Meet Joseph Spada: Controversial, Trendsetting Leader, Educator, and Paralegal Career Change Agent

SpadaJosephMeet a leader: Joseph Spada, Director of Paralegal Certificate Studies, Boston University. Joe plays a significant role in leading and teaching paralegals who are entering the field. If you think back on significant people who influenced your career path as you entered this field, who might that be? Over the years, hundreds and hundreds of paralegals can point to Joe as a definite contributor to the direction, attitude and success they had as they moved forward in this exciting field. Here's why:

Joe, tell us about your background. Let's start with your your education, always good for an educator!

I have a B.A. degree in English from Boston College and a J.D. from Columbus School of Law, The Catholic University of America.

When did you join Boston University?

I first started at Boston University as a Lecturer of Law, in 1995.  I started teaching Legal Research and then added Legal Writing the second year.

Do you have a paralegal/attorney background?

I worked as an attorney for over 20 years, primarily in the public sector. I was an attorney for the federal judiciary, drafting decisions for federal judges.  I loved the research and writing aspect.  I also realized I was in a rather rare position in that I was not writing as an adversary. In other words, we have an adversarial system in the United States - plaintiffs legal team and defendant’s legal team.  Since I was working in the judiciary branch,  I was sifting through fact and law and just looking for what I could determine was the objective truth without the burden of representing a particular side or point of view.  So those were the great parts of the job, the down side for me:  there was a certain amount of isolation that became cumulative.  It was me, a law library and/or legal search engines and a computer.  There was very little interaction with other human beings, research and write, research and write.  A very solo job.  That was what first drew me to teach.  The ability to engage with others. I just wanted to connect in real time with other professionals and share my area of expertise.

What attracts you to the legal field?

I joke with my students on the solid analytical reasoning that went into my becoming an attorney.  “As an adult, I realized there are two things I avoid in life: confrontation and uncertainty. So I became a lawyer.”  Well, the irony is - law is both.  At the end of the day, it is a system designed around confrontation and really, nothing is ever “certain” in the law.  It is all varying degrees of gray: are the facts closer to this case or to another case is the statute to be interpreted broadly or narrowly, or even will that law be overturned.  Who thought there would be a federally constitutionally protected right for same sex couples to marry?  Now the U.S. has that right, that law, and it is settled … except it really probably isn’t.  There will be lots of challenges for religious exemption type tests and who knows with new and different members of the Supreme Court - laws could change - same with Roe v. Wade.  Nothing is certain and everything is gray and constantly changing.  However, I do think, amidst this chaos, there are guiding principles of logic and precedence to help us navigate.  That is what drew me to the law.  The underlying desire to organize and make sense of our system of governance and how that can help individuals fulfill our best potential.

What are some of the changes to the field in the last five years?

Probably the biggest change in the area of paralegal education is the emergence of online paralegal education whether it is for a certificate or continuing legal education, online options are exploding.  In the ten years since BU first offered an online option, I have seen a great progression in the capabilities of the software for online education.  Programs are interactive and can be both synchronous and asynchronous.  Today, BU’s program uses a variety of tools to bring the information to life.  Students interact with each other, the instructor, and the paralegal teaching assistants through discussion boards. Every module includes a live webinar which is also recorded for those who can not attend the “live” classroom.

In the paralegal field, the use of paralegals in general has greatly increased since the economic collapse of 2008.  I know that’s a little more than 5 years but I find that to be a real time marker in the paralegal profession.  Clients started really examining a law firms' billing and no longer paid the high billables of attorneys without question.  Clients were much less likely to question the lower billings of paralegals especially in areas where paralegals thrive.  Paralegals are now doing the work once done by first, second or third year legal associates.  Their work is just as reliable and their billables are more reasonable which clients appreciate, yet paralegals are still billing client hours which supervising attorneys appreciate.  So in general, much greater use of a paralegals skills in both law firms and in-house counsel positions.

What are the most significant changes experienced paralegals don’t seem to be paying attention to?

Everyone in the workforce, be it experienced paralegals or attorneys, doctors, accountants, firefighters or the police has to stay on top of emerging technologies.  When I was in law school, we went to this place to do legal research called “a library”.  Now, the majority of legal research is done online in Westlaw or Lexis or facts are searched for on Google.  At Boston University, we have an entire module called Legal Technologies.  We teach students about Cloud Computing, E-Discovery, CaseMap, Pacer, and Clio.  Our tuition includes a WestlawNext password, so they have time to learn this expensive software while a student and not on a client’s billable clock.  The experienced paralegal has to stay on top of all it all.  So emerging software is key. Tech-savvy paralegals will always have an advantage.

What’s hot? What’s not?

Hot = distance learning, technology, billable hours and paralegals.

Not Hot = libraries, and legal secretaries. Through the growth of computer technologies, laptops and smartphones and tablets - allows a lot of people to work from home and really lessens the traditional role of the legal secretary.  There is no typing anymore. Attorneys and paralegals are typing their own briefs and email has replaced the need for a letter to be typed.  And, legal secretaries can not bill for their time.

What significance does an ABA approved school play on getting a job?

This entire ABA or non-ABA debate can become quite politicized. I do not believe it is an issue in attorney’s offices and hiring circles.  The first job you are going to get in any field, paralegal or otherwise, will always be the hardest.  After that, where you went to school will matter less and conversely your work experience will matter more.  Not so long ago, the only way a paralegal could be called a paralegal was through work experience.  A certificate was not needed.

In 1995, when I first started as an instructor at Boston University, BU’s paralegal certificate program was modeled on the ABA paradigm.  It was a one and one-half to two year undergraduate program costing approximately twenty thousand dollars.  In 1997, I became aware of some new, very intensified and concise paralegal certificate educational programs offered by traditional non-profit four-year colleges and universities.  Boston University asked me to investigate and compare the advantages / disadvantages between the paradigmatic two-year ABA paralegal certificate model and the more intensified and concise model.  Boston University talked to hiring partners in law firms and in-house counsel in corporations as well as in the public service sector and our research indicated that hiring partners were not making a distinction between ABA and non-ABA approved programs. 

This is particularly true if the individual already has an undergraduate degree.  With an undergraduate degree (as a quick aside, we did see a preference for a Bachelor of Arts degree over an Associates degree and a distinction between nonprofit certificate programs such as Boston University’s and for-profit colleges).

What employers are considering are national reputation and rankings of the certificate granting institution.  In 2016, Boston University was ranked #39 in the U.S. News & World Report, and #42 in the Times Higher Education 2016-2017, #4 in the Best Online Colleges - TheBestSchools.org (2016) and #47 Best Values in Colleges 2016 based on academic excellence and economic value - Kiplinger’s Personal Finance.  At that time, Boston University made a determination to convert our program to its’ present, intensive study, skill set oriented 14 week program.

In 2000, I transitioned the program to our present 14 week intensive study program.  I took out most of the legal theory taught, and focused on skill sets all paralegals need, i.e. attention to detail.  This is mostly in the legal research curriculum where students are provided hypotheticals, WestlawNext and asked to actually do research and find the most relevant law for their “client”.  In making this ‘best law’ determination, students need to consider: jurisdiction, primary source of law, real issues and what terms best identify it.  In more transactional subjects such as Real Estate and Business Law, students are provided hypotheticals and standard legal forms utilized by paralegals on a daily basis.  In Real Estate for example, we have students fill out an “Offer to Purchase”, a “P&S” or Purchase and Sale and  HUD statement, all forms utilized by working paralegals.

The employment pie is large enough to accommodate both types of certificate programs. I’m certainly not going to say there is anything wrong with the ABA module.  The ABA model makes more sense if you are an undergrad and looking for a major.  If you know you want to be a paralegal, yes, that would be a fine choice as an undergraduate but for all those liberal arts majors - from math to history to computer science, nursing - all of those majors - too many to list - I believe the ABA approach is too costly and time consuming and not warranted in the field.  Why - after four years of undergraduate study (and over a hundred thousand dollars of educational expense) two more years in school (and probably another twenty thousand dollars or more)? 

Even in those situations where an employer might prefer an ABA certificate program, potential students still have to weigh not only the significantly higher cost of these programs, but also the loss of time out of the workforce - at least a year if you are going full time.  That’s a year the student is not working, not earning any income. The non-ABA certificated candidate could pitch themselves as trained in paralegal studies and willing to work at less salary for a year under the guidance of an attorney with the possibility of a paralegal position in a year.  They may start working at a slightly less salary but they are working and not spending time/money in school and they are gaining experience.  The intensive non-ABA paralegal certificate is a baited hook that draws in potential employers because it evidences training and interest.   Potential students should be able to determine for themselves what is most appropriate for their respective time in their lives.

What are some of your responsibilities

Designing the curriculum and keeping it current is a major responsibility of mine.  I also hire and dismiss staff. I supervise 24 attorneys and 14 paralegals.

I teach two of our subjects: legal research and legal writing.  I was first drawn to Boston University for the classroom and student contact and that remains my first love.  Students bring such enthusiasm and even a certain innocence to the classroom.  All students are different and all are there for different reasons and backgrounds but there are some commonalitie and their desire to learn and conquer really does inspire me.

What significance, if any, does a CLA or CP play in getting a job?

I personally know (and have hired) two paralegals who have their CLA and/or CP.  Both successfully completed the Boston University Paralegal Certificate program.  Having those added monikers had no bearing on my hiring them.  I have hired over 18 paralegals as Director and those are the only two that chose to study for that accreditation.  Nothing wrong with the added accreditation.  I just don’t see it ever playing in an employment decision.  I know there are those that disagree. I specifically asked my two employees if they think it helped them.  Both thought it helped in understanding and gaining further expertise in specific area of the law but not in getting a job. 

One said not one of the employers she interviewed with even knew what the abbreviations were.  Which is not to say they can’t gain traction but I certainly don’t see that now. There is the CORE certification by the NFPA for entry level paralegals.  I hired a paralegal with a CORE certification.  It was not a factor in hiring her but I did ask if she thinks it is beneficial. She thinks it may have helped her get a little bit of an edge at her last job when she received a promotion but she wasn’t sure.  Of course, a little bit of an edge is better than no edge at all.

What happens to states that do not have mandatory CLE?  Do you believe in mandatory CLEs?

Nothing happens to the states that don’t have mandatory CLEs.  There is no national standard for attorneys having CLEs and CLEs for paralegals is even more amorphous.    I know some paralegal organizations are in favor of mandatory CLEs.  I believe both NALA and NFPA are advocates of state mandatory CLEs.  I will always encourage and support the continuation of education to ensure you are on top of your professional game.  I do not feel that has to be regulated by the state.  The free market system will impose the best standards.

While I don’t think CLE’s should be mandatory for paralegals on either a national or a state level, I encourage my students to take CLEs.  They are a wonderful way to gain areas of subject matter expertise and not only are you learning the actual course content, you are meeting people also in that specific area of law and that is a wonderful way to build and nurture your own professional (and perhaps even personal) network.  Classrooms (physical or virtual) are a great way to meet people who share your common interests.

Where is the field headed?

