company. She is the CEO of the Paralegal Knowledge Institute and Co-Founding Member of the International Practice Management Association and The Organization of Legal Professionals. Chere has written 10 books on legal careers. She has been written up in the Los Angeles Times, Chicago Trib, Newsweek, Daily Journal, and other prestigious publications. She is a recipient of the Los Angeles/Century City Women of Achievement Award. Her blog, The Estrin Report has been around since 2005. Reach out to her at chere@estrinlegalstaffing.com.

 


What Was I Thinking? 10 Tips to Avoid eMail Disaster

EmailOne of the most significant ways we are judged today is how we write e-mails. No longer are we subject to scores of phone calls or face-to-face meetings. Technology has completely revolutionized the way we communicate. It’s an email world out there and how you present yourself can make or break your career.

While it’s a magnificent tool for communicating, email can be very damaging when used inappropriately. Too often we take the easy and quite candidly, cowardly, option of using email to avoid the emotional discomfort of a real time conversation. 

While it’s a magnificent tool for communicating, email can be very damaging when used inappropriately. Too often we take the easy and quite candidly, cowardly, option of using email to avoid the emotional discomfort of a real time conversation.
When it comes to communicating matters that can be uncomfortable or emotionally sensitive, nothing can ever replace a good old fashioned, face-to-face conversation.

To hide behind your computer screen, not only lacks courage and professional courtesy but can become very costly. Lack of sensitivity combined with misinterpretation can risk permanent damage to your career, not to mention damage to someone else. Time spent on damage control can be very detrimental. Often, we try dashing off a quick and often poorly worded written message trying to redeem ourselves. Trust me, the damage has been done.

Why do people use email as a method for “saying what they really think?” The more distance we have from someone, the more likely we are to make decisions in a cold, purely cognitive way. It’s easier than speaking to someone face-to-face. In reality, we think we will have fewer emotions to deal with.

A recent study out of University of Massachusetts-Amherst found that the farther away people are from the person they were communicating with, either physically or psychologically, the more apt they are to lie or exaggerate. Those communicating via email lied about five times more than those speaking face-to-face, whereas those using instant messaging lied about three times more than those talking face-to-face.

We have all been in situations where we get upset upon receiving certain emails; an incident occurs; we are angered or upset by someone’s actions. The tendency to dash off an email immediately is tempting. However, once you hit the Send button, you can never retrieve that email. No amount of deleting will help. Once it’s out in email land, it’s there permanently. Let us not also forget that the email is permanently on your hard drive. The email is discoverable. That is the essence of eDiscovery and computer forensics.

If you find yourself writing in anger, save a draft, go get some chocolate, and imagine that tomorrow morning someone has taped your email outside your door. Would your colleagues and supervisors be shocked by your language or attitude?

Here’s an example of the “Uh-oh” email:

Jane:
“I was just made aware that John was promoted to Litigation Support Manager. While I am not offering up “sour grapes” because I did not receive the promotion instead (although as you know, I am very qualified for the position), I wanted to confidentially make sure you are aware that John has been fired twice off previous jobs.”

The damage to John’s career is horrendous. However, it can be nothing compared with the damage to yours. This is an email that should have never gone out.

Responding to angry emails.

When you receive angry emails, instead of responding in kind, take a rational approach.

From: James Jones
Subject: Ongoing document production
I have been trying to get in touch with you all day. I am having problems on this project. Don’t you check your emails? I’m not that well-trained here. The least you can do is explain in more detail how to do this.

If your recipient has just attacked you with an angry message, rather than reply with a point-by-point rebuttal, you can always respond with a brief note that:

a) Casually invokes the name of someone the angry correspondent is likely to respect (to diffuse any personal antagonism that may otherwise have developed) and
b) Refocuses the conversation on solutions and lessens the risk of escalating the situation into an all-and-all email war.

From: Jane Smith
Subject: Ongoing problems with document production

Since you told Sue you didn’t need extra training, I cancelled the Tuesday session. I can CC Sue since she will have to approve the training if we reschedule. In the interim, I can loan you copies of the manual or we can shift the indexing to someone else. Let me know your thoughts.

Three times you should never use e-mail.

1. When you are angry. Anger can trigger stress hormones and in turn, decrease our ability to communicate well. Never send an email when you are angry. Do whatever you need to get it out of your system. Just don’t hit “Send” while you’re still angry. Wait at least two hours to calm down, rationalize and see the whole picture. This gives you time to decide the most constructive way to convey that you’re upset. Emailing someone when you are raging is almost guaranteed to end in disaster.

2. When you are rebuking or criticizing. Too often we get a false sense of bravado and say things via email we would never have the courage to say in person. Delivering or receiving a rebuke or criticism isn’t easy for anyone. Save it for the face-to-face meeting or phone conversation. By providing feedback in person, you can read visual cues and immediately address any concerns the other person might have without things getting out of hand.

3. If there’s even a slight chance your words can be misunderstood. Emails can be interpreted in a myriad of ways – some of which you never would have anticipated. Your reader may be particularly defensive about certain issues. Save yourself time in damage control and possible lawsuits. Pick up the phone or meet them face-to-face to ensure that they hear your message in the most positive way.

Don’t have the conversation in a confrontational way, but in a way that says “you seem to be upset, perhaps we should talk this through." While not always comfortable, a phone call or face-to-face meeting provides an opportunity for meaningful dialogue that is difficult via email and could easily otherwise escalate the situation.

Don’t assume privacy or confidentiality.
Email is not secure. There is no such thing as privacy when it comes to email. A curious hacker, a malicious criminal, and your IT department can probably read any of your email messages in your work account. The email can be forwarded to others without your knowledge.

Show respect and restraint.
Many a flame war has been started by someone who hit “reply all” instead of “reply.” Most people know that email is not private. It is good form to ask the sender before forwarding a personal message. If someone emails you a request, it is perfectly acceptable to forward the request to a person who can help — but forwarding a message so that you can ridicule or humiliate the sender is just tacky.

Use BCC instead of CC when sending sensitive information to large groups. (For example, an employer telling unsuccessful candidates that they have been rejected for a position.) The name of everyone in the CC list goes out with the message, but the names of people on the BCC list are hidden.

10 Top Etiquette Rules

Now that we’ve covered writing emails in anger, let’s explore email etiquette that can help you get better responses and present you in a positive leadership role. Here are some guidelines to maintain good working relationships.

1. Keep the message focused using short paragraphs.
Why are you writing? It’s best to keep to one topic and use short paragraphs. Long emails with multiple topics are no longer taken seriously. Separate by blank lines. Everyone skims content these days. Most people find unbroken blocks of text boring or intimidating. Format your message for the ease of your reader. Remember that most email is read on mobile devices, Keep emails to five – ten sentences.

