Weight! Weight! Are You Sabotaging Your Career? Those Extra Pounds May Be Holding You Back

A update to a popular piece.....

ScaleHave you ever considered that those extra pounds that sneaked up when you were just “having an extra bite” might be holding your career back? 

Some years ago when I was just starting out working for a major Los Angeles law firm, my mentor, Sinatra, the Director of Administration, asked me to lunch.  No, not the star but for a variety of reasons you sure as heck were never going to forget this memorable guy's name.

I was delighted.  He took me to the Yorkshire Grill where he insisted that I have the pastrami sandwich piled high on thick rye bread smothered in hot yellow mustard along with a generous helping of potato salad ladled with heavy home-made mayonnaise.   Who can refuse their boss? Career buster for sure.  I dug right in.

After lunch, while we were walking – well, he was walking, I was waddling, back to the office, he hit me with “You’re doing a great job here.” Wow.  I liked that.  “However,” he proceeded, “if you’re going to succeed, you’ll have to lose weight.” To this day, I could tell you exactly where we were standing, the window I was standing in front of, what I was wearing and the time he gave me the news. 

What many employees fail to recognize is that this is a new workplace.  We are, rightly or wrongly, visually judged everywhere:  Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn, Skype, Snapchat (now getting more hits than Twitter). You’re even interviewed face-to-face via internet. Then there are the constant pictures from iphones, iPads, emails, websites, videos and more.  We’re no longer a society floating in a world of the anonymous voice. We are judged not only by who we are but unfortunately, how we look. 

In fact, according to one source, there is a proposal in the UK that puts forth that obese claimants could see their benefits reduced or increased according to how often they attempt to lose weight. Robin Thompson, a former legal recruiting professional and now in legal marketing, knows first -hand about weight discrimination. She’s lost 200 pounds. “As a thin person,” she says, “I am greeted with much more friendliness and taken more seriously.  I have even had people comment that people who are overweight cannot control some aspect of their life and that it’s a reflection on how they would perform in a professional situation.” 

You don’t have to be 100 pounds overweight to be discriminated against. “Chunkies” might take a look at the progression of their career over “thinnies”.  Have those around you advanced while you remain at the same level?  Sure, maybe they are more qualified but truthfully, are they thinner?  Does a secret glass ceiling exist at your workplace because of weight? Is there anyone really heavy in upper management?  Of course, there’s an exception or two but it’s really that – an exception. 

While many victims of weight bias have suspected their appearance has been hurting their careers, two past studies analyzing decades' worth of research showed just how pervasive the problem is. The bulk of research has shown that the bias tends to be felt most by overweight white women, who are battling both the glass ceiling and the stigma of being heavy. 

A 2004 study by Cornell University Associate Professor John Cawley found that when the average white woman puts on an additional 64 pounds, her wages drop 9%. (Some studies have shown that overweight white women are evaluated more harshly than overweight African American women   and that African Americans tend to be more accepting of large body types.) 

In 2004, Charles Baum, of Middle Tennessee State University, reported in the journal Health Economics that obesity could lower a woman's annual earnings by as much as 6.2% and a man's by as much as 2.3%. 

“Fat, lazy and unproductive” might be some of the stereotypes that ring true to employers who reject an obese applicant despite a stellar resume. Published last month in the International Journal of Obesity, a new study examined the role anti-fat prejudice plays in workplace hiring practices. 

A group of 95 reviewers acting in the role of employers were shown a group of resumes with   an attached photo. To avoid biased results, the true reason for the study was concealed from participants, said lead researcher Kerry O'Brien of Monash University in Australia. Asked to determine the likelihood of selecting a potential candidate and her starting salary, the “employers” were shown a group of resumes with equivalent skills, experience and education. 

What the reviewers did not know was that the pictures clipped to the resumes were of the same six women before and after weight loss surgery. The study results showed that obese women received more negative responses on leadership potential, predicted success, likelihood to select, salary, total employment rating and rank order of preference relative to other candidates. 

Employers today want to keep healthcare costs down. The heavier you are, studies show, the more days off you take and the more vulnerable you are to certain illnesses.  While your work may be excellent, chances of promotion may be slim. (Pardon the pun, please.)  Have you been in the same position for 20 years while being told that you are an excellent attorney, paralegal, manager,  legal professional? Surely there must be somewhere upward on the firm ladder you could climb.  If it hasn’t happened and your work is terrific, ask yourself, why, why, why? 

Fat is one of the last bastions of discrimination with very little done to curb prejudice or  intolerance.  Being overweight does not mean a person is unmotivated or lazy.  Chances are if you made it into in a law firm environment, you are smart, good at your job and ambitious.  In fact, because of excess weight, people may even be more driven than others.  

In the job market world, few recruiters will be or can be  honest with you. They are asked but "not asked" to send candidates with "front office appearance" a very old and outdated code for "professional appearance" the new unspoken code for yes, good-looking or not obese. You'll probably never see that written or spoken anywhere. It is not accepted to put your picture on your resume. You are not supposed to be hired based upon how you look, rather only upon your skills.

However, there must be some reason why people in this new social media era are rushing to view your LinkedIn profile (that contains your picture) other than to read the very same thing on your resume. Do you honestly think it's only to read your summary? Partially, perhaps. But only partially.

On the personal side, I did very little in terms of losing weight for years.  Oh, I was up, I was down, I was going to lose those “last few pounds” but frankly, despite a very satisfying career, I never really did see the light.  I had no problem getting up in front of 300 people to deliver a speech. I was no wallflower, that's for sure. Without going into details, I came to  a come-to-the big-guy meeting and took Draconian-like steps to cure a lifetime of ridicule and bias. Sure, people want to be accepted “just the way they are and for whom they are” despite any well documented health risks and concerns - as so they should be.  But that’s not reality.  Excess weight can kill you. You just don't think it's going to happen to you. It happens to the other guy.  Despite anyone’s sincere efforts to change the world, this discrimination probably isn’t going stop soon.  It's going to get worse. Fair?  Absolutely not.  Make you want to rebel?  You betcha.  But consider this: the world has changed. It’s visual now. It's more health conscious - like knowing about smoking. You see someone doing it and you know it's wrong. In addition to discriminating, that's another reaction being overweight causes.

By the way, while I’m on my soapbox, please beware of those of us who are on weight loss programs.  These "just saw the light and you can too" folks can be righteous and annoying; they will preach, lecture and moralize – all the while (for those who succeed) advancing their careers just splendidly. Along those lines, I’m no innocent flower. I'm pleased to announce that I have lost over 115 125 pounds and kept it off for over three  four years. It’s one of the hardest battles I’ve ever fought and am hopefully, winning. But that remains another story meant for another day.