The legal field in the United States is vast.  The familiar metaphor, " a big ship turning slowly" comes to mind.  That being said, the high cost of law school, coupled with the declining employment prospects for attorneys, is in contrast to the lower cost of paralegal certificates and the higher prospects of paralegal employment which obviously bodes well for the paralegal field.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, paralegal employment growth is at 8% over the next five years.  For lawyers, the employment growth rate is less.  It reduces down to 6% employment growth.  For legal secretaries, that employment growth rate goes down to 3%.  (published date: December 17, 2015)

There is an interesting movement regarding well, a type of “advanced” paralegal.  A position between a paralegal and an attorney that is called the Limited License Legal Technicians.  The motivation for this is the belief that legal services may be made more accessible to those with lower economic resources.  The rationale being, it will take less education costs and time to become a limited license legal technician than it would be for an attorney, so in limited areas legal technicians can provide legal services at lesser costs.  This is a state-by-state matter.  Some states will vote for it, and some will not. 

The state of Washington is the first state (and at the time of this writing - 2017 - the only State ) to offer trained and licensed Legal Technicians to assist people in family law matters.  These legal technician positions are not in direct competition with the average paralegal.  The common comparison is to the medical field and nursing.  The majority of nurses are RNs or LPNs but now nurses also have the option of going to more school and becoming Nurse Practitioners, and with that added education - in addition to their nursing degrees - they can with limited parameters - treat patients and prescribe some medications, like antibiotics but nurse practitioners can not prescribe for controlled substances. 

Attorneys will still employ paralegals.  The future may allow for some paralegals to seek more education and state or bar administered testing, to become limited licensed legal technicians and perhaps work independently in restricted legal areas.  Will the majority of states follow this module?  I don’t have a crystal ball.  Many attorneys are not anxious to open the field up to allow even in limited circumstances to anyone other than an attorney who passed that state’s bar to practice law.  Others feel that legal technicians may be a bridge between the lower economic class who has fewer resources as legal funding programs get slashed along with the availability of needed legal help.

This will be a very slow state-by-state process.  I do not see it hurting or even influencing the mutually beneficial, symbiotic partnership between paralegals and attorneys.

What skills do paralegals need today?

Paralegals need the same skills as every other professional working in the U.S (and with increasing globalization - the same skills as international professionals).  Primarily, we need to be self-motivated with an attention to detail. We need to demonstrate this in everything we do.  For example, you can tell a potential employer that you “are a very self-motivated worker with an excellent attention to detail.”  Job seekers think that is a wonderful thing to say in a cover letter or interview.  It is an empty, vacuous and conclusory statement.  Employers don’t want unsupported conclusions.  They don’t want them at work and nor in an interview.  So, how can a paralegal “evidence” or “support” the statement that they are in fact self-motivated and detail oriented?  One example is to write a complete, fully informed, LinkedIn profile.  If you tell me you are self-motivated and detail oriented and your LinkedIn profile is not 110%, then the evidence of that statement does not support your conclusion. 

Show a potential employer a fully articulated, thought out, robust LinkedIn profile, and they will come to the conclusion that you are in fact self-motivated and detail oriented.  Give them the evidence to form that conclusion.

What does global skills have to do with someone in mid-America?

I don’t think global skills are all that different from traditional good business practices.  There are many definitions of “global skills” but pretty much boil down to: cultural sensitivity, collaborative skills, getting comfortable with situations in which you are not traditionally comfortable and being able to work with various cultural norms to accomplish your own firm’s or employer’s goals.

Whether you are a paralegal in mid-America or mid-Manhattan in today’s world with today’s technology, you may be working remotely, virtually, Skyping with others across the country or even globe.

As an example, I am employed at Boston University. I have an office there.  I also work from my home.  At 8:00 pm eastern time, I have a Live Classroom where students can sign in and participate in their education from their own home computers.  I have students not only across the United States but across the globe.  A few years ago, I had an individual who found one of my hypotheticals offensive.  It was a hypothetical that very few U.S. students would even blink at.  This student happened to live in Indonesia.  It involved an unmarried cohabiting heterosexual couple.  If I want to expand BU’s reach and influence, if I want to honor and respect all my students, I have to be willing to examine cultural variances.  I excused her from that particular hypothetical (while also explaining that in the U.S. such cohabitation is not unusual). 

The lesson for me was to accept her cultural sensitivity, and emphasis the research skill set the hypothetical was enforcing with another hypothetical I wrote for her.  I found a way to respect her as a student and also advance the mission statement which is: “Boston University is an international, comprehensive, private research university, committed to educating students to be reflective, resourceful individuals ready to live, adapt, and lead in an interconnected World.”

What advice would you give to new paralegals?

To paraphrase:  I have three words of advice to new paralegals: network, network, network.

Networking does not have to be this difficult, burdensome or even oppressive albatross.  If you think networking is “tooooo hard”, change your mindset. The reality is, networking can be quite invigorating, enjoyable and affirming.

We can start networking  online. Here’s an assignment (come on - I’m a teacher.  I always have an assignment) … so, for every paralegal, or student, thinking of becoming a paralegal, go post on your Facebook page that you are excited about the paralegal field.  Make it an upbeat, joyful, optimistic post.  End your post with a question, “Do any of my Facebook friends know someone in the legal or paralegal field that I might have an exploratory conversation with?”  Or, if you are a working paralegal post something like, “I love working in my area of the law.  What do other paralegals love about their jobs?” Now that’s not hard.  Facebook has  a ‘group’ section.  Type in the group section “paralegal” . Even type your geographic area and the word “paralegal”. Join and participate in group discussions.  You will educate yourself issues in the field and make professional contacts at the same time.  Always make sure your posts are upbeat.

I recently went to a paralegal resume and networking conference sponsored by my local Massachusetts Paralegal Association.  One of the Placement Agents said:  “If you are not on LinkedIn, you are not looking for a job.” You have to have a detail oriented, robust LinkedIn page.  That’s not hard to do. It just takes commitment and time.  If you are not sure how to fill out a LinkedIn profile, Youtube is your friend.  There a 100s of Youtube videos showing how to best fill out a LinkedIn profile.  View several and cull what you think is the best information from each.

Mostly I would tell a new paralegal, everyone is a contact.  From the other parents at a PTA meeting, to people you meet at the dog park, the book club, soccer or football sidelines, church, synagogue, temple … I don’t care if it’s a pagan prayer circle - talk to people.  Share your enthusiasm for this field and don’t be afraid to ask if they know others you might be able to talk with.  You know your friends but you don’t always know the other friends in their lives and how your friends may be able to help you connect with other similar paralegal enthusiasts.  In a small world, you can become a big paralegal.

Chere B. Estrin is the CEO of Estrin Legal Staffing; CEO of the Paralegal Knowledge Institute; President and Co-Founding Member of the Organization of Legal Professionals (OLP). She has written 10 books in the legal field including The Paralegal Career Guide (4th Ed.) and Where Do We Go From Here? Chere is a Co-Founding Member of the International Practice Management Association (IPMA) (formerly the International Paralegal Management Association); a Lifetime Achievement Recipient of the Los Angeles Paralegal Association. She is a former Paralegal Administrator for two major law firms; an executive in a $5 billion corporation; an Inc. magazine Entrepreneur of the Year finalist; Los Angeles/Century City Women of Achievement Award Recipient; and has been written up in Newsweek; Los Angeles Times; Daily Journal; Above the Law and other publications. She can be reached on her free time Sundays 3:00 a.m. - 6:00 a.m. Talk to her at chere@estrinlegalstaffing.com

 


Where Do I Go From Here? Alternative Careers for Paralegals

Woman.capWhen I ask a paralegal “What's the next step in your career”, they inevitably tell me what they don’t want. “I don’t want a major firm.” “I don’t want litigation.” “I don’t want….” Rarely, can they tell me what they do want other than “a whole lot of money” or “I want to go in-house.” Sometimes, however, they tell me, “I want an alternative career.” Ok, I’ll say, “What does that mean?” And I get driven right back to the, “I dunno.”

The most important thing to remember when considering an alternative career is:

“By setting a timeline and creating a plan, you have a goal. Otherwise, all you have is a dream.”

What are the reasons paralegals start seeking an alternative career? Meeting billable hours, too much overtime, looming deadlines, need for bigger challenges, desire for increased salary,  stress, meeting unrealistic or unclear expectations or the all mighty, unspoken: dealing with attorney egos.

It’s entirely possible that you may be suffering from the little known R&RW syndrome– routine and repetitious work, a huge contributor to paralegal burnout. Sure, you may be working on different cases, clients or matters but underneath, the work is the same. You are executing the same document organization, drafting of pleadings or writing of minutes. The work is the same, only the client is different. Routine and repetitious work = burnout. That’s the biggest reason why paralegals scream, “Get me outta here!”

Here are a few ideas sparked by paralegals who have found careers inside and outside the legal field. Recognize that it’s not fault with the paralegal field. It could be the type of job that you have that no longer matches your expectations. Ask yourself: Have I defined my expectations?

Outside the Legal Field
A few months ago, we placed a litigation paralegal into one the top PR firms in the country as a Jr. PR Specialist. She leveraged her paralegal skills along with some PR project work she accomplished during college.  She had a strong desire to get out of the paralegal field and into PR. She became a paralegal because her family wanted her to be a lawyer or dentist and she was trying to meet their expectations.

She went to work for a one of the top PR agents in the country representing A-list celebrities. The PR agent liked her attention to detail, research and writing skills, ability to handle large egos and that she had to be smart to work in a law firm. She is one happy camper.

A litigation paralegal turned her artistic skills into her dream of becoming a freelance artist. How did she do it? She continuously participated in artist shows until she built up a clientele, website, following, and inventory. Gradually, she moved the number of days she worked as a paralegal down and the number of days she worked as an artist up. She didn’t just quit and try to make it as an artist. Now, she works full-time as an artist in Oregon. Her secret? She had a plan, took her time and worked the plan.

Positions where you can leverage your paralegal skills outside of the legal field include: escrow agents, compliance specialists, bank probate administrators, funds administrators, insurance brokers, trust examiners, real estate agents, risk managers, health care industry professionals, contract administrators, administrative in hospitals, non-profits and more.

Staying In the Field
Several months ago, we found a position for a real estate paralegal who claimed she was burning out. Why? No client contact. In every position she had, she sat in her office drafting contracts, purchase agreements, reviewing title reports and preparing lease summaries. This outgoing paralegal very rarely saw a client. She thought she hated the paralegal field. That wasn’t necessarily the case.  We proposed a new position gaining popularity around the county: the hybrid paralegal/legal secretary.  We took her out of the major firm and into a smaller, boutique firm. The position put her in a situation where she was face-to-face with clients every single day. The result? One happy, smiling paralegal. The fact that she is now making in the mid $90’s didn’t hurt either.

Raul Estravit leveraged his paralegal background into the managing principal at Encore Litigation & Trial Technology Services. He started out as a paralegal in a major law firm working on the world changing trial of MCI v AT&T. Raul was one of  the very first professionals in Los Angeles to employ Litigation Support in several large scale cases including The Exxon Valdez Oil Spill.  His work on the Valdez matter became a focal point at the Senate hearings in Washington. His paralegal background has made him into a hybrid professional between the legal and technology worlds. Raul has "Hot Seated" and managed over 500 cases throughout his career.

Positions inside the law firm are too numerous to mention.
Here are just a few: Law firm administrators, hiring coordinators, professional development directors, training managers, eDiscovery professionals, litigation support professionals, docketing, marketing, facilities management, data analysts, technology, IT, HR, pricing analysts, purchasing, catering, event planning, PR, recruiting, paralegal managers, website management, newsletter coordinators, billing coordinators, accounting professionals, practice support managers.   