2. Stay organized.
Some readers will get partway through a complex message, hit “reply” as soon as they have something to contribute, and forget to read the rest. That’s human nature.

Number your points in more complex message. Split unrelated points into separate, purposeful emails. If you send all your readers a message that only relates to some of them, a good deal of readers waste time reading the whole thing to determine whether any part applies to them. Other people give up as soon as they find few details apply to them.

2. Use politeness.
My mother used to tell me “You catch more flies with honey than vinegar.” She was right. Please and thank-you are still important, but wordiness wastes your reader’s time (which is rude).

Indirect and waste of time: Hello Ron: I would very much like it if, at your earliest convenience, you could send the current password for the website. I look forward to your reply. Have a wonderful day!

Blunt and almost to the point of rudeness: “Need password for the website immediately.”
If you get a message like this, you might assume the sender trusts you and really needs your help. On the other hand, if you send a message like this, you are likely to appear needy and panicky. How do you want to come across?

Urgent, yet polite: The site is down. I can’t fix it without the new password. Can you forward it? Thanks.

4. Don’t send or forward emails containing libelous, defamatory, offensive, racist or obscene remarks.
You can put yourself or your firm at risk. You could be sued for simply passing something along, even if you aren’t the original author. Remember that company e-mail isn’t private. You have no legal protection.

5. Avoid attachments whenever possible.
Rather than forcing your reader to download an attachment and open it in a separate program, you will probably get faster results if you just copy and paste the most important part of the document into the body of your message.

Not good:
To: Everyone involved in Document Productions
From: Eager Paralegal
Subject: Helpful Handbook

Hello Everyone:
I’ve attached a PDF that I think you will all find useful. This is the fourth time I’ve sent the file – the version yesterday had a typo on page 215. Let me know what you think!

Attachments:
o Huge honking file.pdf (375 MB)
o Bigger cover letter

Okay, don’t everyone raise your hands – how many of you would read this or better yet, delete it without looking at any “attachments”? You betcha.

Better:
Hello Brenda:
I came across some tips on streamlining the document production process. Has anyone at your office volunteered to present at the paralegal workshop next month? If you’d like, I can do a 20 minute presentation. I can also send you the entire handbook if you would like.

Table of Contents:
1. Indexing documents
2. Notices to parties
3. Useful and effective software
6. Identify yourself clearly.

If you telephoned someone outside your closest circle who wouldn’t recognize your voice, you would most likely say something like “Hello, Jennifer. This is Chere Estrin from Estrin Legal Staffing.” A formal “Dear Ms. Green” salutation is not necessary for routine workplace communication.

7. Write a short and action-oriented subject line.
Never leave the subject line blank. Limit it to eight or fewer words. Mobile devices can cut off part of the text. Indicate if you need a response by a certain date, so your reader can prioritize the requests he or she is receiving that day.

8. Always include a signature line.
Frankly, nothing annoys me more than receiving an email without a signature line. The sender is assuming I know who they are by their email address. Are you kidding? Have you any idea how many emails I deal with daily?

9. Avoid jokes.
Because we're so accustomed to communicating via texts and social media, we might be less formal than we should in important emails. However, sarcasm can often be lost in email translation. Be careful not to include anything that can be misconstrued. Don't leave your message up for interpretation.

10. Make it easy to respond.
Remember that not responding is often a convenient alternative. While it is hard to force a response, at least you can prod. Make it clear, from the very first sentence, why you are writing and what you expect. You should not be writing mystery novels.

Make it easy for readers to respond by providing a default option. For example, you might say: “Unless I hear from you by Tuesday, I will assume that you want to proceed.”

Defaults are powerful because readers are not always willing to spend a lot of effort coming up with other options. The choice for the default option is especially hard to resist if you suggest that yours is the norm or recommended choice. If there are no easy options, you can specifically state that you expect a response. You can ask them to let you know what they intend to do, by when, and how. You’ll get better responses and start being viewed as a leader with solutions.

Above all, remember that you are representing the firm. How you write your personal emails is your business. However, it is incumbent upon you to represent the firm well, don’t shoot from the lip and above all, keep your emails clean, sweet and legitimate!

Chere Estrin is the CEO of Estrin Legal Staffing; CEO of the Paralegal Knowledge Institute and Co-Founding Member of the Organization of Legal Professionals. She has written 10 books on legal careers and hundreds of articles and is a popular national seminar speaker. Her blog, The Estrin Report, has been in existence since 2005. Chere can be reached at chere@estrinlegalstaffing.com.

 

 


Sneaky Ways to Break Into the Legal Technology Career

DuckI can’t tell you how many legal professionals have asked me how to break into the legal technology career. Then they tell me all the reasons they can’t get into the field, usually starting with the old “chicken and the egg” story. You know the one: “I can’t get a job because I don’t have experience; I don't have experience because I can’t get a job…” I have another story for you. “If it looks like a duck, acts like a duck, walks like a duck, it must be a duck.” Let me quack a bit here.

You need to understand the field. Then, you need to go after the job. But first, you have to look like you belong to the field. No one is going to take an outsider. It’s not going to happen.

Legal technology offers several different areas of specialty. You can go into litigation support, eDiscovery, IT, word processing, or utilize technology skills within your practice specialty such as estate planning or bankruptcy. You can find jobs in law firms, in-house legal departments, with vendors or start your own business. You don’t have to only be within the litigation practice arena. However, if you are a paralegal and not conversant in legal technology in some manner, you are probably going to be out of a job in a short period of time. It’s really that simple.

So how do you break into the field?

Let’s return to my duck story: If it looks like a duck, acts like a duck, walks like a duck, it must be a duck. Let's think about why employers ask for "Three years' experience in a similar role".

They're simply looking for proof that you're the kind of person they're looking for.

They're looking for proof you're a duck. 

How to look like a duck
Search for educational opportunities. Based on your desired legal technology career path, current educational and professional experience, and available amount of free time, explore different online or on-campus courses and webinars along with various job descriptions to figure out which suits you best.  

To my knowledge, there are no degrees you can obtain in legal technology. However, the more courses you can take to list on your resume, the better chances you stand of breaking into the field.  Understand that there is no single educational path to a legal technology career. It's a broad field.  Your overall education may take anywhere from a few months to four years to complete. For example, if you want to move into IT and become a systems analyst, you may need a Bachelor's degree, but for a help desk position, you may only need experience or an Associates degree.

You may also want to explore positions in Litigation Support such as a Litigation Support Analyst or move into an eDiscovery Manager position that can be very lucrative and in some regions, pay six figures. However, if you do not have on-the-job training, you are going to need to take plenty of seminars and courses to bring you up to speed.