Chere Estrin is the CEO of Paralegal Knowledge Institute providing online paralegal training and CEO of Estrin Legal Staffing. She has written 10 books on legal careers, hundreds of articles and been  interviewed by The Los Angeles Times, Newsweek, ABA Journal and many publications. She has been a Paralegal Administrator in two major firms, an exec in a $5 billion corporation, is President & Co-Founding Member of Organization of Legal Professionals (OLP) providing online legal technology training and Co-Founding Member of International Practice Management Association (IPMA), Inc. Magazine Entrepreneur of the Year finalist and Los Angeles/CenturyCity Chamber of Commerce Woman of Achievement Award Winner. She is a Los Angeles Paralegal Association Lifetime Achievement Award Recipient and New York City Paralegal Excellence award winner. Talk to her at chere@estrinlegalstaffing.com

Here's How Legal Technology Expertise Can Make or Break Your Career

Computer mossIn a perfect world, all paralegals know everything about legal technology.  As you and I know, there’s no perfect world. However, not knowing enough about technology or believing you do, is the best way to bust your career. Trust me. I have 20+ years of experience managing, educating and staffing thousands of paralegals. (OK, I can admit to having more years of experience but then I have to search around for fancy anti-aging creams.)

Legal technology does not stop at litigation. It extends to every specialty whether you are in litigation, corporate, real estate, immigration, personal injury, or any practice area including the latest hybrid: the paralegal/legal secretary. No matter if your firm does not partake in the latest technology, it is incumbent upon you to stay up-to-date. Why? Try to get a new job or advance with outdated skills. Not going to happen. Guaranteed.

Since paralegals are expected to follow attorneys, you must be familiar with ABA Model Rule 1.1 on Competence with Comment 8:

“To maintain the requisite knowledge and skill, a lawyer should keep abreast of changes in the law and its practice, including the benefits and risks associated with relevant technology, engage in continuing study and education and comply with all continuing legal education requirements to which the lawyer is subject.”

Let’s start with practice management. A knowledgeable paralegal must know which software to use for file storage, evidence organization, billing, accounting, research and calendaring. It is critical to understand and utilize MyCase, Clio, SharePoint, Outlook and the cloud. These are just the basics.

There are new opportunities utilizing technology in eDiscovery, Project Management (not legal project management), Information Governance, Compliance, Knowledge Management, Law Firm Pricing, Litigation Support Project Management, Human Resources, Library Resources, Competitive Intelligence, Forensics, Law Firm Accounting, Cyber Security and more where you can leverage your paralegal background.

eDiscovery and Litigation Support Project Management are the hottest areas paying some of the highest salaries and offering challenging and upwardly mobile career opportunities.  It is not unusual to see salaries for Senior Litigation Support Project Managers in the upper $150,000 at major law firms or at Top Tier Legal Support Providers.  Salaries can range from $80-$100,000 or $50,000 - $75,000 for junior level project managers.

According to Marnie Carter, a high-profile San Francisco Paralegal Administrator from major law firms and in-house legal departments, “Litigation support professionals average salaries that often exceed the top ten percent of paralegal salaries. Roles in information governance, compliance, and cyber security also present previously nonexistent opportunities to ambitious paralegals with an understanding of legal technology.”

Carter has hired and supervised hundreds of paralegals. “Paralegals can broaden earnings potential and career opportunities with legal technology skills and are breaking through prior salary and career limits with the aid of technology knowledge. There are new opportunities to specialize in e-Discovery that equates to an increase in value to employers and an ability to command higher salaries. Legal project management is emerging for paralegals. Firms, companies and service providers are hiring project managers with legal expertise to manage litigation more efficiently and at a lower cost," she says.

"Paralegals who combine their legal knowledge with advanced technical skills are finding litigation support roles at much higher salaries. Litigation support professionals average salaries that often exceed the top ten percent of paralegal salaries. Roles in information governance, compliance, and cyber security also present previously nonexistent opportunities to ambitious paralegals with an understanding of legal technology.”

What does it take to get into the field? Vincent Garcez, a former Los Angeles paralegal, now a Litigation Support Manager in DC, has an interesting career history: “I got into legal technology when I was recruited for Lockheed Martin as a contractor for the Department of Justice (DOJ). They partnered me with several senior eDiscovery project managers to assist with trial matters. I immersed myself with senior project managers as they took me under their wings. They taught me the foundations of eDiscovery and opened a new sect not taught in paralegal school. Taking this new leap into the eDiscovery field not only excelled my career but allowed me to learn something new.”

I’ve witnessed paralegals give in to their firm’s philosophy of “We just don’t do that here.” Career opportunists beware!” This is the biggest career buster of all! While you think that you’re not going to make a move any time soon, do you know what’s going on in the Executive Committee? Chances are excellent, you do not. One week you’re good, the next, managing partners decide to merge, purge or otherwise scourge as in lay-offs. You can’t get a decent raise. You’ve realized you’ve capped out. The firm’s cash-flow isn’t fluid. The firm lost its best client/rainmaker. Who knew??? A host of unanticipated reasons arise and suddenly, without warning, you need to move on and your skills are out-of-date.

Think ahead! What do you do if your firm does not reinforce continuing education or stay up-to-date in the latest technology?

According to Carter, “An understanding of legal technology is critical to a paralegal's career regardless of the work performed. Recent amendments to the FRCP, State and local rules outline expectations that attorneys know more about eDiscovery than ever before. This means paralegals must know more about ESI eDiscovery. Paralegals need to understand how to manage electronic information timely and efficiently.  

Cost is one of the biggest obstacles. Clients analyze bills to reduce costs and look for opportunities to leverage flat fee and volume pricing. Paralegals with knowledge of a variety of technological tools and processes and who efficiently utilize technology in a defensible manner, thereby reducing firm and client cost burden, are indispensable.”

Can’t get training? Carter says, “ASK! ASK! ASK! Many firms are highly encouraged by paralegals who are working to advance their technology knowledge. Demand is high for tech savvy paralegals. There are numerous free or low cost online webinars such as those offered the Organization of Legal Professionals (OLP) and seminars, Lunch and Learn sessions offered through International Legal Technology Association,(ILTA),  International Practice Management Association, (IPMA), Women in eDiscovery, and paralegal associations.”

Garcez recommends, “Many corporations like Kcura, Lexis Nexis and other review providers have free webinars. Look at vendor websites. They post articles and advertise free seminars. You are the gatekeeper and should speak the same technical language as litigation support to ensure that the case will run smoothly."

As a litigation paralegal, Garcez says, “Relativity is arguably one of the most coveted, web-based eDiscovery mechanism that any vendor or law firm may currently use.  Its growth is exponential, with more vendor providers and enterprises demanding an extensive knowledge. As a paralegal, learning more about Relativity will accelerate your career.”

What about the hybrid position sweeping the country in smaller firms - the paralegal/legal assistant (legal secretary)? According to Chris Donaldson, President of Los Angeles based, Career Images, “This new position combines paralegal and secretarial technology skills in all specialties. The paralegal/legal assistant performs duties that are billable and non-billable.

They may have some minimum billable requirement, draft legal documents, interface with clients and perform duties that cannot be billed such as travel arrangements, scheduling depositions and calendaring. The position can pay up to $85,000 - $90,000 for someone with incredible technology skills at some boutique and mid-size law firms. “However,” says, Donaldson, “be aware these are top salaries and growth potential might be limited.”

A litigation paralegal/legal assistant should know: Adobe Professional; Best Authority; Forms Workflow; MacPac; OmniPage; Roxio; MS Word 2010 (proficient TOC/TOA user) and MS Office 2010; WorkShare Compare; Bates labeling w/Copy Desktop Pro; Win AIR Forms; calendaring w/MS Outlook and CompuLaw, AIA Forms, CAR Forms,  Groupwise E-mail, Automated Judicial Council of California Civil Jury Instructions (CACI), LexisNexis® Research, and LexisNexis® File&ServeXpress, Concordance, Summation, Relativity, Proforma (Legal Solutions), Finereader-OCR, Carpediem, PowerPoint, Excel.