Outside But Inside
Recently, I became a Board member of a rural community center. I’ve had such fun and job satisfaction! The community center was a 501(c)(7) that is basically a social club. The center badly needed a roof, funding, and other things. The center needed to change its non-profit status to a 501(c)(3) in order to get grants, funding, and donations.  A retired paralegal is assisting in re-writing the bylaws and assisting with the changes.  While this isn’t another job, it is helping the community. Here is a way to find job satisfaction without changing jobs.

Vendors
Vendors have fantastic positions, pay well and offer interesting careers. You can move up within the company, something you can’t always do in a law firm.  Not all positions with vendors are sales. There are research, analysts, management, recruiting, administrative, paralegal, document review, and a number of other interesting opportunities.

In-house
There are in-house positions such as this Director, Corporate Secretary that calls for a paralegal background. Here is the job description: “The Office of Corporate Governance supports the board of directors and committees for xxxxx and subsidiaries. It is responsible for legal and regulatory matters pertaining to public companies and financial services holding companies, and responsibilities of directors and officers. You will be responsible for governance matters for the Board of Board Committee meetings and coordinating governance-related initiatives.

Background:  Experience (6+ years) as a corporate paralegal. Paralegal certificate a plus.

Technology Careers
One of the hottest alternative careers for paralegals can be found in technology. You can find lucrative careers as a Litigation Support professional in Litigation Support analyst; project manager, eDiscovery project manager, eDiscovery consultant, forensics, case managers,  database managers, trainers, and more. These are high paying positions and well worth investigating.

Mediators
Here’s a great alternative career! The majority of mediators are either lawyers or former judges. However, the field is open to non-lawyers who are entering the profession. At this writing, no formal licensing or certification exists for mediators. Training is available through independent mediation programs, national and local mediation membership organizations and post-secondary schools, according to the U.S. Dept. of Labor and Bureau of Labor Statistics. Colleges and universities are also beginning to offer advanced degrees in dispute resolution and conflict management.

Educators
Check out opportunities at your local college or online. There are teacher, program administrators, consultants, education coor­dinator for continuing legal education open in paralegal education. Check with local universities, col­leges, vocational schools online training organizations and community colleges for requirements. Many schools are in­terested in hiring part-time faculty to teach an occasional course. This could be an opportunity for you to see if you would like to work in the academic world. It is also a great addition to your resume.

How to Make the Transition
One misconception is that you can just throw your resume out there and employers will automatically assume you are qualified. Not so! In order to transition, have a plan. You may have to take classes, get cross-trained or write your resume reflecting you have the proper skills and abilities. Employers do not have the imagination to assume that you have the right qualifications. Furthermore, no one reads long, rambling cover letters explaining why you are qualified or want to transition. Two to five seconds is literally all that an employer will spend reading your cover letter.

Will you have to take a cut in salary? Possibly, yes. One unrealistic expectation is that you will make the same salary you are earning now. If you are not bringing experience, you cannot expect to get more money or the same that you are earning now. It is possible to earn the same or even more if you leverage your paralegal skills as in technology such as eDiscovery, paralegal management or HR skills. However, if you are seeking to move from litigation to trust officer in a bank and have no experience, it is unlikely you will get the same salary. You have to bring some experience to the table. Be flexible and open.

Tailor your resume specifically for each job. Do the work it takes. If you are transitioning out of the field, writing a resume that says, “prepared motions, summary judgments and trial exhibits” is not going to get you a position in an unrelated field. The resume might have to read, “worked with high-profile clients”, “prepared sophisticated documents”, “handled heavy correspondence” or whatever applies to your new job. Employers outside the legal field will not relate to specific legal assignments. They do not understand the legal field and are likely to reject the resume.

Finding an alternative career is exciting, challenging and motivating. You can leverage your current skills, find a way to utilize your work history and keep on going in this highly stimulating field that just keeps growing and growing!

Here’s to outrageous success!

Chere B. Estrin is the CEO of Estrin Legal Staffing. She is a recipient of the LAPA Lifetime Achievement Award; President and Co-Founding Member of the Organization of Legal Professionals; CEO of the Paralegal Knowledge Institute; a national seminar speaker and author of 10 books on legal careers. She has been written up in the Los Angeles Times, Newsweek, Chicago Trib, Daily Journal and other publications. Her blog, The Estrin Report has been around since 2005. Chere has been a top executive in a $5 billion corporation, paralegal administrator in two major law firms and is a co-founding member of the International Paralegal Management Association. She is an Inc. Magazine Entrepreneur of the Year Finalist and lots of other stuff. She's free on Sundays from 3:00 a.m. to 6:00 a.m.  Reach out to her at chere@estrinlegalstaffing.com.


10 Steps to Ace Your Performance Review and Get a Mind-Blowing Raise

Piggy bankYou’re not reading this article because you’ve gotten the raise of your dreams. You’re reading it because a) you want the raise of your dreams b) you didn’t get the raise of your dreams and need corrective action or c) it ain’t gonna happen. To c), I say, maybe not.  But hey, at least I'm honest here.

However, there are concrete steps you can take to get the process in motion.  Sitting back, waiting for the firm to take all the action is most definitely a career rear-ender.  Why? You become a victim to your circumstances. The firm has all the power and you have nothing. It’s time you took action and learned to be the commander in your career. Well, as close to it as possible, anyway.

Here are 10 steps you can take to help ensure a positive review and great raise:

  1. Don’t assume the firm knows what you accomplished over the year. Make a list of specific accomplishments. The written evaluations handed out to attorneys are not always the best tools to prompt memories of why you deserve a raise. In fact, anyone evaluating you can only remember what you did over the past three months, not the entire year. You need to prepare the firm for your evaluation, not the other way around.

  2. If you think you deserve more money, be prepared to prove it. Remember, you’re in a law firm. You’ll have to prove your case. You need to show your boss the value you added to the firm and point out specific instances you went above and beyond the call of duty.

Ideally, you should keep a log of significant contributions made over the year. Show how you contributed to the win of a case, found a significant witness, helped on a major merger, or showed leadership under pressure. Use as many details as possible, such as numbers and facts. Take at least five - six of the biggest impact contributions and present them in a bulleted list.

If your job description has changed over the past year or you've taken on added responsibilities, include those with your list of accomplishments. If you've recently completed training or received an advanced degree benefits the firm, be sure to point that out. To drive home your case, make copies of e-mails or memos from supervisors, clients or colleagues praising your performance.

  1. Remember: your pay raise is based on your contribution to the firm over and beyond the norm. It is not based on tenure or years of experience. You are not entitled to one simply because another year has passed. Just because you have 10 years of experience with the firm does not mean you should get a raise. You don’t get a raise for hanging in there, suiting up and showing up each day. Nor do you get a raise for doing your job. You’re expected to do your job. That’s why you’re getting the salary you’re getting now. You get a raise for going beyond the norm.

Do not bring your personal financial situation into the discussion. Your boss doesn't care if your rent has gone up, your commute is longer, you've got tuition to pay for or your spouse isn’t working. When handing out raises, the firm only cares about the bottom-line and whether you are profitable. Only ask for a raise if you truly deserve it -- not because you need it.

  1. Speaking of profitability: Do you know if you are profitable? Are you a paralegal who has met and exceeded your minimum billable hourly requirement? If you only met your required hours, you did not do anything outstanding. Do you know what those numbers are? How much of your time was written off and why? These are numbers you should have your hands around. It can be an indicator of quality of work product. A paralegal expecting a substantial raise that isn’t profitable is not likely to see a huge increase.

  2. Find out how your salary compares. You'll need to tell your boss exactly how much you'd like to get paid. Don’t expect outrageous percentages of increases. For example, 2-3% increases are normal raises. Asking for a 20% increase might be a stretch if you are being paid market rate and cannot justify the increase. When you know what others in your practice specialty are paid and what your position is worth, you can use that figure as a starting point for negotiations.

  3. Firms are not paying for years in the field. They pay for performance. You can be a 10 year paralegal but performing at the four-year level. Have you progressed in the past few years? Are you up-to-date on the latest technology? Did you bring a new skill to the firm? Are you doing more sophisticated work now or, are you doing the same assignments you were doing two years ago? If you are doing the same, on what basis would the firm justify a significant raise? None. Think about it.

  4. Consider negotiating benefits and perks. A raise doesn't have to come in dollar signs. So before entering negotiations, think of other areas you are willing to negotiate such as extra vacation, flexible hours, or a real office with four real walls that reach the ceiling and a door that actually closes instead of three felt-lined walls compliments of Ikea. Or, bargain for telecommuting or a week at a professional conference in Hawaii, poolside, of course.

If the benefits and perks are more important than money, include them in the forefront of your pitch. Some firms will not negotiate benefits or perks. Find out. But if your firm can, keep a couple of possible perks in your back pocket just in case your boss says "no" to a monetary raise. This will give you something else to bargain with if negotiations stall.

  1. Bargain for a title. You can take it with you when you leave. It costs the firm nothing to give it to you and in fact, gets them more revenue as they can increase your billing rate. Senior Paralegal sounds much better than Paralegal and if that’s on your resume, you are likely to get more money in your next position. “It can be worth up to $10,000 or more in your pocket”, says Chris Donaldson, CEO of Career Images, a prestigious recruiting firm in Los Angeles. “Learn to leverage your position. However, you have to be performing the assignments consistent with the title.”

  2. Time your pitch right. If your annual performance review isn't any time soon, approach your firm after you've done well on a project or taken on extra responsibilities. This makes your case much easier to present because the firm already has a positive, recent experience and is excited about you right now. Immediately after a case settles in your client’s favor, a big merger is accomplished, a real estate deal ends favorably or a project goes extremely well, is an excellent time to approach the firm for a raise. You don't want to allow time to go by and then your supervisor has forgotten what an asset you are.


  3. When making your case, don't compare yourself to your co-workers performance or salaries. Don’t try saying “I’m better than John” and use that as a bargaining chip. Furthermore, if you've only been at your entry-level job for a year, expecting a hefty bonus, substantial raise or prestigious promotion is probably unrealistic unless you really, truly outdid yourself. Going into negotiations with a sense of entitlement may actually hurt your chances. Don’t toss out to your boss what someone else makes, either. It doesn’t matter what Joe or Sue is earning. Each employee is evaluated on their own merits.

Bonus tip:             Oh, and don't threaten to quit unless you really mean it. If you give your boss an ultimatum -- "Give me a raise or else" -- you just may find that "or else" is your only option. I’ve known employers who stand up, open the door and show the employee the way out. That’s when the firm calls me.  So much for playing that card!

There are a number of reasons your boss may turn down your request, but if it's because there simply isn't enough money available, shift gears. “Suggest an upgrade in your position,” says Donaldson. "It's easier for your firm to rationalize a higher salary if your job description is changed to include higher-level assignments. They can also bill you at a higher rate to justify the salary increase. And most importantly, you can always ask to reopen negotiations in a few months.”

Chere B. Estrin is the CEO of Estrin Legal Staffing. She is a recipient of the LAPA Lifetime Achievement Award; President and Co-Founding Member of the Organization of Legal Professionals (OLP), CEO of the Paralegal Knowledge Institute, a national seminar speaker and author of 10 books on legal careers. She has been written up in the Los Angeles Times, Newsweek, Chicago Trib, Daily Journal and other publications. Her blog, The Estrin Report has been around since 2005. Ms. Estrin has been a top executive in a $5 billion corporation, paralegal administrator in two major law firms and is a Co-Founding member of the International Paralegal Management Association. She is an Inc. Magazine Entrepreneur of the Year Finalist, Los Angeles/Century Women of Achievement Recipient and lots of other stuff. You can reach out to her at chere@estrinlegalstaffing.com. She's usually free from 3am to 6am on Sundays.