I spoke with Karl Kindt, an instructor at Southwestern Illinois College about what education paralegals need to enter the field. Karl has 22 years of experience as Litigation Support Technologist/Paralegal and is currently with Lewis Rice in St. Louis. Karl told me that paralegals, especially in smaller law firms, need to update these technology skill sets:

• PowerPoint
• Word macros and smart parts
• Access and Excel interaction with Access use of OLE and hyperlinks
• Trial Director
• Relativity and utility software like Hashtabs, ProDiscovery, MetaDataViewer.

“I teach two courses for Southwestern Illinois College,” says Karl, “and I teach these tech skills per my conversations with attorneys who also teach here. I shared with them what I thought the modern paralegal needs to know how to do with current and near future technology. Here is a link to two current courses I am teaching:

https://sites.google.com/site/235spring2018/01-syllabus-fall-2017 and https://sites.google.com/site/274spring2018/session-topics.

I have had numerous paralegals call me after they got their jobs indicating how these skills are being used big time in their work for lawyers. Here are the tasks that they are expected to do and their tech skills learned in the courses equip them to do:

1. Use PowerPoint to create timelines
2. Use gigapans to explore in detail objects, scenes, real estate, etc.
3. Extract still images out of videos
4. Present evidence in trial using Sanction and Trial Director
5. Create video/synched clip out of depositions and import these into PowerPoint
6. Create animations
7. Edit videos and enhance videos and create videos
8. Close up photographs and other photography skills such as use of Photoshop-like programs to bring out details from shadows etc.
9. Create pdf/a files for e-filing
10. Ascertain meta data in files using metadata viewer and other such programs
11. Create hyperlinked lists of files on disks/USB sticks and hard drives
12. Determine if two documents/images/or digital files are the same or have been altered using programs that can do this like Hashtabs
13. Generate meta data reports
14. Code documents using programs like Relativity
15. Create databases using Access including knowing how to use hyerlink and ole field types
16. Import data from Excel into databases and create comma delimited exports for importing data into other databases
17. Detect if a digital photograph taken by a camera has been altered
18. Detect if an audio file has been altered
19. Clarify an audio file using Audacity
20. Delete metadata out of digital files
21. Use cell phones with smart apps to scan documents and create pdf files
22. Create 3d /stereo images using cell phones and digital cameras when depth is important in a scene or image
23. Know the difference between a switch and a hub
24. Know how to make computers run twice as fast to get work done in a more timely manner
25. The way to recover data off of a hard drive that will not boot up in a computer
26. How to digitize 35mm slides and negatives using scanners and USB units
27. How to make a forensic copy of a hard drive
28. How the internet / worldwide web works and to locate physically where certain files are being stored on a computer
29. Know how to use utility 'thoughtware' programs designed to do things the major software programs do not do or do not do well such as how to quickly get a list of all the files on a terabyte hard drive and get this list into Word documents etc.
30. How to participate in an early e-discovery conference with an attorney to make sure that discovery agreements include clawback provisions and that the data is going to be produced and provided in proper file formats for reviewing software.

Paralegals can go far in legal technology if they know how to apply the right skills to the job,” he says.

If you are seeking to go into IT
Look into professional certifications. Legal technology needs systems engineers, analysts, help desks specialists, IT managers and IT specialists. HR managers find it difficult to get good candidates with law firm background, so paralegals who bring technology skills to the table are in demand.

An MCSE or A+ certification can gain you significant credibility. For most certifications, you'll study and review a certain narrow subject, then sign up for an online exam. There is usually a fee, but the exams are often quick and can often be done in your home.

Act like a duck
You need to show that you are in the community. Part of the problem candidates have breaking into the field is failing to show on the resume they have at least some experience. Candidates assume prospective employers think they have experience because “Relativity” is listed under Computer Skills.

Seeking to move from paralegal to an eDiscovery role? What eDiscovery projects have you worked on within your firm that qualify? Those projects should be highlighted in your resume. Don’t lead with “Prepare pleadings, summarize depositions, etc.” Lead with “Manage multi-million dollar, high-profile eDiscovery projects utilizing Relativity”.  Highlight where you want to go. Not where you've been that doesn't relate. 

Paddle in the Pond
It’s all in who you know. Many legal technology gurus love to assist people. If you’re just dipping your toes into the world of legal technology, investigate to see if you have someone in your friendly, professional, association or LinkedIn network who can tell you about the basics of your chosen field. People are willing to help you out and introduce you to others who can help you.

Go meet people at conferences, seminars and association meetings. For example: The Los Angeles Paralegal Association's 2nd Annual Legal Technology Expo is coming up on March 7th and is a great way to start! Go! Not only will you learn but you will make great connections with others in the field. In particular, meet with vendors who know what’s happening in the field. Never under estimate the power of a vendor. They have connections with law firms; they are on top of the latest technology and, know where the jobs are.

  •  LegalTech – This conference, is held annually and attracts attendees from all walks of the legal industry including attorneys, paralegals, IT professionals, litigation support professionals and others.
  • International Leadership Technology Association (ILTA) – ILTA provides educational content, peer-networking opportunities and information resources in order to make technology work for the legal profession. The ILTA conference is usually held annually in August.
  •  The Masters Conference - The Masters Conference, aims to provide corporate counsel, law firm attorneys and litigation support teams with practical information and tools regarding e-discovery.
  •  Women in eDiscovery – With more than 25 chapters worldwide, this non-profit organization brings together women in technology and law and offers them opportunities for leadership, education, and networking.
  •  Organization of Legal Professionals A non-profit organization that provides online eDiscovery training for attorneys and paralegals.
  •  Paralegal Knowledge Institute - An online organization providing webinars and courses in litigation, corporate, litigation support and eDiscovery. 

Have face-to-face meetings. We’re so heavily into social media that we’ve lost our ability to meet face-to-face. I have 18,000 followers on LinkedIn that have been extremely helpful. Connections are not to be overlooked in building your career. But truthfully, when I take someone to lunch, I have found that these amazing meetings are very rewarding and productive. People remember you and they feel like they’ve made a long-term friend. Well, the reality of taking 18,000 people to lunch might get a tad pricy….

Role models and faux role models. You’re always advised to get a role model. But frankly, how many role models go out on a limb for you? Really? I think you end up admiring most of them from afar. If you don’t know your career role model personally, that’s fine. Try looking at the LinkedIn pages of folks with jobs you admire. What sorts of experiences have they racked up? What do they emphasize about themselves. Look at their career path. Can you emulate it?