Being familiar with certain technologies can change your career path. To say that paralegals do not need to be expert legal technologists is like saying a pilot does not need to understand wind currents, just how to get from Point “A” to Point “B.” Increasingly so, our trips from Point “A” to Point “B” are involving technology and can even be driven by technology. Give yourself the continued boost you need – stay on top of legal technology, now and throughout your unceasing successful career journey. 

Chere Estrin is CEO of Estrin Legal Staffing; President & Co-Founding member of Organization of Legal Professionals (OLP, a non-profit specializing in online training for attorneys and paralegals in legal technology; CEO of an online paralegal training company, Paralegal Knowledge Institute, She is a former Paralegal Administrator at two major firms and an executive in a $5 billion corporation and a career coach at Legal Careers Rx. (view free You Tube videos on Legal CareersRx on writing dynamic resumes.) Chere has written 10 books about paralegal careers including The Paralegal Career Guide 4th Ed., and has been interviewed by the Los Angeles Times, Newsweek, ABA Journal and other prestigious publications. She is a recipient of the Los Angeles Paralegal Lifetime Achievement Award and the New York City Excellence Award. Talk to her at chere@estrinlegalstaffing.com

Do In-House Paralegals Get More Respect?

Man looking sidewaysAretha Franklin sang to the world about it. The subject is included when employees, girlfriends, wives, husbands, boyfriends, grandmothers and pets are asked how they want to be treated. I’m talking about respect.  R-E-S-P-E-C-T, as Ms. Franklin would put it.

            In my travels across the country as a paralegal educator, speaker, author and staffing expert, I noticed a difference between the temperaments of law firm and in-house legal department paralegals. 

        Was I imagining it or did most in-house paralegals seem more at peace, less stressed, easier to get along with while law firm paralegals seemed tougher, ready for battle, and a tad more defensive, a bit more caustic?  Assuming my observations were on track, what propelled this subtle but noticeable personality variation?

            After talking with literally hundreds of in-house paralegals about their work environment, I realized they may be getting more respect. Why?  What could possibly be different?

            I went to several knowledgeable sources to find out.  Marnie Carter, a seasoned San Francisco Paralegal Manager, experienced in both in-house legal departments and major law firms, filled me in. “In-house paralegals do receive more respect from attorneys and staff in-house because the law firm hierarchy does not exist. The corporate environment is a division of management versus staff. Many of the paralegals are classified as "paralegal" but the delineation between junior, mid and senior is not so structured as in the law firm.  

            The elevated treatment is due to a better understanding of the paralegal's role. Attorneys leave law school and start work in a firm without exposure or training as to the paralegal's role on a case team. This lack of understanding of a paralegal's duties, can on many occasions, lead to an under- utilization problem without the advocacy of a paralegal manager. 

            Most in-house counsel previously worked at a law firm where they received paralegal support. They understand the duties and value a paralegal brings to the team. When the attorney transitions to an in-house counsel role, they are able to better leverage the responsibilities of the paralegal as there is an understanding of paralegal.

Michele Suzuki, an in-house paralegal at MicoVention, voiced her opinion based on her healthy experiences.  “I worked exclusively for law firms for 20 years,” she says, “and always felt that many of the lawyers treated their secretaries better than the paralegals.  I wondered sometimes if they felt like we were taking their billable hours away, perhaps feeling like they had to compete with us in a "dog-eat-dog" world.  When I switched to in-house corporate, I noticed an immediate change.  For one thing, corporate work is not a war between litigants, but rather people working together to make the corporate "machine" function effectively and efficiently.” 

            Ah.  The “for the corporate good” theory.   She may be on to something.  The usual set-up in a law firm is that each partner or team almost operates their own fiefdom whereas in a corporation, members of the team pull together for the corporate good, a critical factor missing in many law firms.        

            It isn’t always that way.  Peggy Williams, a veteran paralegal in Orlando, Florida and formerly with an in-house legal department of a national insurance company, was in disagreement.   “From my experience with working in an in-house counsel office, I receive more respect working in a traditional office. When I did work in-house, I was given traditional paralegal tasks but treated and thought of the same as a legal secretary.  The secretaries seemed to hold more rank and respect in the office.     One of the biggest differences is that we were not allowed to attend trial as a paralegal.  We were allowed to watch one day of testimony but give no assistance to the attorney.  At the firm I work for now, it is expected that I go to trial, assist in all preparation and sit at the table.”

            What about social interaction?  Personally, I recalled a terrible caste system within major firms.  Attorneys would work alongside with paralegals until 3 a.m. but rarely ask them to go to lunch. In fact, you could burn the midnight oil with attorneys but you really couldn’t eat with them.  This, in part, was due to perception.  If an attorney wanted to become a powerhouse, it was much better politically to be seen with a heavily influential partner or an up-and-coming associate rather than eat with the rank and file.  Was it the same in corporations? 

            Having more social interaction between paralegals and attorneys could be a factor of sheer numbers.  Beth King, RP, a senior paralegal at Vestas in Portland, Oregon, feels there are often more lawyers in a law firm, “so the lawyers talk more among themselves.  But, legal departments, with smaller attorney numbers, rely more on one another within the department for brainstorming and these relationships tend to build respect.  The lawyers actually get to know you better.”

            However, I still needed some verification, so I created a survey, “Do In-House Paralegals Get More Respect?”.  Over 550 respondents voiced opinions with 58.6% currently working at in-house legal departments and 75.9% having worked in both corporate legal departments and law firms.

            An overwhelming 49.5% stated in-house attorneys treated them with more respect.  Only 24.4% stated they were treated equally in both environments and a mere 14.1% said they were treated with more respect in a law firm. 

             Comments regarding how paralegals were treated by attorneys varied from: “Gained more respect with more experience”; “Experience varies from attorney to attorney; “There are varying degrees of "respect" to “There are more controls on attorneys with temper problems in-house than at a firm.”   And finally, the diplomat who stated, “As with all professions, there are people who treat you with respect; I don't find it tied to being in a law firm or an in-house legal department.”

              Given an opportunity to give advice to a job seeker, a staunch 42.7% said they would recommend an in-house legal department over a law firm or government agency.  A small 5.2% said they would advise someone to get out of the field.    

              And what do attorneys think?  I went to Kevin Cranman, General Counsel for Ericsson in Atlanta who said,  “A properly skilled paralegal with appropriate experience can compliment and support an attorney's practice - in law firm and in-house environments.  Just like any professional, the individual paralegal earns respect by doing good work efficiently. 

                Once the paralegal has proven herself, attorneys will trust that person to support projects and do sophisticated work. There is a time and place for an attorney to do 'XYZ' and paralegals do 'ABC' analysis, but a capable paralegal can provide great value to an attorney and an organization by providing good work product, handling much of the drafting and conferring with the attorney on specific issues, and permitting the attorney to leverage her/his time on projects or with clients better."

                I guess what Mr. Cranman is saying is that if you’re good, you’re good and that in and of itself should command respect.  Somehow, folks, I’m going to have to agree. 