Chere B. Estrin ©2016 Reprints by permission only


How to Alienate a Recruiter and Bust Your Career

Interview2It’s that time again. We struggle as to whether it’s time to change jobs, hang in there or be thankful we’re in the best firm in the world. Well, maybe the best.  OK, the best so far.

Working with a good recruiter can make your career.  Here’s the inside scoop: Recruiters, and I am talking about the staffing agency kind, hold the keys to literally hundreds of contacts they have built up over the years. They have the ears of the hiring authorities of the very firms you want to get into. Those who don’t understand the power and value of a good recruiter or who dismiss them, mistreat them or otherwise abuse them are in for a huge surprise.  Are you one?

Here are the reasons recruiters are extremely valuable to your career whether or not you are seeking a new position:

  1. Top recruiters have backgrounds as former administrators, paralegal managers, senior paralegals, attorneys or litigation support managers. They know this field inside and out.
  2. Top recruiters are connected to hundreds of top hiring authorities. They have long-term, personal relationships they have carefully cultivated. They have the ears of hiring authorities and confide in them which candidate is a good hire and which ones are not. They hold the keys to opening doors for you.
  3. They can get you into a firm utilizing their contacts when simply sending a resume through a job board won’t work. They personalize the message to the hiring authority and give their opinion. They have interviewed and screened you first. They stake their reputation on whether you are good.
  4. You don’t know when you are going to seek a position. Having a recruiter in your back pocket is the best career safety device you can have.
  5. They can tell you which firms are best suited for you. They can help gear your resume towards the position rather you trying to shoot in the dark. They give you the facts on the firm rather than having you guess. They know exactly why the position is open, turnover rates, percentage of raises, whether bonuses are actually given, how much, level of sophistication of assignments and in short, a reality burst.
  6. You can call them at raise time and find out the going market rate. They know what the firms are giving. You don’t even have to be looking. You have a contact that will be honest with you.

Here are 5 of the biggest mistakes you can make in alienating recruiters, how to get them on your side and how to upgrade your career – all through making a new best friend:

Mistake Number One: You’re contacted by a recruiter –You ignore an email inquiry or phone call.

Don’t be arrogant! So you’re not looking for a job right now. Are you so secure that you know what’s going on in the Executive Committee? You know without a doubt that you’re not going to be downsized, merged or otherwise purged? First of all, recruiters have advanced warning on your firm. They know if the firm is merging before you do. They know if a number of people are bailing. You don’t.

Secondly, how do you know that they don’t have a better opportunity for you? Have you thought about your future? I can’t tell you how many people don’t make the connection and in a short period of time are unexpectedly searching for a position. Just try calling that recruiter back after the royal snub. Trust me. They keep meticulous records. They know when they’ve been brushed off, treated rudely and they keep loooong records. You come off as a) self-important b) uncooperative and c) insulting. Hardly makes for a cohesive relationship. Bear in mind, top recruiters are very selective in who they deal with. Frankly, if they selected you, you might be flattered........

Mistake Number Two:  You think the recruiter works for you.

Recruiters work for employers, not job hunters. They are usually paid from 15 – 25% of the annual base salary from the employer. Their job is to find the best talent with precisely the right requirements for the job. They aren't paid to help people transition to new fields. To be sure, they help individuals whom they are able to place, but their primary responsibility is not to be a career counselor or coach job seekers. On occasion, a stellar candidate can be “skill marketed”, i.e., shopped to a firm who is not necessarily seeking a candidate but may be interested in your skills. This, however, is only done for exceptional candidates with extraordinary skills. This is why you may not be hearing from recruiters and instead hear, “Nothing has come in”. I know how frustrating that is and I know how you want them to want you.

Mistake Number Three: You stand the recruiter up. BIG mistake.

Why some candidates just stand up a recruiter is beyond me.  It is the same as if you stand up an employer. These  candidates simply think that it’s “just the recruiter” and is not that important.  Believe me. It’s one of the biggest mistakes you can make.

Recruiters set aside at least a half an hour of valuable time for you. This is their sales time. It also shows what kind of candidate you are along with what kind of professionalism you have. I don’t care what the excuse is. A simple one line email to cancel the appointment will save your career. Recruiters are not likely to reschedule you. Why? You’ll do the same to their clients, you’ve wasted their time, and you’re not as “hot” as you think you are. Believe me. You think there are other recruiters and it doesn’t matter? This recruiter may have already talked to a firm about you and now you’re dead at that firm.  You don’t know. Remember, you’ll meet them elsewhere and you're starting to get a not-so-good reputation as a, yes....flake. They’ll remember how you treated them. Don’t alienate a recruiter. They have the ears of hundreds of top hiring authorities.  Simply moving on to another recruiter is not that easy if you’ve alienated the top ones and truthfully, while there are lots of recruiters out there, there are few top recruiters. You really want a top recruiter. This is your career you're playing with.

Here's a great example: I have a colleague who was a recruiter at a top New York recruiting firm. He was there for years. Great guy. He went on to be an HR administrator at  a top ten law firm and part of his job is recruiting litigation support and technical professionals nationwide. Every time he receives a resume from someone who was rude to him, stood him up, was a problem to work with at the recruiting firm, guess what? Do you think they get in at his firm now? Bingo!!! 10 points for you! Right answer. Uh, no. If you answered, yes they do, please go back to square one.

I have had candidates email me with outrageous excuses why they stood me up. One great excuse was, “My nanny didn’t show up, so I had my kids all day. I thought it was Thursday, not Friday, so I missed my interview.” Great. Someone I can really rely on to tell what day it is.  Another said, “I had to study for a test.” OK.  Don’t schedule the interview. You’ve just wasted my time. I am not sympathetic. I don’t reschedule. I move on to more professional candidates who treat me with respect.

Mistake Number Four: You don’t give the recruiter the true story.

Candidates who are not straight-forward with recruiters are asking for trouble. If you don’t give the right story why you are seeking a position, the correct salary information, the real reasons you left your positions and more, you are killing your chances because you will be found out. The recruiter has to guarantee the placement for a certain length of time or refund the money if you don't work out. They also check your background. That means they have to know the truth. It's better they found out from you first.

The recruiter will help you in your answers to the firm. The firm can legally check salary history, reasons for leaving and whether you are eligible for rehire. When a candidate tells me they “don’t know how much they are making”, I am highly suspicious. What??? Are you serious? This is a candidate hiding something. I had a candidate tell me that they had to go home and figure it out. Right. You don’t know if you are making in the $60’s, $70’s or $80’s? Uh, oh. Someone I really want at the helm. "Hello, Mr. Employer? I am presenting this great candidate. He doesn't know how much money he makes but he sure does summarize a great deposition." Hmmm......That sure makes me look good.

Mistake Number Five:   You try to go around the recruiter and negotiate your salary.

Top recruiters are good negotiators. They know what the firm’s bottom-line is and what your bottom-line is. They know what the firm’s top paralegal is earning and how to negotiate with the firm. Let them negotiate for you. Don’t try to do it on your own. The firm expects to negotiate with the recruiter, not you. It is always best to have a third-party negotiate as there are no hard feelings when you walk through the door on the first day. Also, you’re most likely to get more money as the more you get, the more the recruiter is paid.  Be sure your recruiter is experienced and an expert in negotiations.

I recall a candidate who was the testiest candidate I ever worked with. He flew to an out-of-state location for a high-paying position and unbeknownst to me, walked into the interview with a demand for approximately $20,000 in relocation fees during the first interview! The firm was so taken back, they immediately disqualified him. Well, let me be honest, his personality turned out not so great, either……. Word to the wise - let your recruiter handle salary  negotiations.

Bonus Mistake: You are an employer who keeps dismissing recruiter calls and mistreating recruiters.

Here’s the deal, folks. You don’t know when you’re going to need a new job. Enough said.

Recruiters are crucial to your career success. Make friends with them. Keep them in your back pocket. While they are not there to give you career coaching, they are valuable resources. Be sure to send them great candidates and introduce them to the hiring authorities in your firm. They are in it for the long-term relationship. I have candidates and employers whom I have had the most fantastic give and take relationships with for twenty years (or more). I am grateful for them and help them at a moment’s notice. It’s the gift that keeps on coming.

Chere Estrin is the CEO of Estrin Legal Staffing; President and Co-Founding member of the Organization of Legal Professionals, a non-profit online training company for eDiscovery and CEO of the Paralegal Knowledge Institute, an online training organization.  She has written 10 books on legal careers and has been interviewed by Newsweek, Los Angeles Times, Daily Journal, Above the Law and others. She is a Los Angeles Paralegal Association Lifetime Achievement Award winner, a New York City Paralegal Association Excellence Award Winner, Los Angeles Chamber of Commerce/Century City Women of Achievement Award Recipient and finalist of the Inc. Magazine Entrepreneur of the Year Award. Her blog, The Estrin Report has been around since 2005. She is a former Paralegal Administrator at two major law firms and executive in a $5 billion corporation. She has free time on Sundays between 3:00am and 6am. Reach out at chere@estrinlegalstaffing.com.


Who's Afraid of the Big Bad Stress?

Stress4Stress doesn't really scare me. It is part and parcel of our lives. Why, might you ask, would anyone say that? Probably because in the second half of my work life, I have found the secrets to a relatively stress free career.

Article after article has been written about stress. It’s the same old, same old: manage your stress, have a plan, stay positive, visualize your last trip to Hawaii in the sun-soaked terrain, exercise daily and get regular hot rock massages. That, or have a glass of good white wine, get in the bathtub with lots of Evelyn & Crabtree, cozy candles and listen to old Neil Diamond songs.

I don’t know where some of these authors get this stuff, except to say that they must live in Dreamland, somewhere east of here. Have they ever worked in a law firm? I used to be the most stressed-out person I knew. I averaged 90 hour weeks in the legal field as an executive in a $5 billion corporation, traveled three weeks out of four, answered to some big shots who thought they owned the planet, and managed hundreds of people. It wasn’t much different when I was a paralegal manager. There were critical deadlines to meet, difficult attorneys to juggle, anxious clients to handle and something called a “minimum billable hours” requirement, now referred to as “suggested” hours in a more politically correct and less actionable environment. I recently looked at a picture of myself during that era. I was holding my new-born niece, Cristina, a joy to behold and I looked like I just escaped from a train wreck and stopped by to say howdy.

Some years ago, California Lawyer magazine published an article by Richard Carlton, author of “Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff” that cited: “Among members of the medical community, there is a growing acceptance that stress from long working hours, such as 70 hours a week or more, may contribute to the onset of clinical depression. A study of 10,000 adults by a team from Johns Hopkins University discovered that among all the occupational groups represented, attorneys had the highest prevalence of signs and symptoms of clinical depression. In fact, the rate of depression among the attorneys studied was 3.6 times the norm for all occupations.”

The article further stated that, “Psychologists observe that attorneys, who are trained to be impersonal and objective, often apply the same approach to their personal problems and are reluctant to focus on their inner emotional lives.” Wow. Examining the state of mind of those around you in relation to why your atmosphere seems stressful is very revealing, indeed. First, let’s debunk some myths about workplace stress.