Start quacking
Become a guest speaker. Speak at a seminar or webinar. If you can talk about the subject matter, you must know the topic. Once it is on your resume, you are viewed as an expert. OK, so you don’t have the job yet. But if you can get on a panel, be a speaker, it can go on your resume and that gives you credibility.

Write an article or start a blog
Start writing. If you write, you must know the subject. If you start writing articles, your audience will trust what you write. You have credibility. Here is another great line on your resume to help you get a job. It shows you are an expert. You can also start a blog. Here’s a great way to get a following. Who can dispute the fact you are an expert if you have a following?

How else could you prove you are a duck?

Walk like a duck
Exchange time for experience. Maybe you can't get paid work for an established firm you want to move into. But there are likely to be plenty of ways you can do the same kind of work on an unpaid basis (or even for a small salary).

Contact associations and volunteer. You can work with associations such as Women in eDiscovery, work with your local paralegal association on a seminar, the National Association of Legal Secretaries, the Association of Legal Administrators, ILTA, the docketing associations and many more. You’ll get to know people and you’ll learn.

Offer to exchange time for experience on an intern basis. Find firms who will take you as an intern and exchange time for experience. It looks good on your resume. This may feel like it's only a route for those who want to move into the charity sector, but it's surprisingly easy to find people in any sector who would appreciate your contribution. It's usually easier to get your foot in the door with smaller firms or companies, so target small organizations that inspire you and tell them your story.

There may even be opportunities to gain unpaid experience in your current firm. For example, if you want to work in Litigation Support, how about offering to help out in the LitSupport department during your lunch breaks? See if they would be willing to give you some training or beginner's work assignments to give you direct experience right where you are. You can then add that to your resume. "Assisted the Litigation Support Department with assignments in......." Now, you have experience!

But what if your firm doesn't have a LitSupport department? Perhaps you can be the one who volunteers to step in and help out (or handle entirely) the LitSupport projects. Who is doing them now? Would they appreciate some help?

Moonlight
What projects could you do in your spare time to build up experience in your chosen profession? Just be sure there are no conflicts of interest with your firm or that your firm is clear and ok with what you are doing. Don’t risk your job!

Create a YouTube Video
But there's no need to wait for a firm to ask you for your story – why not share it with them in a captivating way? Why not create a YouTube video? Do a demo on a Litigation Support Project or eDiscovery project, or a PowerPoint demonstration. Point people to it in your resume.

Must be a duck
Once you get out into the community, make the right connections, get the education, write the right resume, get experience on the job, you can break into the legal technology field. You are now walking, talking, acting like a duck. Must be a duck. Hired!

Chere Estrin is the CEO of Estrin Legal Staffing. She is a former Paralegal Administrator at two major firms; a Los Angeles Paralegal Association Lifetime Achievement Recipient. She is a Los Angeles/Century City Woman of Achievement Recipient and she previously held the position of Sr. Executive VP in a $5 billion company. Chere is the CEO of the Paralegal Knowledge Institute and Co-Founding Member of the International Practice Management Association and The Organization of Legal Professionals. She has been written up in the Los Angeles Times, Chicago Trib, Newsweek, Daily Journal, and other prestigious publications. Her blog, The Estrin Report has been around since 2005. Reach out to her at chere@estrinlegalstaffing.com.

 


Is it time for an alternative career? Lots of options, lots of choices.

Career changeIt’s that time of the year. You have received your raise and have politely waited a month or so after receiving your bonus. You have looked grateful and appreciative (all the while thinking, you’re giving me this after I worked that?) and now, frankly, you’ve been circling Indeed and quietly checking out job listings. But this time, you are thinking, “You know, am I going to find another job doing the same thing, or am I going to get something different?”

The Paralegal career is a terrific career. But let’s face it. For some, it has limits. You aren’t ever going to make partner. (For those who are just hearing this for the first time, I apologize.) And, there are some salary caps. On the other hand, if you zig and zag, you can create an unlimited career path. It may look like you have to leave the title “Paralegal” behind. You may have some regrets or misgivings. Frankly, I wouldn't have regrets. Think positively. 

Some call this action, “Alternative Careers”. I call it leveraging your career. Where, in the Big Book of Careers,  is it written that you always need to possess the title, Paralegal? Look at it this way: maybe Paralegal is a journey to new career paths and not a road with a stop sign. 

This is not the career I signed up for.

Are you bored, fed-up, lost, or otherwise unhappy in your current career? Are you facing a crossroads at which you need to decide between staying in your current field or moving to a new one? Do you have skills that you are not using in your current career? Have you been promoted to a point where you are no longer doing what you love?


If changing careers has become an issue, you must make a distinction about the real reason behind your thinking: Are you changing your path because a) the career is not for you or b) the job you are in is not right? It is so important that you distinguish between the two because you can be making a very serious mistake if you abandon a perfectly good career simply because you are in the wrong job, not the wrong career. Whatever you determine, it’s best not to leave your job – if possible – unless you have a plan. Ask yourself: When I go to work:

• Do I like my manager? If not, the job is not for you. Or,
• Do I like the work itself? If not, the career may not be for you.
• Is the environment unfriendly, hostile, stressful, boring? The job is not for you. Or,
• Am I truly uninterested in what I am doing? Am I in over my head? Are my eyes glazing over? Do I have little interest in what goes on around me? Sort it out, piece by piece. It could be a mix of the specialty, the job or the career.

If you are just starting out, chances are, you are not seeking an alternative career. However, at the mid-or senior level, many paralegal jobs may have become routine and repetitious. Routine and repetition can lead to burnout. It may be that a little “spice” is what is in order. An alternative career could act as an extension of a paralegal career – not the end of your career.

Now is the time to leverage your paralegal background. You don’t necessarily have to start from the very beginning. Take what you have accomplished and propel transferable skills into a lateral move or climb up the career ladder. You may have to take a salary cut but chances are, if you are skillful, that won’t happen.  

One of the biggest mistakes you can make is to attempt to change careers without a plan. A successful career change can often take months to accomplish when you have a strategy, so without one, you could end up adrift for an even longer period. A detailed action plan includes strategy, a look at finances, research, and more education and training, if you want to further your success.


Don’t trip and fall flat on your bottom over there on “I Woulda, Coulda, Shoulda Lane” by denying that you need more training. Employers do not have imaginations. If they cannot make the connection as to why you should say, move from a litigation paralegal into HR, they simply are not going to bite. However, if they see that you have completed an HR certification course from the Association of Legal Administrators, they may be more inclined to consider you.

Where do I start?

Here are just a few alternative careers to consider. Bear in mind, to reach the top salary levels mentioned, you need years of experience. However, these are great goals to aim for!