            Chere Estrin is the CEO of Paralegal Knowledge Institute, CEO of Estrin Legal Staffing;  She is President & Co-Founding member of the Organization of Legal Professionals (OLP). She has written 10 books about legal careers including the Paralegal Career Guide 4th Ed., and hundreds of articles.  Chere has been interviewed by major publications such as The Los Angeles Times, Newsweek, ABA Journal and many other publications. She has been an exec in a $5 billion Fortune 1000 corporation and Paralegal Administrator in two major firms. She is a Los Angeles Paralegal Association Lifetime Achievement Award Recipient and New York City Paralegal Excellence award winner; Inc magazine finalist and Los Angeles/Century City Women of Achievement Recipient.; Co-Founding member of the International Practice Management Association. Check out her career coaching at Legal CareersRX.net and You Tube Videos at Legal Careers RX.  Talk to her at chere.estrin@paralegalknowledge.com.

Where Do I Go From Here? Leveraging Your Background Is the Smartest Career Move You Can Make - Just Ask Chuck Smith

SmithChuckOne of the biggest mistakes you can make in your paralegal career is to not leverage your background. In fact, when faced with either entering the field or changing positions, the words "transferable skills" sometime seem to make a beeline for the exit as candidates get it into their heads that obscure skills in their past are not related to current positions. What am I telling you to do?

I have witnessed construction workers become litigation construction paralegals. Who better can read blueprints? Entertainers become entertainment paralegals. Who understands royalties better? How about travel agents, food servers, airline stewards (do they call them that these days?), hotel workers: all these folks enter the hospitality legal field and do quite well.  Nurses become legal nurse consultants. Insurance workers enter defense or plaintiff insurance litigation or personal injury firms. I have witnessed UPS drivers go to work for UPS/FedEx or like legal departments. Transportation workers enter railroads, bus companies, airlines and other transportation legal departments. The list is endless. It all leads to one of my favorite cliches: Ride the horse in the direction it's going.  Utilize your background.

A few weeks ago, I met a very interesting Law Office Manager from Colorado Springs, Chuck Smith. Here is a seasoned paralegal with 28 years experience who leveraged his paralegal and military career and moved it into a management position at a high profile, upscale firm. He oversees a staff of 12 in a boutique firm while enjoying tremendous job satisfaction, something that not everyone can claim. How did he do it? Yep. I'm just dying to tell the story.

CBE: Hello Chuck. You've been at Forbush & Goldberg now for nine years as the Office Manager. That's a long time. Most Office Managers turn over at the two year level. I am always amazed at someone who can maintain longevity in this 15 sound-byte day and age. Our audience would be interested in your background. Spill the beans, kid.

 CS: I became a paralegal while serving in the Air Force in 1988. I have experience in Military Justice (criminal), claims (tort law and civil law (wills, POAs, legal assistance). I worked at a headquarters supporting paralegals in 15 separate law offices and have managed a law office at the US Embassy in Australia (international law, military operations law and tort law). I provided leadership/oversite to 77 paralegals at 8 law offices from Arizona to Florida

CBE: Holy, moly. That's quite a story. I'd like to hear about about your military background.

CS: I served in the Air Force from 1982 until 2007.  I served in North Dakota for 10½ years; Hawaii 4½ years; Australia 3½ years; California 3 years; and Texas 3 years.  I was a Security Policeman for 6 years and a paralegal for 19 years in the Air Force.

CBE: I have to ask the inevitable: What led you to become a paralegal?

CS: I knew that I needed to be challenged and becoming a paralegal seemed to be the way to go.

CBE: How did you become a manager?

CS: The enlisted rank structure has 9 levels.  Once you reach the 7th level, you are expected to manage and lead junior paralegals in a law office setting.

CBE: What advice do you have for paralegals to enter management?

CS: You should love working with people.  You should enjoy training and growing paralegals. Your goal should be their success.

CBE: What qualities do you look for in a paralegal?

CS: Easy! Loyalty, team player, hard worker, and have service in their heart. You can’t teach that, you can’t buy that.  They must be the right type of person to be allowed to serve our clients.

CBE: What is one of your favorite paralegal experiences?

CS: I took an administrative technician, explained to her why she should become a paralegal.  Fifteen years later, she was selected as the most Outstanding Senior Paralegal in the Air Force.

CBE: What do you think about certification, licensure or regulation in the paralegal field?

CS: I have been so unhappy with a large number of paralegals over the years who act like they are better than others.  Because of that, I would much rather hire on non-certified person who exhibits the attributes listed above.  Don’t get me wrong, if I found the “Right Person” who also held a paralegal degree or certification, I would definitely hire them.

Are you seeking to move up, out or over? What do you have in your background that you can leverage to assist you in a move? What transferable skills are you not utilizing? Your current skills are one thing, however, skills are like riding a bike. You can always get on and ride that bike. However, the one caveat is that you must keep skills current. Knowing HR skills is a valuable asset. However, not knowing the current laws is not..........Stay updated and leverage, leverage, leverage!

Chere Estrin is the CEO of Estrin Legal Staffing and CEO of Paralegal Knowledge Institute. She is one of the legal field's top legal job hunting coaches at Legal CareersRx. She holds the position of President and Co-Founding member of the Organization of Legal Professionals, a prestigious online legal technology training organization for attorneys, litigation support and paralegals. Chere has written 10 books on legal careers and has been interviewed by many prestigious publications. She is a national seminar speaker and author of hundreds of articles. She has Sundays free from 3:00 a.m. - 6:00 a.m. Talk to her at chere.estrin@paralegalknowledge.com.


Donald Trump loves me! (Huh?) What You Need to Know Right Now: Ethics and Social Networking

Trump LinkedInToday's guest blogger is Ted Brooks with this very funny and insightful blog. Enjoy!

 LinkedIn With Donald Trump! (Legal Ethics)

Donald Trump loves me! It is certainly clear that he can spot a winner – a leader in the profession, at the top of their game. I'm sure that describes me, and must be why he has requested to join my massive and influential LinkedIn network (of a moderate, real-world scale, of course).

I feel like I’ve been personally chosen by Mr. Trump as the next big winner of The Apprentice! Fresh off his dominating performance on Super Tuesday, The Donald took a break from his busy schedule to send me this request, which I received on TrumpLinkedInWednesday, March 2, at 7:27 p.m. PST. It would have been nearly 11:00 p.m. EST, but I’m sure that like me, he often works some long hours.

Although thrilled beyond belief (well, quite a bit beyond, actually), I thought it might be prudent to check Mr. Trump’s credentials before accepting his request. I know he’s a billionaire, real-estate mogul, presidential candidate and all that, but what does he give up on LinkedIn? I mean, it’s obviously his real photo. Or is it?

Authenticating Social Media Profiles

I’m not going to cover every possible way you might check and verify social media profiles, but I will offer a couple quick and easy suggestions, and I will caution against accepting every random request from people you don’t know. Not that LinkedIn networking is a bad thing, and I have generated some business as a result of using it, but hopping blindly down the trail might not be the best option.

