The paralegal profession continues to grow at a steady rate with new paralegals joining the work force each day. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics
, employment of paralegals and legal assistants is anticipated to grow by 17% by the year 2022. This is faster than the average growth of all other occupations. With so many paralegals entering the work force, those with great jobs should focus on job security. One of the best ways to excel in job performance is to make yourself indispensable to your attorney.
In addition to doing a great job every day (on both small and large projects), being personable, and being dedicated, there are several other ways that you can become indispensable to your attorney.
Be resourceful –
Attorneys will often spring a new task on a paralegal with very few instructions, if any guidance at all. A resourceful paralegal will find the answer even if they have no idea where to begin looking. If you don’t know the answer to something, use your researching skills and find the answer on your own. This is where networking becomes very valuable. Ask a mentor or a colleague for suggestions, tips, or direction.
Get your certification –
A college degree is required by many law firms but this isn’t where you should stop with your education. Several national paralegal organizations, such as NALA, offer certification exams. Becoming a certified paralegal demonstrates your dedication to continuing your education. It may also allow your attorney to charge clients a higher hourly rate for your time.
Paralegals are expected to work with minimal supervision by the attorney. If the attorney has to micro-manage a paralegal, they could probably do the work faster themselves. Don’t wait until the attorney asks you to complete the next task. A great paralegal thinks ahead to the next step and already has the information ready or the document prepared when the attorney asks for it.
Improve productivity and profit –
A paralegal who can demonstrate their ability to implement new processes that increase productivity, reduce overhead, and increase profit is priceless to an attorney. Finding ways to make the attorney’s job easier while making him more money is something the attorney will value highly.
Build strong resources –
A paralegal never knows what the attorney may ask them to do. In addition to the typical tasks assigned to paralegals ( drafting documents, legal research, answering discovery, etc.), the attorney may ask the paralegal to find an expert witness at the last minute, locate a printer who can print oversized trial exhibits, or find a process server who handles out-of-state service. As you network with other professionals, make lists of contact information for future reference. Knowing how to quickly get whatever the attorney needs is a valuable asset.
Embrace technology –
Stay up-to-date on the latest software updates for programs used in the law firm as well as advances in new software that can benefit the law firm. When the attorney has a software problem, you can easily step in to help them and make the problem go away. Furthermore, by introducing new software that will make the office more efficient and productive, you’re contributing to the law firm’s bottom line. While some attorneys embrace technology, many of them prefer to let their staff manage it so build that edge and make a big difference in the firm’s productivity levels.
Be flexible –
A paralegal who can’t switch tasks quickly and continue to think on their feet is not as useful to the attorney as a paralegal who can quickly change gears and keep going full steam ahead without ever missing a beat. You must be able to do whatever it takes to get the job done quickly and done right.
Handle multiple strong personalities –
Attorneys and supervisors can have very strong personalities. Having a thick skin is important because you’re the go-between for the attorney and the clients, witnesses, court personnel, other attorneys, staff members, and other professionals. It’s important to act professionally at all times, especially when there’s a personality conflict.
Multi-tasking is not limited to simply being able to do more than one thing at a time or switch quickly from task to task. It also means being able to jump in and do whatever task is necessary to get the job done to protect the client. From organizing events, scheduling appointments, stuffing envelopes, and making copies to answering discovery, preparing a trial notebook or answering the telephone, a paralegal must be able to perform multiple tasks (and be willing to do so).
A successful paralegal plays close attention to their attorney, anticipates the attorney’s needs, and does whatever is necessary to get the job done.
Tonya Pierce is a paralegal with over 24 years experience in several areas of the legal field (17 years as a bankruptcy paralegal and trustee paralegal).