1. eDiscovery:
There just isn’t anything hotter for paralegals. These positions include:
• eDiscovery Manager
• Case Managers
• Project Managers
You must have a solid background in litigation and eDiscovery, know Relativity and other software packages. You must also have excellent project management skills.  Salaries range anywhere from $60k to over $175,000 for experienced eDiscovery Managers in major metropolitan cities. 

2. Litigation Support:
This is the technology end of litigation. You need to know more than eDiscovery i.e., a host of software packages, plus complex technology. Salaries run the gamut from $65,000 to over $185,000 for top Managers in major law firms in first-tiered cities.

Just a few positions:
• Litigation Support Managers
• Litigation Support Analysts
• Project Managers
• Case Managers

3. Contracts Administrator:
Love contract writing? Narrow your focus. Responsibilities include preparing, analyzing, and revising contracts regarding any assortment of subjects from the buying and selling of goods and services. Managing the acquisition and storage of equipment is also important.

4. Law Firm Administrator:
Have you managed other paralegals, case clerks or supervised others? Do you have any accounting background? HR duties? MBA? Have you worked in labor or employment law? Here is where you can leverage that background. Small firm administrators can start at $75,000 to well over $250,000 or more in major firms or in-house legal departments.

5. Social Service Agent:
Here is an area for those interested in the social welfare system, criminal justice system, or immigration services, to name a few. Many positions are not listed as a paralegal job but a review of the description shows assignments are essentially paralegal work. For example, a position within a so¬cial service organization that assists immigrants may be listed as “Immi¬grant Specialist.” That individual may serve as an advocate for immigrants in court and have interaction with clients but the skills required are basically those of a paralegal.

6. Legal Sales:
Vendors love paralegals. Legal sales can be a particularly appealing field if you want to take on a social, flexible, and heavily client-facing role. You’ll engage with attorneys, legal professionals, HR directors, litigation support professionals and other paralegals. Products like Lexis, Bloomberg Law and Westlaw often require salespeople who know the legal field thoroughly and have excellent communication and persuasion skills. You can work for eDiscovery, outsourcing, litigation support, corporate filing companies - you name the vendor! What interests you? Salaries are generally very good if you have a lot of tenacity.

7. Banking and Finance:
The banking and finance industry involves complex legal, regulatory and compliance issues. Paralegals, particularly those with backgrounds in finance, banking, securities, and tax, can leverage specialties into lucrative positions in the finance industry as escrow agents, compliance specialists, bank probate administrators, funds administrators, insurance, risk managers, brokers, trust examiners, and other related positions. Your new job will not be listed as a paralegal but the duties may be similar to what you are doing now.

8. Education and Administration:
Another worthy career alternative is in legal education or academic administration. While the path to the ivory towers of the nation’s elite law schools is steep, teaching opportunities in paralegal schools and continuing legal education organizations exist. Legal education institutions hire individuals with legal experience to work in career services, law libraries, alumni relations and admissions

9. Marketing Director:
You will lead the marketing team, control marketing budgets, plan activities, and strategize on how to create visibility. You need to know PR, websites, social media, event planning, and all aspects of marketing the firm’s business. Start out by assisting your marketing director in your current firm. Add that to your resume and move into a full-time marketing position. Salaries start low but good marketing directors at major law firms can earn over $200,000 per year.

10. Legal Recruiter:
Legal recruiters are the human resource professionals of the legal world. If you enjoy helping others land a job and want to help legal professionals succeed in a difficult market, giving hope where hope has been wanting, consider being a recruiter. You need to learn how to recruit clients, interact with firms, and work well with employees. You could work with firms, in-house at a corporation or with recruitment companies. Some recruiters at staffing companies work on a base salary plus commission; some are on straight commission. Recruiters in corporations are usually salaried. Income is all over the board, starting around $60,000. At this writing, one staffing company advertising on Indeed, is seeking an attorney recruiter and states the position can earn up to $250,000 per year.

11. Legal Publishing:
As a paralegal, your research and writing skills are tops. Put those skills to use as an editor, writer or web content manager. The expanding legal field has sparked the birth of a diverse range of publications for lawyers, paralegals, secretaries, court reporters, litigation support professionals, and other legal professionals. Every legal professional has its own series of niche publications that seek skilled writers. Start out by writing for paralegal newsletters so you have a portfolio.

12. Pricing Strategist and Analysts:
Here is a relatively new position created in the past 5-7 years. Duties include formulating pricing strategies and managing legal spend against client expectations. In this role, you create budgets and forecasts and respond to competitive requests for proposals, develop pricing tools and templates to utilize technology. Analyst positions can go anywhere from $90 - $100k. However, the top, top positions in major law firms in New York are paying $300-$400,000 per year. Oh, yes! It’s highly competitive and you need to be very qualified.

13. Compliance Specialist:
Compliance specialists work for corporations, law firms and consulting firms, coordinating and monitoring the myriad of governmental, regulatory and compliance documents required by new changes in federal law. Recently, law firms have begun to bring compliance specialists in-house to work specifically for the law firm to review its own contracts for vendors such as IT and litigation support companies, something paralegals know a lot about!

14. Training and Development:
Large, mid-size firms and in-house legal departments seek good software trainers. They also want Continuing Education Program Developers to set up in-house CLE programs. If you are training others now, here is a great career path.

15. Government Positions:
Have you considered positions in agencies such as the FBI, CIA or Homeland Security? Paralegals have interesting and exciting positions. Though you should not expect the job to live up to the romanticized portrayal in the movies, working with the FBI can be rewarding.

There are many roles with the FBI, but whichever role, you are expected to be excellent. You will be working as national level law enforcement, and ensuring the nation is secure from threats. Some of these threats will be full-blown such as the 9-11 attack and the Un-abomber, while others will be comparatively smaller.


16. Attorney Recruiter:
This position recruits attorneys for law firms within the firm. You will recruit first years and laterals. You must know how to recruit on campus, set up the summer associate program and events, understand law schools, book travel, interview and follow-up. The position pays anywhere from $80,000 up to $160,000 in major firms.


17. Docket Clerk:
Many paralegals already deal with the docket and calendar. If you enjoy this part of your job, narrow your focus. You’ll deal with litigation deadlines and other specialties such as patent and trademark. Sr. Docket Clerks can get around $90-$100k.

Final Thoughts on Alternative Careers

Remember, the term “alternative career” really means leveraging your paralegal career. Take what you have accomplished and apply it to your new career moving forward. Analyze your transferable skills: communication, writing, research, calendaring, recruiting, management, litigation, contracts, corporate, investigation, and so many, many more that we have talked about and many we haven’t even mentioned.