Ideally, there should be some prior “connection” for this person to have located you. That might be through a friend or business associate, a fellow LinkedIn group member, or it could even be someone simply reaching out as a result of your marketing efforts (read: a good thing). Because of this, you don’t necessarily want to reject anyone you don’t know. They may know you, or could be interested in getting to know more about you.


Although other social media apps such as Facebook or Twitter are similar in some respects, we’ll focus on LinkedIn here. The first place to look is their profile page. Realize that you may be limited to a “public” or “not connected” view of the page. There is likely more info once you’re in the same network, but this view usually shows the basics – at least enough to get a rough idea of who is contacting you. For this reason, you should make sure to include enough info in your “public” profile that someone can identify you, or can at least learn a little about who you are.

Poor Donald Trump. I saw last night that he only had 25 LinkedIn connections. I know – he’s just very selective. That’s why he asked me. Now this morning, I find that he has already DOUBLED his network, increasing it to 51 members! That is the power I’m talking about.

Unfortunately, one of the newer additions is connected with someone I know (as noted in the third-level connection shown in the top right corner). I hope it’s not an attorney, or someone in the legal profession. We’re supposed to know better, and in fact, may be ethically required to do so.

With his private jet to shuttle him, Trump gets around. In fact, I just noticed that between last night and this morning, he has changed his LinkedIn profile location from Kansas City, Missouri (see email) to Oskaloosa, Kansas. Running a quick search shows it’s only about 50 miles between the two, but it’s a different State! Okay, so a quick review begins to look a little suspicious. It’s not always so obvious though. Sometimes, it may just look odd that a Chinese iron mining executive has sought you out as a potential connection (has actually happened to me). Probably wants you to send him some money via Western Union, too.


TrumpLinkedInSearchSo let’s take a closer look at the image. Right click and run a search, and see what turns up. In my experience, this will often nail a fraud, as the results may show the actual profile and identity of someone else. Oh, the power of the Google search. Other search engines (e.g., Bing and Yahoo!) have similar capabilities as well.

In this case, we find that it does indeed appear to be a legitimate photo of Mr. Trump, except that it has been widely used by the media, meaning it is easy to get. In fact, it has been used over 1400 times.

Oh no, information overload!  

My point here is that anyone in the legal profession MUST take extra care when dealing with social media. You never know who might be on the other end of the internet, or why they might be attempting to gain additional info on you. Remember: What happens online, stays online.

Let me know if your firm or group is interested in a related CLE presentation. We offer a limited number of CLE presentations at no cost to qualifying groups, generally focused on technology in trial and visual communication.

PS: LinkedIn has since taken down the phony Trump profile.

Email: tbrooks@litigationtech.com

Chere Estrin is CEO of the Paralegal Knowledge Institute, an online training organization for paralegals and CEO of Legal CareersRx providing job hunting expertise and coaching. She is a co-founding member of the International Practice Management Association and has written 10 books on the paralegal career including The Paralegal Career Guide, 4th ed. Chere has been interviewed by Newsweek, ABA Journal, Los Angeles Times, Above the Law and other well-known publications. She has Sundays free from 3:00 a.m. to 6:00 a.m. Talk to her at chere.estrin@paralegalknowledge.com.






Dear Son: Don't Forget to Stand Out

You may remember Jamie Collins—one of our top writers.  Today I'm pleased to feature one of her posts on The Estrin Report. I am excited to announce that Jamie is not only writing in the legal genre these days, but also recently launched a personal blog called: Just Being Jamie. So what is this new blog? It’s pretty much Jamie writing on a wide variety of topics, with no set rules, Just Being Jamie. She never hits the page lightly. One day she’ll make you laugh. The next day, she’ll make you weep. (She really does. You should give it a gander.) Better yet, subscribe to her new blog.  Everyone can use a smile.

The greatest fear in the world is of the opinions of others. The moment you are unafraid of the crowd, you are no longer a sheep. You become a lion. A great roar arises in your heart, the roar of freedom.”  ~ Osho

My Dear Son,

You will spend many, many years of your life trying to “fit in.” In fact, you’ll spend the majority of your waking pre-teen and teenage years trying to be like other people. The cool kids. Trying to say the right thing. Attempting to look the right way. Styling your hair just right, talking in lingo, and wearing the right brand of sneakers; trying to be like your peers in an effort to blend in with those around you. In essence, trying not to stand out. And that’s okay. You certainly aren’t the first person to do so. You stand before a long road of personal growth; one paved with a lot of fads you’ll choose to embrace over the years in the name of teenage uniformity. And that’s okay. Your dad and I did those same things, too. (Unfortunately, we do have the pictures to prove it.)

Not only will you spend the majority of your formative years trying to blend in, but your teachers, for the most part, will encourage it. They need every student to sit down in his or her chair, work quietly, and do what is asked of him or her (the way it is asked of him or her) in a uniform manner, so they can run their classrooms, teach you what you need to know, and adhere to educational standards. Many of your future employers will do the same thing. They, too, will ask you to perform work duties, tell you when to perform them, why, and how. They will need you to do your part as an employee to “fit in” to the company’s culture. In life, we all need to fit in to some extent. I don’t fault teachers for this. They have a lot on their educational plates. I don’t fault bosses for this. They have goals, deadlines, and general procedures for doing things.  Even as parents, we even have to fit in, at least to some extent. Your dad and I sometimes wear power suits in an effort to blend in with the professionals around us. As far as blending in goes, that’s what the world requires of you: conformity. At least for now. Maybe on most days.

But son, what you need to know is this: At some point in your life, you’ll need to stand out. To step in to your own light. At first, it may only be only an occasional glimmer of potential you may take notice of here or there. It will be with things you are either really good at, enjoy doing, or do really well. Maybe when you’re making a long throw on a football field, working on a class project you take the initiative to lead, or standing at a podium to give a speech to a room of listening peers. I’m not sure when it will happen for you, precisely. But there will come a time in your life when your talents—your gifts—the things you do best that make you unique, special, and most vibrantly, spectacularly, wonderfully “you” will require more of you.  A time when you must embrace them and put them on display for the world to see. A day when that innate gift you possess (or worked really, really hard to master) is something every person around you will bear witness to in some small way. A day when others will see you for who you are, a glimmer of what you can do, and should do a whole lot more of in the future.

The day will come when you will need to forget all of the blending in and stop trying to be like everyone else. When the thing most vital to the creation of your true self and your success will require you to rise up in your corner of the world in the most confident, radiant, authentic way possible. A day when you will need to step out of the shadows of commonplace where you may choose to dwell on most days…and into your own light. A time when you will show others what, exactly, that light is: The things in life you are passionate about; what it is you do well; and the thing you were born to do, my son. Because we each have our own unique light to shine in the world, and you’re the only one who has yours. Just you. It’s one of a kind. It’s special. It’s what makes you, you.

Maybe you’ll write a book one day. Perhaps, you’ll be an acclaimed quarterback. Maybe you’ll own a popular restaurant on the north side of town. You may solve mathematic equations, teach pupils (to blend in and stand out), lead a team, market a product launch, coach a team to victory, prepare financial reports, run a Fortune 500 company, or inspire a room of people with your words. But whatever it is, that special thing you do to make yourself stand out – embrace it. Acknowledge it. Own it. Allow it to burn brightly within you, even if you don’t show it to the world on most days. Remember that thing is your gift. And it’s your job to share that gift with others.