Myth #1:  Stress is normal for anyone working in the legal community.  The stakes are high and when the stakes are high, so is the stress.  Anything can go wrong at any time.  Stress is even good for you because it pushes you to perform.

            Some people think that if you’re not too busy, you’re not really crucial to the organization, particularly when you are rewarded for high billable hours.  But stress does not mean you matter. It either means that something is wrong at work or that you’re not doing a good enough job of matching your tasks to your time. Worse, it also means that you get less work done, because stressed people are less efficient, worse communicators and even worse at making good decisions. To accept stress as a normal condition of work is bad for people and bad for business.

There are also certain delusions we create for ourselves.  Declaring that you thrive under stress is a justification for procrastination. Sure, there are people who can’t figure out how to deliver anything until the last minute. But this is a crisis in confidence (fear of starting for fear of failing) as opposed to stunning brilliance unlocked by stress.

Myth #2: Stress is caused by working too much.   But then, why do some people work 80 hours a week and feel great, while some people work 30 hours and get seriously stressed?  Here’s why: stress has nothing to do with the number of hours you work, and everything to do with how you feel during those hours. If you work 100 hours a week and feel great, have fun and take pride in what you do, you won’t be stressed. If you work 30 hours a week feel inadequate, bullied or unappreciated, you will be stressed.  Stress at the workplace does not always cause unhappiness. Your workplace happiness hinges more on whether or not you like your work than on whether or not your work is stressful, according to Alan Krueger, a professor at Princeton University.

Myth #3: Stress is cured by working fewer hours.  Most workplaces react to stress by reducing employees’ workloads, responsibilities or working hours and in serious cases, by giving people long sick leaves. According to Danish medical researcher Bo Netterstrom who has studied workplace stress for 30 years, this is a mistake.

            Netterstrom claims people hit by stress need to increase their confidence at work. While time off can be necessary to treat the immediate symptoms of stress, a long absence from the workplace does exactly the opposite. When people return, they’re even more vulnerable. Worse, some never return to work at all. Reducing work or leaving work temporarily doesn’t fix any underlying problems. When employees return to work or to “normal” work conditions, nothing has changed and the stress returns quickly.

Myth #4: Stress is cured by working more.   Falling behind at work from time- to-time is a given in this 24/7, Internet accessed, Iphoned, work world. Believing that if you work really hard for a while you’ll catch up and then stress will go away is a fairy tale. It won’t “just go away” for two reasons:
            1.         Workplace stress does not come from falling behind at work. It comes from how you feel about falling behind.

            2.         In most law firm environments, people will always be behind. There is simply too much work. Finishing all your assignments can mean getting more work along with the career enhancing opportunity to push your billable hours even higher. 

            A temporary push to reduce a pile of work or meet a deadline is fine. But all too often that temporary push becomes the new standard.  So the solution to stress is not to work harder to catch up because in most law firms, this is impossible. The solution is to feel good about the work you finish and not to get stressed about the work you don’t finish. It’s not that you should stop caring or not look for a solution.  It’s that you should avoid a vicious circle:  being stressed makes you less productive which means you get less work done and become more stressed.  

The Truth about Stress

            Work does not give you stress. Feeling bad about work gives you stress. This means that changing your work hours, responsibilities, priorities or work environment is meaningless, unless it also changes the way you feel at work. Forget about those stress management courses. They just will not do the trick either, unless they can achieve how you feel.

            The most common sources of stress for legal professionals — deadlines, lack of control over time, difficult clients, escalating intensity, no margin for error - are outside of a paralegal’s control.  What determines how much stress these circumstances cause is the degree to which these “givens” are perceived as threatening. Any perceived threat - real or not - triggers our body’s “fight-or-flight response.” Over a period of time, it is possible to modify how your body reacts by whether you perceive situations as threatening. Ask yourself whether an issue really justifies your current reaction - or, whether it will matter in a month. Keep matters in perspective so that stress is relative to its importance.

What Do I Do Now?

            Given that I have knocked a number of standard stress articles, I do have a few suggestions that personally helped change my life around.  Everyone can find a way out of stress and some may wish to seek professional counseling. Let me share a few things that I found helpful:

                1.         You can’t change things if you don’t acknowledge them.  Ok, so I’m quoting a TV psychologist.  But he hit it right on.  When it was first brought to my attention that I was stressed out, I was in total denial.  Because I was fearful of being accused of failing and I wanted to do a great job, I denied I was stressed-out.  To me, it was a sign that I couldn’t deal with the job.  What I really needed to change was my responses.  Acknowledge what is.  Without that acknowledgement, you cannot take action.

                2.         Learn to really laugh.  How long has it been since you laughed out loud, long and hard?  I mean a good belly-laugh.  If you’re stressed-out, it’s probably been awhile.  Laughter releases endorphins, natural pain-killers.  It boosts immune function by raising levels of infection-fighting T-cells, disease-fighting proteins called Gamma-interferon and disease-destroying antibodies called B-cells.  In short, it’s great medicine. 

                 3.         Make a friend at work. When you have someone you can confide in, someone with whom you feel secure, trust, can share the ups-and-downs of the workplace, you feel better.  The environment somehow doesn’t seem all that bad.

                4.         Make a decision.  The only way to transform your life is to make a decision to change and then honor that decision.  Decide how you want to live your life and set about with complete certainty to create it.  The most critical time in my career came when I decided that I wanted to create the environment that was right for me. I wanted to own my own business and call my own shots.  I haven’t looked back.  I’m happier than a clam.

                5.         Love ‘em or leave ‘em.  You have to love what you’re doing.  You absolutely have to get up in the morning and be excited about the workday.  There is no better career booster than a job that you love, thrive in and that remains fun and stimulating.  That’s what actually changed me around.  I personally created a situation where I am passionate about what I do; feel appreciated, challenged and excited just about every day. (There is no 100% avoidance in the war against stress.) With that attitude, it doesn’t matter if I work 30 or 90 hours a week.  I am thrilled by what I do and the time I spend doing it.

            The secrets to a (relatively) stress-free environment? Make a decision to craft your career so that it works for you.  Decide what you will stress about and what you will not.  By loving the job you’re in, stress becomes  a challenge and challenge become invigorating.  Trust someone who spent the first half of her career as sergeant of the stress battalion: creating a work environment that is pretty much stress free is the long-term answer for outrageous, healthy success.

Chere Estrin is the CEO of Estrin Legal Staffing, CEO of Paralegal Knowledge Institute and President and Co-Founding Member of the Organization of Legal Professionals. She She is the author of 10 books on legal careers, a national seminar speaker and has been written up in Newsweek, LA Times, Daily Journal, Entrepreneur magazine and other top publications. She is the recipient of the LAPA Lifetime Achievement Award. You can find her with free time on Sundays from 3:00 a.m. to 6:00 a.m. Talk to her at chere@estrinlegalstaffing.com.  Copyright C.B. Estrin 2016

 


The Newest, Latest Trends in the Paralegal World - Are You Riding the Horse in the Direction It's Going?

Horse.backwardsIt’s a whole new world out there for paralegals. If you are not riding the horse in the direction it’s going, you are going to be left behind. Why? Because whether you are seeking a new position, looking to expand in your role at your present job or merely suiting up and showing up (let’s be honest here), staying complacent and ignoring the trends is, well, death to your career.

Here are just a few of the most recent trends of which you need to be aware:

  1. Hottest, most requested software package for litigation paralegals: Relativity.
    Employers can’t get enough litigation paralegals with solid Relativity skills. If you are not familiar with Relativity, get on the band-wagon now. Even if your firm doesn’t use it in-house, you may be required to oversee the vendor of your choice who is using it.

  2. Most requested skills - Real Estate transactional:
    Real estate is heating up. Law firms are seeking the experienced paralegal who can review title reports, surveys, prepare lease summaries, purchase and sale agreements, participate in closings and due diligence. Biggest mistake you can make: Pushing your real estate license. I know you’re proud of it. But, in fact, law firms hate to hear about it. Yes, you did learn about easements, title reports, and escrow accounts in your real estate license course and you’ve sold a lot of houses. But law firms don’t want that skill. Why? It’s not transaction paralegal work. They discount the real estate license and I mean big time. It’s a huge turnoff and doesn’t help in most cases.

  3. Biggest, newest step-down or step-up? The Paralegal hybrid job called the Paralegal/Legal Assistant:
    By combining your paralegal and secretarial skills, the firm saves money. No longer do attorneys need a full-time secretary, so by combining the paralegal with the legal assistant, they think they save money. However, they do lose the billable time the paralegal generates while saving the dollars they put out for the secretary. You must have great typing skills, know the court system and be able to tolerate clerical duties such as meeting and greeting clients, getting coffee, booking travel arrangements, typing correspondence, and answering phones. If you can do that, you might make a very decent salary. Good legal secretaries can earn upper $70’s to lower $80’s in major metropolitan areas.  We actually just placed a Real Estate Paralegal/Legal Assistant in Los Angeles for $95,000 plus bonus. Who knew?

  4. Why the paralegal pool seems smaller: It isn’t, really. Paralegals are moving into other roles with different titles such as Litigation Support or eDiscovery.
    Employers are hiring paralegals with excellent technology skills. These paralegals now have titles such as Litigation Support Analyst, Coordinator, or Manager and earning very decent salaries. If you check the backgrounds of highly successful eDiscovery Case Managers and Litigation Support professionals, you probably will find a paralegal background. This is a great area for you to move into. Garner and develop your technology skills. This is where you find the money and upward movement. Salaries can range from $80 - $110,000 or higher, depending upon the level of management duties, sophistication of computer background and region of the country.

  5. Speak another language? Foreign language skills are in demand:
    We’re seeing more requests for bilingual abilities in many practice specialties including Spanish for legal support professionals.
  1. Want to work in your jammies? Ah, the joy of telecommuting and the virtual law office:
    More and more employers are offering positions based on home office or virtual law office that leads to controlled overhead and better work/lifestyle balance. However, be aware that this can be a lonely adventure if you are used to a lively environment and colleagues surrounding you. It takes a certain personality and strict discipline to be able to work from home. Salaries remain comparable to those found in offices.
  1. You absolutely, positively must have knowledge of eDiscovery:
    I can’t tell you how many candidates I talk with who tell me they know nothing about eDiscovery. In fact, they repeat the question with, “Do you mean eFiling?” Come on, folks! eDiscovery has been around for years and years now. You are not going to get anywhere in your career without understanding eDiscovery and the EDRM. Take free webinars from vendors. Get signed up for seminars or webinars but understand eDiscovery. If your firm or in-house legal department “isn’t into it”, it is dying, dying, dying and eventually, you’ll be out of a job. Then what?

  2. Of course, we all have enhanced communication skills: What I mean is……
    Another major trend is a focus on legal writing, communication and marketing. Many employers believe that paralegals today lack necessary oral and written communication skills and are asking for a writing sample from prospective candidates. Be sure that you take continuing legal education classes not only in legal writing but good old fashioned business writing as well.

  3. It’s all about the Internet and Distance Learning:
    Distance learning, also known as e-learning, is one of the fastest-growing segments of continuing legal education.  Media and interactive technologies have increased the e-learning possibilities in the academic setting and the workplace. The flexibility of taking classes at any time from any location is now the norm. Distance learning appeals to all employees, and is especially popular with experienced, busy paralegals on limited CLE budgets or those with families.

Online continuing education classes are an excellent way to make yourself more marketable, not only if you are looking to change jobs, but also if you are seeking to advance right where you are now. Be sure to let your employer know that you have taken a class. It’s a great way to get more sophisticated assignments and move up within your firm.