Write your new alternative career resume to reflect those skills first. Don’t just write your resume in the “normal” traditional manner. Write it to reflect the career you are aiming towards, not the one you are leaving. Get the education you need. Above all else, keep moving. It’s what sets you apart, keeps you happy and motivated – whether you decide to keep the title paralegal or exchange it for something new! We’ll always have paralegal!


Chere Estrin is the CEO of Estrin Legal Staffing. She is the CEO of the Paralegal Knowledge Institute and CEO and Co-Founding Member of the OLP, the Organization of Legal Professionals . She has written 10 books on legal careers and is a former paralegal administrator for two major firms, and an executive in a $5 billion company. She has been interviewed by Newsweek, LA Times, Daily Journal, Forbes.com and other prestigious publications. Her blog, The Estrin Report, has been around since 2005. She is an Inc. Magazine Entrepreneur or the Year finalist, LA/Century City Woman of the Year Award Winner and Los Angeles Paralegal Association Lifetime Achievement Recipient. She can be reached at chere@estrinlegalstaffing.com.

 

 

 


The Next Illegal Question.....

Don't Get Asked and Don't Reveal.....

As of January, 2018, California employers will no longer be allowed to ask candidates for their salary histories. That’s right. You will no longer be required to disclose your current or past salary to get a job offer. A new law, AB 168, goes into effect designed, in part, to eliminate wage disparity in different races, sexes, or ethnicities.  

Woman.at deskThis law follows similar new laws recently passed in New York, Pennsylvania and Massachusetts. Existing California law prohibits employers from paying employees at rates less than the rates paid to employees of the opposite sex for substantially similar work when viewed as a composite of skill, effort, and responsibility, and performed under similar working conditions.

AB 168 does not prohibit applicants from disclosing wage history information "voluntarily and without prompting."   

If candidates make a voluntary disclosure, the employer may use it to determine whether to extend a job offer or to decide what compensation to offer the applicant. However, such use is still subject to the Equal Pay Act’s caveat that prior pay cannot, by itself, be used as a justification for any disparity in compensation between employees of different races, sexes, or ethnicities.  

The law also does not prohibit obtaining or using pay history information disclosable to the public under  federal or state law.  

This prohibition is codified at Labor Code Section 1197.5, which also provides exceptions based upon various factors, including a seniority system, a merit system, or any other "bona fide factor" other than sex, such as education, training, or experience. 

Part of the rationale for this new legislation is an attempt to remove one more barrier to wage equality. The California Legislature found that the gender wage gap has not narrowed significantly in recent years and that in 2015, the gender wage gap in California was 16%. Wage inequality is even greater among women of color. Accordingly, the reliance by an employer upon an individual's prior salary to establish wage rates could perpetuate historical wage inequality. It’s not an overstatement to say that wage discrimination exists everywhere.  In 2014, the Census Bureau reported that female paralegals earned 94% of what male paralegals earned.

The new law was created, in part, to prevent employers’ salary inquiries from perpetuating any discrimination that women or people of color have previously faced. When employers ask candidates about prior salaries, they hear a figure that anchors them and offer wages that keeps candidates at a salary that is already too low.  Typically, employers are not motivated to offer a salary that brings a candidate up to market. They offer a certain percentage of the existing salary that may already be low.  This is part of what prolongs wage discrimination. Being underpaid should not condemn you to a lifetime of inequality.

What are you likely going to see going forward?

Firms may publish salary ranges more often. Or, they will interview you and at the end of your lively little talk, they will tell you, “This job pays, $xxx.” It will be up to you to say, “That does or does not fit my salary requirements”.

They cannot ask you, “What is your current or past salary?”  They can no longer judge you based on the percentage of salary increases you received in the past. They can't make up their minds whether you were a good employee by the amount of past increases you received nor whether they will give you an amount they feel you will be satisfied with simply because you were receiving similar increases in the past.

Furthermore, and most importantly, they can't keep you pushed down on the salary scale because you started out low and they won't bring you up to wage equality.  Nor, can they prompt you to reveal the numbers.  You can, however, voluntarily offer a figure. You might also answer, “I am looking for a salary of $xxx.” However, you do not have to reveal past nor present salary.

When you are working with a staffing organization, be open about what your number is. It’s very frustrating for a recruiter to present you with opportunities only to have you say, “No, that’s not it” while the recruiter presents job after job with the question, “Is this it?”, “Is this it?” I know few recruiters who will want to continue to work with you on that basis. They may ask you, “What salary would make you happy?” However, if you don’t give them a figure, they will simply move on to other candidates and not waste precious time.

Divulge Your Worth, Not Your Past

Know the market.  What is relevant here is finding an appropriate job against which to benchmark the open position. Find a market price for the job you're applying for, and determine how close to that median you should be paid given your experience and accomplishments. What you made yesterday doesn't matter - what your peers are making today does.

Once you've found what the job is worth to the market, save the information for the offer segment of the interview.  You'll be on solid ground if you negotiate from an informed position.

How are firms getting information as to what to pay?

Some firms are going to the associate compensation program, i.e., paying for years of experience in the field instead of paying for performance.  In the past ten years, the field was headed toward the pay-for-performance model and moving away from paying strictly for years of experience. Previously, firms modeled paralegal wages on the associate program – paying for years of experience. For example, firms pay the graduating class of 2008 xxdollars with no regard for experience. Positions should be paid on pay-for-performance. That is, what experience and education is brought to the table vs. what duties and education are involved.

How to get your offer up

Employers should pay for skills that match the job description and years of experience. Perhaps you are in a situation where you are earning substantially more than the employer is willing to pay.  Since you will no longer be required to disclose your salary, and if the salary offered is much less than you require, emphasize your expertise. Years in the field might not help you.

You may say, “I see that you require eDiscovery skills, expertise in Relativity and five years attending trial. Not only do I have all of that, I am also an expert in legal research, have drafted motions, pleadings and attended many high-profile trials for Fortune 1000 companies including……” Sell those skills.  You can still negotiate.

The reason years in the field might not help is that you may be a 10-year paralegal but performing at the 3-year level i.e., Bates stamping, organizing documents, summarizing depositions. This isn’t going to get you more money. It’s all in the skill level, even if you are earning more than the job is originally slated to pay.

It will be interesting to see how this works. It might cause some confusion in the beginning as employers may not be able to get a handle on what the market is currently paying. Guesstimates may occur but somehow, I have a feeling this is a good step towards an antidote towards wage discrimination. Let’s hope so!