It’s okay to wear the latest K.D. sneakers. It’s okay to spike your hair up with gel. It’s okay to wear the latest trendy clothes, use those same slang words your friends use, play the games your friends like to play on the PS4, and act like your peers. It’s okay to blend in with others.

It’s also okay to stand out. In fact, you should.
Maybe not every day.

But on the day God puts you on a path to show your gift to the world, because you find yourself doing something you were created to do, do exceptionally well, or love doing—then do it all the way. Charge out of the gates of conformity. Forget blending in. Forget being like everyone else. Forget fading in to the background.

You’re too special for that. Your gift is too important. And you’re the only one who can share it.

Embrace your gifts.
Shine your own unique light into the world.
Light up the room by being you: exactly, perfectly, authentically you.

When that day of opportunity presents itself to you, give of yourself and contribute in such a way that only you can. You were born to stand out, my son. You were born to be remarkable.

When your moment comes, and there will be many of them in life—Step up. Stand tall. Be confident. Be proud. Take a deep breath, and shine like the sun.

Chere Estrin is the CEO of Estrin Legal Staffing and CEO of the Paralegal Knowledge Institute. She is an expert career coach at Legal Careers Rx. Chere holds the position of President & Co-Founding member of the Organization of Legal Professionals, a non-profit providing legal technology training for litigation support, attorneys and paralegals. She has written 10 books on the legal career and hundreds of articles. A former administrator for major law firms, she has held executive positions in a $5 billion corporation and major legal service providers and interviewed by the Los Angeles Times, Newsweek, ABA Journal and other publications. She has Sundays free from 3:00 am - 6:00am. Talk to Chere at chere@estrinlegalstaffing.com.



Mentoring Can Be the Biggest Mistake of Your Career

J0178845No one goes through childhood saying, “When I grow up I want to be a mentor.” That’s like saying, “When I grow up, I want to be an actuary.” When given a chance, believe it or not, not everyone wants the awesome responsibility for someone else's career.

I first learned of Jamie Collins when she picked up the phone and told me I was going to be her mentor. She has a different version of the story but to me, that’s how it happened. I hadn’t a clue why I had been selected. In my mind, she was some kid in Indianapolis, a state I still can’t spell, with absolutely no credits other than a strong desire to “make good”.

I think she knew I was Editor-in-Chief of The OLP eJournal (Organization of Legal Professionals) providing online legal technology training for paralegals, attorneys and litigation support professionals and KNOW Magazine for Paralegals and but I don’t think she knew I founded and designed those nor that I had written 10 books. I think she read my blog and said, “Yeah, I choose her.”

It was intriguing. Here is someone you’re going to help launch a wildly successful career and who may ultimately end up being a competitor but something was appealing. Never, in all the time spent with her worrying, praising, getting angry, pulling hair, wondering when she’s going to “get it”, begging her to adopt her own style - did I regret the decision.

What I learned was it took a lot of real work. This was not a situation where two people used the mentor term in order to look good. You had to be right on point. I also solved the question: Are you a mentor or coach? What’s the difference?

The difference can make or break someone's career. In fact, if you mentor instead of coach, you might likely make or break your own career. It's an important decision. Wasting valuable time getting or giving the wrong type of advice can delay years traveling the right career path. That's how critical this decision can be.

A mentor is someone for guidance. They impart a little information here, a little information there……they are role models. They expect you to follow their lead. They give advice. A coach rolls up their sleeves well above the elbow, sticks their hands in your mess, pulls out the good, bad and downright oh-my-god-you-didn’t-really-say-that- did-you??? and teaches the how-to.

I was definitely a coach. I don’t care what Jamie tells you. Maybe she wanted to write a column or book or get interviewed in national publications but unless she learned how to construct a sentence without every cliche parked in the Ladies’ Guide to Cliches and Other Ordinary Writing Phrases, I swear, she didn’t stand a chance. I had one rule: no one under my tutelage was going to say she was my mentee and embarrass me.

Her first piece was a disaster. Like most beginners, she dashed it off thinking, “Wow, this is good writing.” It had possibilities but was a desperate attempt to fit in - gliding into the world of sounds-like-every-one-else-no-original-thinking-no-strong-opinions-at-the-fifth-grade-level. She came close to using “pink polka dots” but the recesses of my brain say that actually came from someone else. It did have a tiny little spark that said, “See what I can do.” She kept saying, “I can take it. Pile it on.” I was relentless. She took it. She was a boxer who refused to go down.

I was trained by a fellow who taught me the same way. Writing with him was torture. He was a former AP reporter and journalist for major papers who wrote books with well-known attorneys such as Gerry Spence. By the time I got out of a session, I was shaken up and in tears, the kind that dripped makeup down onto my white blouse and wouldn’t come out no matter how many times you washed the dang thing.

I was not mentoring. I was coaching.

Here is what I discovered: (I am semi-quoting from various sources):

Differentiator #1:
Mentoring is relationship oriented. The mentee shares issues affecting professional and personal success. Its focus includes work/life balance, self-confidence, self-perception and how personal issues influence professional.

Differentiator #2:
Coaching is short term. Coaches can be involved with a coachee (apparently, there is such a word) for a short time, perhaps a few sessions. Coaching lasts as long as needed. Mentoring is always long term, requires time to build trust and needs to create an environment so the mentee feels secure sharing real issues that impact success. Successful mentoring relationships can generally last nine months to a year.

Differentiator #3:
Coaching is performance driven. The purpose of coaching is to improve job performance involving enhancing or acquiring new skills. Once the coachee acquires the skills, the coach is not needed.

Mentoring is development driven. The purpose is to develop the mentee’s current and future jobs. This differentiates the immediate manager and mentor and reduces conflict between the employee's manager and mentor.

Differentiator #4:
Coaching is task oriented. The focus is on concrete issues such as managing effectively, speaking articulately, and learning strategic thinking. It requires a content coach to teach how to develop these skills.

Here’s what I learned the hard way to ask:

1. Find out why this person wants a mentor.
Do they really need a course or degree? They may need to enhance their learning but are afraid to take steps. If it seems they want you as a course, don’t take them on.

2. Are you willing to share your expertise, experience and knowledge?
Some people are not. You may be afraid this person ends up leaving you behind. Be secure in your skills, reputation, abilities, ability to learn new things and be unafraid to pass those things on. Mentors illustrate how the field is changing. If you are stagnant, you will not make a good mentor.

3. Are you respected in the field?
There’s nothing worse than for your mentee to tell colleagues you are their mentor and receive the response: “Oh”. This is no way to build an ego – yours or theirs.

4. Are you interested in mentoring or is it a chore?
The mentee will call or email and realize immediately they are a nuisance if you let the relationship deteriorate. Tackle responsibilities immediately. It’s a long-term relationship ending when it ends and not before. (Did I just use a nasty cliché?)

Jamie emerged as an outstanding professional writer. Her blog thrives. Sadly, she no longer needed a coach. How I got so lucky to have been chosen, I still don’t know. My guess is, the writing gods must have been looking down on me that day I received that phone call.