  1. The way we find a job and present ourselves professionally: You must have a LinkedIn profile.

If you don’t have a LinkedIn profile or haven’t paid any attention to the one you do have, you are shooting yourself in the career foot.  Employers today spend 2 seconds reviewing your resume looking for keywords and then look you up on LinkedIn to see a) whether your profile matches the resume; b) whether you are promoting yourself as a paralegal (and not an actor or something else) and c) yes, to view your professional picture. (Don't remind me it's illegal. I know that.)

They also want to see your summary that should indicate a bit of your personality. They are checking to see if you are the modern employee and if you are professionally keeping up with social media. The more you are up-to-date, the more they feel they are getting someone who is savvy enough to work for them. If you are not seeking employment, you still need to be on LinkedIn as quite frankly, it’s the professional thing to do.


Chere Estrin is the CEO of Estrin Legal Staffing (www.estrinlegalstaffing.com). She has written 10 books on legal careers including The Paralegal Career Guide 4th Ed. Her blog, The Estrin Report has been around since 2005. Chere has written hundreds of articles, is a national seminar speaker and has been interviewed by the LA Times, Newsweek, the Chicago Trib, Above the Law and other publications. She is the CEO of the Paralegal Knowledge Institute and President and Co-Founding Member of the Organization of Legal Professionals.   She is a co-founding member of the International Practice Management Association, a Los Angeles Paralegal Association Lifetime Achievement Award Recipient, a New York City Paralegal Excellence Award Recipient and an Inc. Magazine Entrepreneur of the Year Finalist. Reach out to her at chere@estrinlegalstaffing.com.

 


Refusing to Play Office Politics? You Might Want to Rethink That.

It’s a dirty word.  I’ll be surprised if it gets printed here so I’ll whisper:  office politics….  (Shhhhhhh!)  Your mother may have told you that nice professionals don’t do that sort of thing. Gossip

Anyone who tells me they “avoid office politics” is really telling me that they are heavy into the game.  Politics are an integral part of the world of work. Truth be told, what’s really behind office politics, however, is fear. Fear of what could, might or does happen.

No one I know likes to admit that they play office politics or worse yet, that they are pretty good at it. Employees often complain that they are not involved or they just want to do their jobs.  Let me share a time-saving technique:  Do not waste one second commiserating about the horrible politics in your firm.  There is no gathering of three or more persons that is free of politics.

Politics come with the office (or cubicle).  In a 2012 study from staffing firm Robert Half International nearly 60 percent of workers said involvement in office politics is at least somewhat necessary to get ahead. Another survey from OfficeTeam, a California staffing organization, stated 19% of executives wasted their time – at least one day a week – dealing with company politics.  These execs said they spent a good deal of time dealing with internal conflicts, rivalry disputes and other similar situations.

With competition rising for jobs, it is necessary to be aware of how politics can operate. Sometimes, why you keep your job is as much based upon loyalty to the firm and your supervisors as it is on performance.  Staying out of the game is an option.  Not playing the game is a strategy for dealing with the game.  Political skill requires knowledge of how the firm operates and who operates it, along with unwritten policies and written rules.  People who don’t play and don’t get kudos give politics a bad rap.  However, I have never heard anyone complain about office politics who has been the beneficiary of its actions.

 Here are a few drawbacks resulting in not being politically savvy.  You may be perceived as:

  • Not a player who can be promoted;
  • A loner, not a team-player – an essential skill in law firms;
  • Lacking career-management skills;
  • Untrustworthy of confidences and not able to receive important information.

I’m not talking about cutthroat office politics – the stab-you-in-the-back-don’t-dare-meet-me-in-a-dark-alley-I’ll-take-credit-for-your-every-idea-gossipy politics.  That’s not politics.  That’s dirty play.  Never a good idea.

I’m referring to knowing how the game is played that in turn allows you a good chance of competing competently with those who undertake the lifestyle of cubicle warfare.  “Politics is really the play of human interactions at work that can make your job easier or more difficult,” write co-authors Ronna Lichtenburg and Gene Stone in Work Would be Great If It Weren’t for the People.  “Being a good office politician means you know how to turn individual agendas into common goals.”

How can you be a good office politician?  Here are a few starters:

  1. Politics are about power. Just as there is no real definition of the practice of law, there’s no standard definition of power.  You need to pinpoint the factors considered “powerful” in your firm.  Blaine Pardoe, author of Cubicle Warfare:  Self-Defense Strategies for Today’s Hypercompetitive Workplace provides examples of how firms measure power:

    • Headcount – how many people report to one manager
    • Office location such as a corner
    • Company-paid perks such as club memberships; first-class travel
    • High-profile project assignments
    • Merit bonuses
    • Amount of budget
    • Most powerful computer or system
    • Individuals who receive a high degree of acceptance by upper management for failures.

Add to the above: paid association dues; whether you are invited to firm events; a window office; whether you are invited to socialize with attorneys and supervisors; level of employee that reports to you; where your parking spot is located; if you are given a laptop; and whether you have a firm credit card.

  1. Learn from the past. The unofficial history of your firm is important.  How were past employees rewarded?  Who was a hero?  Who was fired? Why? 

  2. Don’t ignore (or believe everything you hear from) the grapevine. Although the grapevine is an unofficial communication channel, it can be a rich source of information.  It’s a good idea to become friends with people tapped in.  Sometimes it’s the “sacred cow” - the person who has been with the firm 25 years or the receptionist with her ear to ground. 

  3. Start with your boss. It’s your job to make managing or senior partners look good.  Know what is expected and find out how to add value.  If moving up the ladder is a priority, find out if your a) paralegal department is profitable b) results are measured c) boss has the power to make decisions that affect your goals, and d) boss is perceived favorably.  If you’re tied in with a loser, chances are pretty good you are not going to be first for promotion.

  4. Find out where the power resides. Promotions and survival are usually based on loyalty.  Identify where the power resides and select the winning side.  If possible, become a part of that department or work in connection with to it. Find out who the conduit to the power is. It may be that using the conduit can get you to the power.

  5. Perform at a level beyond reproach. In office politics, negative stereotyping can have a devastating affect on how fast and far you go.  For example, if the probate department is not favored, chances of succeeding are limited.

  6. Be careful how you socialize. The firm is not your family.  Tread carefully.  Opinions are based on observations.  Avoid getting involved with conflict as it is very easy to get labeled as someone who does not get along with others.  Dating a colleague on the job is something that should probably be avoided.  In fact, make that a no-go.

  7. Avoid cliques. Managers tend to view cliques as detrimental to teamwork and feel that they often undermine authority.  The ultimate result of a clique is that it may affect your raises. 

  8. Cultivate alliances in high places. Insulate yourself from some of the effects of nasty office politics and get advice on how to cope.

       10.  Don’t get consumed with office politics. Politics can be necessary but be aware it can have a negative impact. Participate positively as a point of survival but avoid becoming
               consumed.

Don’t be a novice at the oldest game in corporate history.  Philosopher Plato knew the importance of managing the perils of politics.  His advice?  “Those who are too smart to engage in politics are punished by being governed by those who are dumber.”  Amen to that.

Chere Estrin is the CEO of Estrin Legal Staffing and CEO of Paralegal Knowledge Institute, an online training organization. She is the author of 10 books on legal careers and has written her blog, The Estrin Report since 2005 in addition to hundreds of articles. Chere is a Los Angeles Paralegal Association lifetime achievement recipient, Co-Founding Member of the International Practice Management Association and President and Co-Founding Member of the Organization of Legal Professionals. She has been interviewed by Newsweek, the Los Angeles Times, The Chicago Tribune, The Daily Journal and other publications. Talk to her at chere@estrinlegalstaffing.com.


Highly Paid Successful Workers Compensation Paralegal Tells All - An Interview with Paula Delp, ACP

DelpPaulaOn occasion, you meet an exception to the rule. This is the case with Paula Delp, one of the highest paid Workers Compensation Paralegals in the country, if not the highest. What a breath of fresh air! Great attitude, smart, dedicated....ok, I digress here. It takes a lot to impress me and believe me, I'm impressed.

Generally known as a low paying specialty, Workers Compensation is often under-rated in its complexity of skill sets required.  There are two sides of the specialty: applicant and defense. Working with this specialty in recruiting for several well-known, well-respected firms, I have interviewed literally hundreds of paralegals. While the position is often rewarding, the paralegal is often compensated as low as $12.00 - $16.00 per hour.  These paralegals rarely tell me that they have low job satisfaction. I found happy, dedicated employees who are compassionate and involved in their jobs. Here is a specialty where you learn via on-the-job training.  While paralegal certificates are preferred, there are no paralegal programs I know of that offer training in Workers Compensation.

Enter Paula Delp, a highly successful, well-compensated paralegal with a great sense of humor and practical, down-to-earth attitude. Here is her eye-opening interview about a specialty rarely written up. This hidden job market has lots of openings, great job satisfaction, is even-keeled in the economy..... it's just that salary thing.....

Who is Paula E. Delp, ACP?

I'm 53 years old, born and raised in Southern California. My father is a retired truck driver. Mother is dedicated homemaker and Avon representative. I have three siblings - one  sister and two brothers. I am the only one of the four kids who has an advanced education as my sister is a homemaker; one brother is a laborer, and the other is a welder.

I've been married since May 1995 to the same man (Fun Fact: I met husband through an ad in the newspaper and have two sons, ages 19 and 14). Our oldest was born on our second anniversary. My husband is a stay-at-home dad and has been since 2000 or 2001. I am the sole breadwinner for our family.

What is your background prior to becoming a paralegal?

In 1984, I moved to Reno, NV, and secured a job working for Federal Probation and Parole as a probation clerk preparing pre-sentence reports and documents related to supervision of probationers and parolees. In 1985, I transferred from the Reno office to the Long Beach satellite office. Only supervision was conducted out of that office; pre-sentence reports were prepared out of downtown Los Angeles.

In 1988, I was tired of the politics associated with working for the government, so I began looking for work in the private sector. I secured my first job as a legal secretary for Cantrell & Green, a workers’ compensation firm for applicants. There, I performed all aspects of secretarial duties except transcription (that was done by our word processing department). I dealt closely with clients (Applicants in this case), primarily on the telephone, as the attorneys did not like to take calls.

In 2000 I began to think seriously about where I wanted to go with my legal career and started looking for employment elsewhere. My thought was to get out of workers’ compensation, but it was difficult since I didn’t have any other experience. The best I could do was switch sides and go to work for defense. At the same time, I enrolled in the paralegal program at Cerritos College.

On 11/6/00, I began working for Schlossberg & Associates (now Schlossberg & Umholtz) in Anaheim, a workers’ compensation defense firm, as a legal secretary. I began working for an associate, but after 8 months, she left the firm. I then worked as a floater until I left on maternity leave in August 2001. When I returned, we had opened a Los Angeles office, and the owner of the firm asked me to come to work for him. I worked as his secretary until December 2004, when I asked to be trained as a paralegal. The following May (2005), I graduated from Cerritos College with an AA degree in paralegal studies and a 4.0 GPA.

What made you decide to become a paralegal?

I wanted something different. I wanted to remain in the legal field, but I wanted something more challenging than transcribing all day.

How did you get your first job?