Chere Estrin is the CEO of Estrin Legal Staffing. She is also the President and Co-Founding member of the Organization of Legal Professionals and CEO of the Paralegal Knowledge Institute. She is the author of 10 books in the legal field, a Los Angeles Paralegal Association Lifetime Achievement Recipient. She is a former Paralegal Administrator for two major firms, an executive in a $5 billion company. She has been interviewed by the Los Angeles Times, Newsweek, Daily Journal, Above the Law, Forbes.com and other prestigious publications. Her blog, The Estrin Report, has been around since 2005.  She has 3:00 - 5:00 a.m. on Sundays free and can be reached at chere@estrinlegalstaffing.com.


Are You Calling Me Fat? .....And Other Little Career Mistakes

Pinup girl

A few years back, when I was a Paralegal Administrator for a major law firm, the Director of Administration took me to lunch at the Yorkshire Grill. He plied me full of a pastrami sandwich and insisted that I order the potato salad full of creamy, yummy mayonnaise, a big kosher pickle and lots of salty potato chips. A diet Coke went along with it. God forbid I should get too many calories.

As we were walking back to the office, he said to me that if I wanted to succeed in the firm, I was going to have to lose weight. I remember exactly where we were, in front of what building and even the crack in the sidewalk I was looking down on when he said it.

“Are you calling me fat, Lou?” I shot back. Uh, oh. Probably not the best answer, I realize now, looking back on it. “Not exactly fat,” he said. Well, truth be known. I was kind of waddling down the street and those plus size suits were stretching just a tad. (I have since lost over 100 pounds. Yep. Feeling great here.)

Was he wrong? Oh, yes. Could I have handled that better? Oh yes.

Here are some career mistakes we might make along the way, some we can all avoid and at the same time, take a stab at strengthening our careers:

  1. Becoming too smug

I have a candidate who wrote to me from the Midwest. She said, “I can’t get a job because everyone here is envious of me. I have my CP and am technologically superior to everyone I come across. People are jealous of me.” Oh, yes. Those were her words. Wow, I thought. She must really be something. I opened her resume. She had Trial Director. OK. A lot of paralegals don’t have Trial Director. She didn’t have Relativity. Maybe they don’t use Relativity in the Midwest. However, while her skills were good (I wouldn’t call them “superior”), it was obvious that she wasn’t getting a job because of her attitude. I am quite certain it wasn’t jealousy preventing her from getting a job but her smug attitude that was coming across. Check it at the door.

  1. Aiming too low

Whether it’s salary, title, or type of law firm, people are too intimidated by superiors, the system, interviewers, and are scared of asking for what they want at every stage of their career or during the interview process, and suffer from imposter syndrome.

This is a direct result of decades of indoctrination by authoritative educational, parental, and societal institutions that tend to demolish your self-confidence in an effort to control you.

This persistent lack of confidence is the number one issue paralegals suffer from when it comes to selling yourself effectively. Re-evaluate the position. You haven’t arrived this far in your career based on luck. Believe me.

  1. Not exactly listening.

The other day, I sent a Paralegal/Office Manager on an interview for an Office Manager position. Her goal was to move up. We went over and over the interview process. The firm wanted someone who could handle accounting and HR and had a law firm background. We redesigned her resume to highlight the HR and accounting skills and de-emphasize the paralegal skills because she had both. I coached her to highlight just how strong the accounting skills and HR skills were.

I also coached her on how to dress for the interview. The firm, a real estate transaction firm, dealt with high-end clients. It was important that she dressed conservatively. I was very precise in my instructions. “Show up in a Brooks Bros. look,” I said. “No open toed or sling-back shoes.”

The managing partner called me. Not only was he passing, he was pretty upset. “How could I send someone who kept emphasizing her paralegal background,” he said. “This is an Office Manager position. And, why on earth did she wear tennis shoes?”  Listen to what is being said. Read between the lines.

  1. Saying no to yourself

Because you feel that you lack the “qualifications” the job description asks for, you end up not going for the opportunity, whether it’s for a new job or a promotion. This continued lack of self-confidence through self-discrimination, combined with the obsession of fulfilling requirements down to the last detail, handicaps good paralegals from achieving career greatness.

Although job descriptions don’t matter, many candidates still try to play by the rules. They don’t understand that job search or a promotion is like war. The victor obtains the spoils. It’s every paralegal for themselves. I had a candidate call me to pull her resume because the job description said a BA was required. However, she had over 25 years of experience in real estate. Real estate paralegals are tough to find. The firm would definitely consider her.

There are no rules in moving your career along! This is why often liars sometimes get the best jobs and offers. They understand manipulation. Too often, the most accomplished candidates lose because they don’t know the song and dance that is job search or career success.

  1. Not understanding the modern job-search ecosystem and process

There are four major hiring entities that you need to know how to manipulate, maneuver around, and negotiate.  The HR person, headhunter, attorney, paralegal manager or senior paralegal.  Each person has a slightly different incentive, process, and interaction protocol. You should behave accordingly.

In addition, the process of the job search is no longer: look on the web for listings, apply to jobs that you like, wait for feedback, go interview. The new process is: create your marketing documents (including your resume, cover and thank-you letters), master LinkedIn networking, leverage the four hiring entities mentioned above, utilize the volume of interviews to your advantage, and negotiate throughout.

  1. Becoming a jack of all trades – not necessarily good

The most dangerous problem paralegals run into that seriously limits their market value and range of future career options is becoming a generalist. Law firms no longer value soldiers, willing to do any assignment for pay. They want specialists, professionals, experts, and true masters of the practice specialty.. They need experts to remain viable and stay ahead of their competition.

No longer is being eager and willing to work for a firm for the next 20 years a valuable trait. Firms want true leaders. If you have stayed at your firm for more than 10 years, you may have stayed too long. Have you updated your technology skills? Do you know what the latest trends are? If not, frankly, you are less marketable.

I have a candidate who applied for a highly sophisticated trial paralegal position. While she told me what she did verbally, her specific skills were not reflected in her resume and she refused to take the time to put change it. Yet, she wanted more money. I explained to her that the firm would probably not consider her. She thought I was unreasonable. You know the story. Submit resume. Reject resume. Hate to say I told ya so. Had she shown where she specialized in trial, she probably would have gotten the position – at least the interview! Specialization and experience within a niche skill are not only good to have, but must-haves to remain a relevant and desirable paralegal.

  1. Losing the passion

Most professionals forget that they work largely to make a living. Since most people accumulate worse spending habits every year, people rely on their jobs more and more to fuel their lifestyle. This dependent relationship on a job quickly spirals out of control once their house of cards experiences even the smallest tremor.