Chere Estrin is CEO of the Paralegal Knowledge Institute and Legal Careers Rx. She has written 10 legal career books, has been an exec in a $5 billion corporation, CEO of a national legal staffing company, Co-Founding Member of the International Practice Management Association and Paralegal Administrator in two major firms, and recipient of the Los Angeles Paralegal Assoc. Lifetime Achievement Award. She is President and Co-Founding Member of the Organization of Legal Professionals.  Chere has written 10 books about the paralegal career along with hundreds of articles and is a national seminar speaker. There’s a lot of other stuff but you can always see her LinkedIn profile and connect. Reach out at: chere.estrin@paralegalknowledge.com.

Should Attending Law School Be Kept a Secret From My Employer?

Mistake“Nothing is worse than making a mistake that could be a career buster.”

A paralegal posted a common question to one of the LinkedIn groups: “Am I absolutely out of my mind trying to find paralegal work, with no experience yet, only a certificate, and entering law school in the fall? Not exactly the ideal situation for a lot of hiring companies, apparently.”

I had to put in my $.25, naturally.

No one who is seeking further education is out of their minds! That being said, looking for a job and intending to go to law school can present a problem for most law firms around time, money and disruptions.

There are two types of hiring: career paralegals and transitional. Those who are career paralegals have selected this field with the intent on staying in it. Those that are considered transitional work as a paralegal with the intent of moving on to another position outside of the paralegal job. They use the position as a bridge to somewhere else.

Transitional paralegals are more common in certain parts of the country. There are major firms that have established a job category directly aimed at the transitional paralegal. The position requires little or no experience and seeks those who can devote only 18 - 24 months to the firm. These folks are usually on their way to grad school or law school. The majority of transitional hiring firms are located in New York with a few in San Francisco and Chicago.

My suggestion is not tell your potential employer that you are on your way to somewhere else and stopping in their law firm for a look-see. Most employers hesitate to hire you because of the significant investment they will have in training and recruitment. If they know that you are not there for the long haul, they are concerned they will have tremendous expense and disruption replacing you in a short period of time. You are viewed as a short-timer. For the sake of your career, you may find promotions hard to attain. On the other hand, you may have an employer who is 100% behind you. You need to find out the attitude of the firm before announcing your plans. Nothing is worse than making a mistake that could be a career buster.

Frankly, what you do on your own time, as long as you get the work done, is your business - even if you have been accepted to the finest school in the country. Perhaps you are just thinking about law school. The action has not yet happened. Right now, it’s in the future, perhaps a dream, possibly a nebulous goal but definitely not yet a reality. There are a whole host of things that may happen between now and the time you do enter law school. The fact is, some end up not going for whatever reasons - one of which is they love the paralegal career – another is, ‘lo and behold, after looking around and seeing first-hand, it slowly dawns that life as an attorney is not exactly as any of those exciting TV shows make it out to be. Hmmm….imagine that.

Chere Estrin is the CEO of Paralegal Knowledge Institute (www.paralegalknowledge.com), an online training organization for paralegals. She is a well-known job hunting coach (www.legalcareersrx.net) and CEO of Estrin Legal Staffing (www.estrinlegalstaffing.com), a nationwide staffing company. Chere has written 10 books about the paralegal career including the Paralegal Career Guide 5th edition and is Editor-in-Chief of KNOW, the Magazine for Paralegals.  (She has Sundays free from 3-6:00 a.m.) Chere has written hundreds of articles and has been interviewed by the Los Angeles Times, Chicago Trib, Newsweek, Above the Law, ABA Journal and other great publications. She loves to hear from you!  Reach her at: chere.estrin@paralegalknowledge.com.




The Happiness Avoidance Problem: You sure do know what you don’t want.

Engaged.MondayWe all want career happiness. So why, for some people, is it so hard to get?

It is remarkably sad that so many people end up devoting their careers to jobs that don’t make them happy. They don’t start out that way, of course. It just ends up that as they get further along in their chosen job, they discover they’re not very happy.

It could be attributed to a number of things: The people aren’t very nice. The hours are too long. The boss is a jerk. There’s no flexibility. The work is boring. There’s no chance for advancement. The pay is miserable. No decent raises. The firm has been acquired and layoffs are coming. They then jump over to a new job only to start the process all over again after the honeymoon.  Only this time, it might be new things, maybe you don’t have an office, it’s a cubicle; maybe the work is less sophisticated, the commute is longer; the minimum hours are hardly that and working on Christmas Eve was whose idea again?

Recently, I found myself to be a true and blue Baby Boomer waking up to the fact that I needed more stimulation. Don’t get me wrong. I absolutely love what I do in online training and running the OLP and Paralegal Knowledge Institute. It’s fulfilling, challenging and rewarding. Long ago, I recognized that I have an entrepreneurial mindset. The real kind. That is, I love start-up, I love to get things going and running. I love the challenge and the creativity. So recently, I took stock of my transferable skills. I ended up starting two new businesses instead of one. Typical Chere Estrin, my friends might say. (Years ago, I was a recipient of an award from California Lawyer Magazine for “Overachiever”.) One of my mentors says I’m crazy. Over reaching. She’s probably right. But both do dovetail and it makes good business sense.

First, I started Legal Careers Rx, (hold on - new website coming!) a job hunting coaching and strategy company coaching people on how to find a job in the new social media world, avoid age discrimination, stop getting rejected and more. And now, I’m just gearing up Estrin Legal Staffing, a company concentrating on job placement for non-attorneys and legal technology professionals.  I was in contract attorney and paralegal/litigation support staffing for years before I went into legal online training for attorneys and non-attorneys.

I realized it was time to get back into career counseling and placement. Why? I realized online training was the step before people either changed jobs or advanced their careers. They wanted to move forward. I realized I wanted to move forward. I needed more just like my clients. As an entrepreneur, how do you do that? There’s no boss to go to and ask for a climb up the ladder. I had to figure it out myself.

This change has really opened my eyes. Of course, now my only free time is Sundays between 3:00 am and 6:00 am but that's ok. I see myself in my clients. The first question I’ll ask is “What do you want in a new job or career?” The first thing out of their mouths is what they DON’T want.  (I think only one person so far answered directly what she wanted.)

I read an article today that said, “To understand how and why this happens, think about it this way. Each choice you make regarding your career can be for one of two purposes. It can be made with the intention of trying to do something that will remove something making you unhappy (like all of the reasons someone might leave a job after identifying what has made them unsatisfied). The other reason can be to make a move to the things you have identified that will make you happy (this might be by clearly understanding what does make you happy and cause you joy).” However, few people take the time to clearly define what that is. It’s the “I’ll know it when I see it” approach to job strategy.

I realized that what made me happy was making other people happy. I love that. I mean, I really love that.  I’m not trying to sound like a candidate for Miss America here, believe me.  Helping people get a new job; showing them how to confidently go through the job hunting process in this new social media way of doing things; learning how to do it by themselves gives me a lot of joy. Everyone wants joy. I don’t know of anyone who says, “Give me a job that’s going to make me unhappy.”  Joy, however, is not the crux for changing a job or career.  People look for purpose.  People don’t take jobs just for joy. Few people will say, “I’m going to take this job at this law firm suing people because it brings me joy.”

No, people take jobs because they are looking for purpose. “I am taking this job because my technology skills are going to help a team of attorneys assist a client who is fighting for his/her company; his right to do business and the jobs and purpose it brings to his employees.  I want to be part of that."