I am not sure if you mean my very first job or my first job as a paralegal. My first job was as a file clerk in a law office after school, which I obtained by writing letters to the law firms in my neighborhood. My first and only paralegal job is for my current employer, Schlossberg & Umholtz, which I obtained when I asked to be promoted. My training was long and arduous. It took my boss a long time to trust that his training took hold, after which he let me loose on his caseload.

Did you leverage prior skills into becoming a paralegal?

I’m not quite sure how to answer this question. My main skill is typing—I type nearly 100 wpm—and I do a lot of my own typing; but I dictate much of my work, as well. I’ve been in the workers’ comp industry for nearly 30 years, so I was able to use my experience with all the changes in the law through the years to build on in my career as a paralegal.

Who influenced you?

The only one I can think of is my boss. I haven’t really had anyone as a paralegal influence me to become a paralegal. My boss has supported me through every aspect of my career, when I was going to school and when I studied for the CP exam. He pays my dues to my various legal associations, and he pays for me to go to MCLE [mandatory continuing legal education] seminars. He taught me everything I know about how to do my job, and I think he is pleased with my work.

What responsibilities do you have at your present job?

I basically help manage my attorney’s caseload. I help with everything on the file except make the appearances or attend depositions. I review the mail and address letters to opposing counsel and the client setting forth a plan of action. I schedule medical evaluations and depositions, I prepare initial analysis reports for new claims that come in, I review medical records and prepare summaries of those records, prepare settlement documents, prepare cases for hearings, prepare trial exhibits, and once the case resolves, I resolve the lien claims.

Tell us about a very rewarding case you have handled.

From a defense point of view, a “rewarding” case is when we can get a “take nothing” or get a case dismissed. One particular case comes to mind where the Applicant injured her foot by stepping on a rusty nail then later claimed that her injury caused paralysis. The doctors believed her and diagnosed her with “conversion disorder,” which essentially means it’s in her head, though she believes she is truly injured. However, we obtained surveillance video showing the Applicant to be quite active walking well on her own. We even obtained video evidence that she would get in the wheelchair for her deposition and doctors’ appointments. She was ultimately prosecuted for fraud and her workers’ compensation claim was dismissed.

Tell us about a very tough case.

The toughest cases come when the opposing counsel sends the Applicant to a physician in every specialty under the sun (typically internal medicine, psyche, pain management, and ortho). One such case settled by Stipulation providing the Applicant with an impairment for psyche and ortho and future medical care to those body parts. She then reopened her claim, and opposing counsel attempted to stip it again, this time including internal. This Applicant had two dates of injury, but one claim was barred because opposing counsel filed his Petition to Reopen more than five years after the date of injury, which is when the Statute of Limitations ran. The agreed doctors did increase the Applicant’s impairment, but because of the way the doctors apportioned the disability, we are arguing that opposing counsel’s demand for a Stip at a higher rate is not valid. It is a little confusing to explain. In the end, this case is going to trial, and has yet to be decided.

How have you seen the paralegal position change over the years?

My entire legal experience lies in the workers’ compensation arena. In the workers’ compensation arena, paralegals are acting more as “hearing representatives,” mostly on the side of the Applicant. However, I, too, have appeared at the Appeals Board on occasion. In workers’ compensation, non-attorneys are allowed to appear “in court,” whereas other court systems do not allow for the appearance of non-attorneys. I could not testify to whether or how the position has changed in other areas of law.

Why are workers comp paralegals historically paid beneath the average paralegal compensation across the country?

Most paralegals in workers’ compensation work on the Applicant’s side of the claim, and Applicants' attorneys only receive 15 percent of the award or settlement; unlike civil litigation attorneys who get a third of the award or settlement, so I hear. In other areas of law, attorneys get to charge an hourly rate which can be pretty steep, again as I hear it. I make as much as I do because I work for a defense attorney and for a generous boss who values my knowledge and skills.

What can paralegals do about that, if anything?

I don’t know how to answer this. I consider myself an anomaly.

Can you clarify the Applicant vs. defense sides for our audience?

Applicant attorneys, obviously, advocate for their clients, the injured workers, and fight to get them the largest recovery they can. An injury to a neck or low back can only yield so much of an award, but if they add psych and internal, it increases the value of the claim. Defendants work to provide benefits pursuant to the Labor Code, and our desire is to get the Applicant back to work as quickly as possible.

Does the defense side pay more?

I believe that defense does pay more, because defense attorneys can bill their clients by the hour. In my case, I bill hours just as the attorneys do, and I increased bonuses each month. I don’t know if all defense firms work that way, though.

What about the “mill” reputation of some workers comp firms?

There are “mills” out there, and I deal with them on a daily basis. They give the business a bad reputation. The “mill”-type firms deal in volume and will take any case that walks through their door. It was a “mill” firm that represented the aforementioned case where the Applicant was caught committing fraud. It should be noted that “mills” are solely on the Applicant side of the fence.

What type of work background does it take to get into Workers Comp?

In California, workers’ compensation is the easiest to get into. I had no legal experience when I got my first job in the 1980’s. At this firm, we hire people fresh out of school or who have experience in other fields of law, or even people who have no legal experience. I am of the opinion that workers’ compensation is the easiest type of law to learn from a secretarial (or paralegal) aspect. That being said, I don’t think anyone could do all I do for my boss without having a background in the industry.

Where do you see the profession headed?

I don’t really know how to answer this question, since my experience is limited to workers’ compensation. I can speak about my own position and state that two years ago my job consisted of working the files and processing the mail. Now, I actually prepare the files for hearing and prepare the hearing reports based on what the appearing attorney says happened at the hearing. Next, I can see myself making the appearances and sitting in on depositions.

What’s your take on licensing and regulation?

I feel that our profession should be regulated. Without regulation, people can call themselves paralegals without having the experience and training it takes to be a paralegal. Regulating the profession it the respect it deserves.

What education do you think paralegals need today as opposed to yesteryear?

Paralegals of “yesteryear” primarily learned their craft “on the job,” which is no less valuable today. However, education through an ABA approved school goes a long way to preparing would-be paralegals for the real world. In school, you can get instant feedback on assignments you are given, while on the job a boss isn’t likely to be patient while you try to figure out how to complete the assignment.

Can you give us examples of what it took for you to become a successful paralegal? 

It took me a while to think of an answer to this question. The first would be that I am teachable. I learned the foundation of my job from my boss, who pretty much taught me how to think like him. He taught me how to develop a plan of action on any given file. I still run that plan of action through him for approval, but essentially the next steps to take in any given situation arise from my review of the file, the medical reports, and the communications from the clients.

The second is that I am always going to seminars and other MCLE classes and conferences, especially in my field of law; and I use that information on my files when I return to the office. I have attorneys coming to me with questions like “How do you . . .?” and “What would you do if . . .?” I draw on my individual experience with the issues or I pull out my seminar handbooks to get them the answer. It has gotten to the point where my boss refers the attorneys to me whenever they have any questions about legal procedure, or how to rate a report, or any variety of reasons.

Third, I show up every day, and express a successful work ethic. I work long hours at times, and I will often work weekends. My boss does not require this of me, but it is something I do in order to keep on top of my workload and to ensure that important deadlines are not missed.

You are so knowledgeable! Can you give us some advice?

Never stop learning. Seminars and MCLE classes can be boring, but you’ll usually receive some nugget of useful information. A perfect example is a rating seminar I went to where the rater from the Disability Evaluation Unit was spoke, and he taught us how to rate headaches. Now, I have attorneys coming to me with questions on how to rate headaches, and I can refer them to my seminar materials.

Enjoy what you do. I love my job. Workers’ compensation law can be dry and boring, but I love it. I enjoy it because I know what I am doing and I have the respect of my boss, the attorneys, and my peers. It is hard to love a job if you do not know what you are doing or what is expected of you.

Remain humble and own up to your mistakes. As good as I am at my job, I do make mistakes, but when it does happen, I apologize, rectify the issue (if possible), and move on. In one case, we failed to inform the client to deduct an amount from a settlement to pay EDD. It was a mistake that was not discovered by me, my boss, or the client. My boss accepted part of the responsibility, but I had to do the same. The end result was WE paid EDD, and I had to make up hours to equal half the damages. Needless to say, we never made THAT mistake again.

 Thank you, Paula!

Chere Estrin is the CEO of Estrin Legal Staffing providing nationwide staffing opportunities for paralegals and legal professionals. She is the President and Co-Founding Member of the Organization of Legal Professionals (OLP) a non-profit providing online technology training and CEO of the Paralegal Knowledge Institute providing online training for experienced paralegals. An author of 10 books on legal careers, Chere is a national seminar speaker and author of hundreds of articles. She has been interviewed by the Los Angeles Times, Newsweek, Daily Journal, Chicago Tribune, Above the Law, among others. Chere is a recipient of the Los Angeles Paralegal Association Lifetime Achievement Award and the NYCPA Excellence Award. She is a former paralegal administrator in two major law firms, an exec in a $5 billion corporation and Co-Founding Member of the International Practice Management Association. Talk to her at chere@estrinlegalstaffing.com.

 


An American Hero Right Here in the Paralegal Field

HebertConiAmerican Heroes. They are among us. Look to the right. Look to the left. Looking right in front of us is Conni Hebert, ACP,  smack dab in the paralegal field whom I had the privilege of getting to know. What an astounding background. A paralegal for over 23 years, Conni developed an interest in the legal field while serving active duty in the U.S. Air Force. She is a Desert Shield and Desert Storm veteran and received the National Defense Service Medal and the U.S. Air Force Achievement Medal for her contributions to the Gulf War mission. 

In a nutshell, Conni graduated from the American Institute in Phoenix, Arizona in 1993, magna cum laude. She was appointed  one of the 2000 Most Notable American Women in 1994 by the American Biographical Institute.  She is currently employed as a commercial litigation paralegal at Brownstein Hyatt Farber Schreck, LLP where she serves on the firm's Pro Bono Committee, Paralegal Advisory Committee, and Technology & E-Discovery Committee.   She has worked in insurance defense, construction law, contract law, personal injury, medical malpractice, product liability, ERISA subrogation, and general civil litigation.

Conni has worked with general counsel for a major land developer in Las Vegas as a corporate paralegal handling multiple real estate transactions. She is currently the Chair of the State Bar of Nevada - Paralegal Division, an active member of the Clark County Bar Association, and actively involved in the Las Vegas Valley Paralegal Association currently serving on the Board of Directors as the NALA Liaison. Conni is a Certified Paralegal and earned the Advanced Certified Paralegal (ACP) credential in Discovery from the National Association of Legal Assistants-Paralegals (NALA).

Folks, let me present an amazing profile:

CBE: Conni, let's get personal.  Tell us about the side we don't get to read in a LinkedIn profile!

Chere, I will be turning 48 years old in a few months, whew! I have an amazing husband who is very supportive of my busy career and understands when I often bring work home. We have been together 17 wonderful years! I have two kids (one grown daughter and one teenage son) and two grandsons who call me “Grandma Blondie”. My parents, my daughter and my grandsons, along with most of my immediate family, all live in south Texas so I try to visit as often as possible! I grew up there and I love my big family, but I do not miss the humidity of that area of the country at all!

CBE: Tell us the military story:

I went into the U.S. Air Force when I was only 20 years old. I wanted to travel the world and get out of small town, USA. I had been attending community college, and I just felt like there was so much more out there in the world that I wanted to see and do. I signed up for overseas duty, and lucky for me, I was assigned to Torrejon Air Base, Spain – a military base just outside of Madrid. I spent three years living in Alcalá de Henares, Spain, and traveling Europe

CBE: How did you feel when you were assigned overseas?  What was it like to be a woman in the military?