Because of your deep reliance on your paycheck, your emotions can run amuck when experiencing any type of career turbulence. But be careful not to let your emotions get the best of you. I am on a Board for a non-profit. In a meeting a couple of weeks ago, I re-evaluated my vote regarding a fiduciary responsibility. A Board member literally screamed at me at the top of her lungs to shut up. I looked around at the table. The other Board members faces were ashen. No one knew what to say. Never had I ever had that happen to me. I was literally shaken up. I apologized all over the place until I realized I wasn’t the one out of line. Upon reflection, I realized that at least this woman still had passion for her job. I guess that’s one way of looking at it.

Whatever you do, whether you are seeking a new job or a promotion, don’t lose sight of your passion for your job. It’s not always about the money. It’s about enjoying what you do, getting up in the morning and looking forward to another great day.

In conclusion:
Careers will always have their little mistakes. The trick is to recognize them, correct them and get yourself pointed in another direction before they get to be those BIG mistakes. Because by then, well, it just may be just a little too late. If you know what I mean.....

Chere Estrin is the CEO of Estrin Legal Staffing. She is also the President and Co-Founding member of the Organization of Legal Professionals and CEO of the Paralegal Knowledge Institute. She is the author of 10 books in the legal field, a Los Angeles Paralegal Association Lifetime Achievement Recipient. She is a former Paralegal Administrator for two major firms, an executive in a $5 billion company. She has been interviewed by the Los Angeles Times, Newsweek, Daily Journal , Above the Law, Forbes.com and other prestigious publications. Her blog The Estrin Report has been around since 2005. She can be reached at chere@estrinlegalstaffing.com.


"Girls" Just Wanna Have Funds......

"What’s your salary?” becomes a no-no in job interviews.

By Chere B. Estrin

 

IStock_000013170478XSmall[1]There’s a hot trend sweeping equal-pay legislation right now and some legal field industry leaders are not too happy about it.  New York, Massachusetts and Philadelphia have passed the country’s first law that prohibits employers from asking candidates for their current salaries or salary histories. This is a way to counter pay discrimination that can follow a woman throughout her career when the salary bump she gets with each job is based on pay that’s already lower than that of her male peers.

Think it doesn’t exist in the legal field, particularly in the paralegal field? Guess again.  In 2014, the Census Bureau reported that female paralegals earned 94% of what male paralegals earned. But there were only 30,616 male paralegals in the survey, while the number of female paralegals surveyed – 263,647. I was astounded. Thirty thousand male paralegals and on the average, they out earned over 250,000 female paralegals!!!!!! What??? All wages should be based upon job experience and education. No pay should be based upon race, gender or ethnicity. Ever.

The thinking behind the new law is that when employers ask about a candidate’s salary history, they can end up perpetuating any discrimination that women or people of color may have faced previously. When employers ask about salary, they hear a figure that anchors them and offer a salary that keeps candidates at a salary that is already too low.  Being underpaid should not condemn you to a lifetime of inequality.

At this writing, more than 20 other city and state legislatures have introduced similar provisions.  California is one of the states considering legislation and asking for salary history could soon be illegal in all fifty states.  Many employees, including paralegals, carry lower salaries for their entire careers simply because of wages at previous jobs that were set unfairly in the beginning.

Hiring managers often base their offers on your previous salary. They are unlikely to make an offer over a certain percentage of what you are currently earning.  This is how you arrive at the offer you get. However, that can change. I placed a candidate at a firm where hiring managers made an offer to bring the candidate up to market.  A candidate was in a litigation support manager position earning $85,000 in his/her current position. He/she was very much underpaid, given his/her years of experience and duties. The new position paid $110,000 and the firm brought the candidate in at what the position was worth, not what the candidate was previously earning. Kudos for the firm.

Candidates who negotiate and advocate strongly for themselves at the salary phase can wind up with a lower offer than someone who happened to earn more at an earlier position. In practice, employees who get lower offers are often women. Contrary to popular belief, it’s not because women don’t ask.  However, they pay a higher social penalty when they attempt to negotiate. Making salary history part of the job interview process means that tomorrow’s salary depends on yesterday’s wages, making it harder for female candidates to get paid what they deserve.

Firms should price the position, not price the person. Employers are trying to fill a certain role. What firms should be doing is to understand the market rate for that role. On the flip side, many firms use salary history to set pay, manage costs and get information about market. It is very hard to figure out how to pay someone a fair amount. This has been a hidden form of discrimination that has followed women throughout their careers.  Many employers many think it is reasonable to ask salary history and may not understand the discriminatory effect.

What’s happening in California? AB 168, introduced in January by Assemblywoman Susan Talamantes Eggman, D-Stockton, passed the Assembly May 22nd and currently sits in the state Senate. California employers would be prohibited from asking job candidates for their salary history and would be required to disclose the pay scale for a position to candidates who request it, under a proposal making its’ way through the state legislature.

How are firms solving the problem? Some firms are going to the associate compensation program, i.e., paying for years of experience in the field instead of paying for performance.  In the past ten years, the field was headed toward the pay-for-performance model and getting away from paying strictly for years of experience. Previously, firms modeled paralegal wages on the associate program – paying for years of experience. The firm will pay the graduating class of 2010 xxxx dollars with no regard for experience. Positions should be paid on pay-for-performance. That is, what experience and education is brought to the table vs. what duties and education are involved. Period.

The result of paying strictly on years of experience in the field can backfire and firms are going to have to find a way to combine experience, performance, education and responsibilities with market rate.  The problem with paying strictly on years of experience is overpaying for under performance. For example: employers can end up paying a ten year paralegal whose responsibilities have only been Bates stamping and summarizing depositions $100,000 a year while a five-year paralegal will earn $65,000 and but has experience drafting motions, preparing pleadings and attending trial. There’s inequity everywhere, isn’t there?

In the end, no matter the legislation, some determined firms will find ways to continue paying women less than men.  You can be a woman paralegal, negotiate a salary equal to a male paralegal and then find out later the male paralegals received higher bonuses. There’s no silver bullet. There’s awareness, education, outspokenness, and standing up for your rights. As long as everyone bands together and not allow inequity to continue, we can continue to fight for the right to be equal, fair and just. It may take a while and won’t happen overnight. But I’m not giving in. Are you?  

Chere B. Estrin is the CEO of Estrin Legal Staffing, a national staffing organization based in Los Angeles. She is a LAPA Lifetime Achievement Recipient and author of 10 books on legal careers. Chere is the CEO of the Paralegal Knowledge Institute; President & Co-Founding Member of the Organization of Legal Professionals, a non-profit providing eDiscovery training, a former Paralegal Administrator for two major law firms and an executive in a $5 billion corporation. She has written her blog, The Estrin Report since 2005. She has been interviewed by Newsweek, the Los Angeles Times, Daily Journal, Forbes.com and other prestigious publications. You can reach her at chere@estrinlegalstaffing.com.