When you read those last reasons you might at first think “Hey, come on. Aren’t you really saying the same thing?” I thought this too for years. Here is why they are different:

There are infinite possibilities to do things that avoid making you unhappy. If you successfully avoid a few of these that you have identified it does not necessarily mean you will be working in a role, company, environment, or situation that will make you happy.

In contrast, there are a smaller and finite number of conditions that will make you really happy. Once you identify these, the rest becomes less important. Few people sit down to identify what really makes them happy. Have you? With all due respect, I doubt it. If you have, it’s probably what turns out in the end to be minor things. You want to get at the core, the purpose of why you are in the career you’re in. Believe me, you don’t go to work everyday saying, “Wow. I'm so happy I get to go to work because I have a private office or the commute is short.” These are minor comforts. Don’t confuse minor comforts with purpose. Have you given thought to purpose?

When seeking a new position, what people generally put on their wish list are things to avoid such as bad experiences they don’t want again. Don’t confuse changing comfort items with purpose of your career. Get to the meat of where you spend probably two-thirds of your life and identify the core values of why you do what you do. The rest may turn out to be minor things you can put up with.

Here is a list of comforts: private office; short commute; higher salary; family-friendly environment. Here is a list of purpose: enable a trial team to win; push children’s rights; oversee productive and profitable teams or offices that enable happy motivated employees.

Focus in on the things that truly make you happy and NOT on avoiding the things that make you unhappy. You can do this by determining the things in the past that you have enjoyed at work and not on the things you haven’t. Make a list and continue to add to it as you discover more about yourself. In short order, you will have a better perspective on what really makes you happy - which is all we really want.  You need to get up in the morning and say to yourself, “Yes! I get to go to a great job today.” Not, "Oh, great. I'm crying in the shower again because the day is about to start." And, at any stage in your chosen career, you deserve to go after what you really want. You just need to know what that is.

 Chere Estrin is CEO of Estrin Legal Staffing (www.estrinlegalstaffing.com); and CEO of Legal Careers RX (www.legalcareersRX.,net). She is the President and Co-Founding member of the Organization of Legal Professionals (OLP) (www.theolp.org) and CEO of Paralegal Knowledge Institute (www.paralegalknowledge.com). Chere has written 10 books on legal careers and has been interviewed by the Los Angeles Times; Chicago Tribune; and other prestigious publications. She is an Inc. magazine Entrepreneur of the Year finalist; a Century City (Los Angeles) Woman of the Year Achievement recipient; She has been an executive in a $5 billion corporation and is a well-known name in the legal field. Chere can be reached at chere.estrin@theolp.org.

How to be a successful virtual paralegal - just like Brenda Studebaker

StudebakerBrendaWhen you think about being a paralegal, the general picture that's conjured up is a bunch of attorneys, a paralegal an arm's length from those attorneys, a file clerk frantically looking for the document the attorney swears he never had, phones ringing, computers crashing (well, they do....), chaos, activity, energy, excitement and calm. Calm? Well, I thought I'd throw that in there.

Somehow, you don't conjure up a paralegal perhaps 600 miles away, doing your work, turning it in before the deadline, moving on to the next client, booking business, doing back office work, marketing, filling up her calendar months in advance and calm. Calm? Well, I thought I'd have to put that in there, too.

Meet Brenda Studebaker, virtual paralegal. Brenda is a member of the exploding cottage industry of virtual paralegals. That is, paralegals who no longer have to be 3 arm's lengths from the attorney to make him feel comfy, safe and satisfied that his/her work is going to be done. It's all on the Internet now. Zip, download, push button, send, Skype, run up to the Cloud or whatever you need to do to get the work done and into the attorney's ever filling computer. And let's not even go to where her job satisfaction has soared, her independence has strengthened and her income, well, we said we weren't going there but it's not a bad place to be.

Why does someone choose to work on their own? We're not talking about paralegals servicing the public. Let's not get mixed up those who prepare documents directly for the consumer. We're talking about real paralegals working directly for the law firm only they work from their own offices or even their home office. It's becoming a big business, particularly for the mid-size, small firm or solo. Who needs to pay for office space anymore when you don't need a paralegal on a full-time basis? The large firms seem to be laying off a tad lately and the business seems to be going to the smaller firms who cannot afford to hire full-time all the time. Here's a perfect fit if the paralegal has a business sense and knows how to market a business. Brenda Studebaker seems to have caught on to this here-to-stay-business model. I spoke with her recently. Here are a few highlights of that conversation from a Texas-born, now Arizona paralegal with 3 great kids making it on her own in a successful business:

  CBE: how did you get into this business?
I have over 20 years experience in civil/commercial litigation as well as various other areas of law (i.e. family law, bankruptcy, white collar crime, employment, and others).

I actually got into the legal field when I was in school for architecture and a friend of mine who owned and operated an employment agency asked me to help her out as a litigation paralegal for a week.  I was not at all interested as I knew nothing about being a litigation paralegal.  I gave in and fell in love with the law and have been a litigation paralegal ever since.
What makes you like it?
What makes me really enjoy what I do is the challenge especially with complex cases which are my ultimate favorite or any case that is interesting for that matter, the law and the many ways it has changed over the years and how it will continue to change, reading about various cases and situations, interacting with attorneys, clients, experts, witnesses and more, reviewing documents and learning everything about a case, as well as everything that comes with being a senior litigation paralegal, especially traveling attending trial.

Why did you go out on your own?
Over the years I have done a lot of contract/project work for attorneys/law firms and going independent was something I have always wanted to do.  Expanding my services throughout various states has increased my knowledge and understanding of not just the law but various cultures as well.  Being independent also gives me the flexibility for many things in life, including family and the ability to travel more for work.

What's your work history?
I have worked at various notable law firms such as Beus Gilbert and Mariscal Weeks as well as various other great law firms and attorneys.
What is your ability to work on your own?
I have an exceptional ability to work well individually as well as being a great team player.  I am the type of worker who will review a file and see what needs to be done and perform such work all the while keeping the attorney in the loop at all times and if an attorney prefers to provide direction I am well suited for this type as well.  Having a fully functional office allows me the ability to fax, scan, copy, communicate not only by telephone but email and SKYPE as well allowing me to not only work well, but have excellent communication locally and nationally. 
What is the difference between working in a firm and on you own?
Working on my own has been a great success not only for me but my clients as well, allowing me to work outside standard business hours.
Tell us a little about your background.
I was born in Texas and moved to Arizona when I was 12 years old but returning to Texas often.  

For as long as I can remember as a small child I wanted to work for various companies around the United States.  Having my own paralegal business wherein I specialize in offering my services to attorneys and law firms locally and nationally, has given me this ability.  Having a strong ambition to achieve a new title of a "national senior litigation paralegal (yes, a new title for us paralegals who desire what I do)" is what I am working towards achieving and will soon.
What type of work do you do as a virtual paralegal? 
I specialize in complex civil litigation as this is where my true passion lies, however, I offer services in various other areas of civil/commercial litigation.
Of course, everyone wants you to give your best advice to those getting into the field.
If your desire or dream is to be a paralegal and/or have your own paralegal business, do not give up.  You may get knocked down, and often, but successful paralegals always get up and keep going, working towards their dream.