Living overseas was amazing! I served during Desert Shield/Desert Storm. When Iraq invaded Kuwait, my daughter was only 4 months old. I was assigned to fleet management for the Gulf War mission, and I was responsible for the safe and timely transport of the flight crew and passengers to and from the flight line. There were many nights that I had my baby girl on the flight line with me greeting troops coming back from Saudi Arabia. Our base had cargo aircraft and fighter jets landing every few minutes, so it was an overwhelming responsibility. I received the Desert Warrior Commendation and the Air Force Achievement Medal for my dedication to that mission.  

For fun, I played softball for the Air Force and I was given the opportunity to travel Europe and play softball for the military. I have been to Italy, Germany, and I also spent Christmas in Paris, France one year. After my tour in Spain, I was assigned to a remote duty station in Gila Bend, Arizona – in the middle of the Sonoran Desert, the hottest desert in North America.

CBE: What drove you to become a paralegal?

I worked in the base legal office on the military base while I was in the Air Force and I just loved it! I realized that I was really good at organization and administration of the legal files. I decided to pursue a legal career so when I completed my military service I would have a new career to go into. I pursued a degree in paralegal studies while stationed at Gila Bend, 75 miles from Phoenix. I was so determined to get my degree that nothing was going to stop me! I would change out of my camouflage uniform and combat boots at 4pm on class day and hit the road… what a journey that was. I did that long distance college thing for a year, four days a week. Graduation was very sweet.

CBE: Tell us a little about your career as a paralegal.

My first paralegal job was in a personal injury firm. It was a large, well-known, billboard advertising firm in Phoenix. My job was taking phone calls from accident victims, evaluating the facts, asking about injuries and accident coverage, and determining if the caller had a potential claim. I set appointments with attorneys and met the client after they retained our firm.

Now, after working as a paralegal for close to 25 years, my work day is filled with the unexpected. I support attorneys in the litigation and corporate departments, and serve on the firm’s pro bono committee. My duties include everything from drafting legal pleadings, reviewing thousands of electronically stored documents to analyzing pro bono hours data for the firm.

CBE: What are some of the most significant changes you have seen?

In the past five years, the biggest changes have been in technology. With the increase in consumer technology use, e-discovery is becoming more prevalent. Paralegals are becoming skilled in using document review platforms such as Relativity to search and review case documents. The paralegal is now a tech-savvy employee, merging the skills of a paralegal with a legal technology specialist. Law firms today are looking for highly sophisticated and experienced paralegals to manage their cases. In addition, although electronic filing has been around for more than a decade, more county and state courts are now offering e-filing, so paralegals need to have that experience. Paralegals are also becoming the liaison for attorneys using trial-prep technology, in and out of the courtroom. Advancements in technology used by law firms have blurred the lines between paralegals and legal secretaries; there is a growing trend among law firms to create hybrid positions. As a paralegal, it is imperative to stay on top of technology trends in the legal field.

CBE: What were those "pet peeves" again? Why do those bother you so much?

My biggest pet peeve as a career paralegal is knowing that there are legal professionals in our field that do not know the difference between a “certified” paralegal and a “certificated” paralegal. If you don’t know the difference you shouldn’t be in this profession! There are paralegals on LinkedIn, for example, that are representing themselves as “certified” when they have not earned the certification, but have instead graduated with a paralegal certificate. I think that if a paralegal is misrepresenting themselves on social media and on their resume, who knows what else they are fibbing about? It is an ethical problem and does not sit well with me. There needs to be more education in our profession about paralegal certification. Recruiters, attorneys and law firm administrators should be educated on certification and know what qualifications they are seeking when recruiting for a paralegal.

CBE: Where are the challenges?

Challenges for paralegals: high stress, long hours, lack of recognition, and billable hours requirements. I have heard paralegals complain about disrespect from attorneys and unreasonable demands made on them. You simply have to demand respect. There is difficulty in some firms to meet the billable hours requirements. Unlike attorneys, paralegals do not generate new clients and cannot generate billable work. On that note, one challenge for me has been under utilization. Unfortunately, I have witnessed billable work being assigned to associate attorneys and that work not being delegated to a paralegal that can handle the task. By delegating the assignment to a paralegal, the firm would be providing the client with a cost savings, while freeing the attorney’s time for more substantive, higher level tasks. Delegation of billable work to experienced paralegals is something that law firms can do better.

CBE: What are the two most important things someone can do to move their career forward?

CLE and CLE! I am big on continuing education, and for a paralegal, continuing legal education is a must. The law is always changing and technology is always improving. You have to stay on top of the changes to be a successful paralegal.

CBE: What's the hottest thing going in the field today?

E-Discovery!

CBE: Why is joining a paralegal association so important?

Joining a local paralegal association is the least a paralegal should do. Meeting other paralegals can be invaluable to your success. You would be surprised at how often I am assigned to a case where I know the paralegal for opposing counsel. It is very helpful to have that connection, especially when you need an extension for written discovery responses. In addition to networking opportunities, membership in a paralegal association also provides you with amazing benefits such as CLE courses, seminars, discussion forums, newsletters, and resource libraries. Paralegal associations often have notice of job openings before they are publicly advertised, so it can be a wonderful benefit to have knowledge of an opening before everyone else does.

CBE: , What do you get personally from pro bono work and why should someone go the extra mile?

Pro bono work for me is personal. Every individual has something in their personal life that ignites a passion. That passion may be helping children in the foster system or volunteering at the soup kitchen, feeding the homeless. My passion is helping military veterans. Of course, being a military veteran, I understand the difficulties that veterans face. Paralegals are in a unique position – since we are not the attorney, we cannot actually provide the legal assistance to someone less fortunate; however, we are able to assist the pro bono attorney and that assistance can mean everything to someone less fortunate. Paralegals should be valued and appreciated for enabling more legal services to be provided to those in need. Paralegals can help build and expand pro bono programs, recruit volunteers, keep attorneys active in their pro bono assignments, and document pro bono activities.

CBE: If you could design a recipe for someone's career, what three ingredients would you put in it?

A recipe for a successful paralegal career should include:

1) Education – you must have some education in the profession, formal or informal. On the job training can be as valuable as a college degree. Practical experience combined with a degree in paralegal studies has been the key to my success. Continuing your education by attending CLE seminars or courses is a must for any successful paralegal.

2) Networking – Connect with others in your field, whenever the opportunity arises. Join your local paralegal association or go to a CLE in your field, and talk to others that do what you do. Learn from others’ mistakes and experiences. You will develop a network of colleagues that you can turn to when you need help.

3) Certification – Always strive to be the best in whatever you do in life. Although there’s been discussion in recent years about some kind of formal paralegal registration, certification, or licensing, to date there are no mandatory certification requirements. There are a number of voluntary credentials you can obtain by taking a certification exam offered by NALA, NFPA, NALS, or AAPI. Some states offer state-specific competency examinations as well.

CBE: What are the three hardest lessons you learned about what it takes to be a successful paralegal?

1) Learning how to be an effective communicator and effectively collaborate with your attorney

I have learned that regularly scheduled staff meetings are essential in keeping the lines of communication open for the attorney-paralegal team; know what your deadlines are and know who is doing what. You have to utilize the most cost efficient way to complete a task, to keep the client’s costs to a minimum to provide good client service. Sometimes the attorney should perform the task, other times it may be more cost-efficient for the paralegal to perform the task. You have to work as a team with your attorney.

2) Knowledge is key

Never ever pass up a CLE that is on legal technology. Never stop learning and always keep on top of rule updates and technology changes.

3) Be prepared.

Just like a Boy Scout, a successful paralegal is always prepared for the unexpected.

Chere Estrin is the CEO of Estrin Legal Staffing providing nationwide staffing opportunities for paralegals and legal professionals. She is the President and Co-Founding Member of the Organization of Legal Professionals (OLP) a non-profit providing online technology training and CEO of the Paralegal Knowledge Institute providing online training for experienced paralegals. An author of 10 books on legal careers, Chere is a national seminar speaker and author of hundreds of articles. She is a recipient of the Los Angeles Paralegal Association Lifetime Achievement Award and the NYCPA Excellence Award. Chere is a former paralegal administrator in two major law firms, an exec in a $5 billion corporation and Co-Founding Member of the International Practice Management Association. Talk to her at chere@estrinlegalstaffing.com.

 


5 Biggest Networking Mistakes Guaranteed to Stall Your Career

Networking is an Art.

Networking2Networking. 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.

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 advancing your current position.  

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’ll 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:

1.            Avoid a great profile on LinkedIn:

LinkedIn is your biggest advantage for entry into good 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 place is for many the first and last stop. The latest trend for employers is to look at your LinkedIn profile at the same time they are reviewing your resume. Potential contacts who can help you in your career will also check you out first on LinkedIn.

However, you will generate no interest without an interesting 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 in today’s world, you cannot go without a full and professionally written LinkedIn profile.

  1.             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. Statistics show that 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, 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 the paralegal field and who knows? You might even have a little fun.

  1.             Be sure to alienate every recruiter who calls you.

Networking needs to include recruiters. Connect with them. They are invaluable. They hold the key to hundreds of contacts: HR, managing partners, paralegal supervisors, in-house legal counsel, legal service providers, colleagues and more. They know salaries, firms, trends, and in particular, where the field is headed. In fact, they know if your firm is in trouble before you do.

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 few weeks or months later to find their firm is laying off, merging or otherwise purging. Then what? Do you know where to go? You think back. “Oh, yeah. I’ll call that recruiter who called me a couple of months ago.” Right.  Try calling them back after you have snubbed them. Most likely, they won’t take the call.

  1.             Don’t network with colleagues in your firm.

One of the biggest mistakes people make is that they are networked in social media; go to association meetings; build a network; and reach out into the community but they 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 strategically position yourself for growth. Similarly, you may discover the firm is opening a new branch 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.

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 paralegals. Network with colleagues, partners, associates, staff – be sure to include everyone. People can tell you what’s going on in your own firm.  You’ll get noticed. Everyone wants to be with a winner that other people respect. Hanging out alone in your office or cubicle will not get you advanced up the ladder.    

For example, success stories such as Ralph Lauren, Mark Cuban, Warren Buffett and Jay-Z all rose from modest beginnings. You can be sure those who showed them support with no agenda during the growing pains enjoyed the ride once these icons’ careers exploded.

           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.

For example, success stories such as Ralph Lauren, Mark Cuban, Warren Buffett and Jay-Z all rose from modest beginnings. You can be sure those who showed them support with no agenda during the growing pains enjoyed the ride once these icons’ careers exploded.

The key is to keep your networking process going as much as you can without needing to ask for anything in return. Show genuine interest in other people and in their hopes, wants, dreams and desires.  Ask questions they'd be excited to answer. Listen intently to what they have to 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 and CEO of the Paralegal Knowledge Institute. She has written 10 books on the paralegal career and hundreds of articles. Formerly, Chere was the Paralegal Administrator for two major law firms and an exec in a $5 billion corporation.  She has written 10 books in the legal field and authored hundreds of articles. She has been interviewed by many  prestigious publications and is a national seminar leader. Chere is a Los Angeles  Paralegal Association Lifetime Achievement Recipient and Co-founding member of the International Practice Management Association (IPMA).  Talk to her at chere@estrinlegalstaffing.com.