If you search online for “how to advance my paralegal career,” the result will be pages and pages of paralegal programs and paralegal schools. There are also several exams offered by various paralegal associations to become a certified paralegal and/or certified in specific areas of law.
Unfortunately, not everyone has the time or the funds to return to school and pay for paralegal certification. Even though paralegal classes are now offered online, you’d still need to pay for these classes, attend school online, perform the work, and study for exams. When you’re balancing a demanding job with family and other personal responsibilities, returning to school to advance your career may not be the best choice.
The good news is there are many ways to advance your career that don’t require returning to school or sitting for a certification exam.
Joining online networking communities such as LinkedIn, Indeed, Ecademy, Brazen Careerist, Networking for Professionals, and BeKnown is an easy way to advance your paralegal career. Even Facebook and Twitter can help you if you join groups and friend and follow other paralegals and professionals.
Look for paralegal groups but don’t limit yourself. Groups for other professionals related to the legal field or the specific area of law where you work can also be extremely beneficial. For example, if you’re a bankruptcy paralegal, check to see if national organizations for bankruptcy attorneys allow paralegals to join or have a special paralegal group. If you work for a real estate attorney, join the LinkedIn group for realtors or mortgage underwriters.
Posting interesting articles, writing your own articles, and participating in group discussions can help you build relationships with a variety of people you’d likely never meet in-person. Make it a point to reach out to these contacts before conferences or conventions and plan to meet up for coffee or a meal.
Join local and national paralegal organizations
This is absolutely essential for advancing your paralegal career. These organizations not only offer the perfect networking opportunity, most also offer educational materials, workshops, conferences, and seminars that help you stay up-to-date with the latest trends in the legal field. Stay in the loop with the people you meet by connecting with them on LinkedIn and joining the relevant LinkedIn groups.
Volunteering with legal and non-legal groups is another way to network but it also a way to learn valuable skills such as leadership, teamwork, and organizational skills.
Read blogs, articles, and case summaries
You may not have time to attend a paralegal class but you can read blogs, legal articles, and case summaries during your lunch hour, waiting in line to pick up your kids, or instead of watching television before bedtime. The ABA Journal
, Harvard Law Review
, and your local paralegal association are a great source for articles and current legal news. If you’re in a position to write about an interesting topic or event, write an article for your local paralegal association for distribution in monthly e-newsletters or post it to their LinkedIn group.
You may not have time or the funds to attend a CLE, but your attorney does. Ask your attorney if you can read the CLE materials after they return from the seminar. You’ll gain valuable information and impress your attorney with your attitude and initiative.
Move to another city
This may seem drastic but if you live in a small town with few opportunities, there may be limited avenues for career advancement. Larger cities often have more robust job markets with a wider variety of opportunities. Depending on your circumstances, a move to a new and more competitive market could give you the career boost you’re looking for.
Likewise, if the opportunities in the paralegal field in your city are limited, consider changing industries. Paralegal skills are often desired in other industries such as banking, finance, insurance, healthcare, and the corporate world. Changing fields may give you more opportunities to advance your paralegal degree and learn new skills.
Go above and beyond
Be a team player and be willing to help your colleagues. Sometimes the way to advance your career is to make your attorneys notice you in ways other than your work product. Be willing to jump in when there’s an emergency. Help your colleagues do what’s necessary to get the job done. If your work isn’t rewarded, it’s time to look for a firm or organization that appreciates your work ethic and dedication.
Find a good mentor and pay attention
This is especially important when you begin your career but it’s also important for experienced paralegals. There will always be someone who knows more than you or who does the job better than you. Be willing to listen and learn from someone who has extensive and varied experience. Read about a unique mentor-mentee relationship from the perspective of each on The Estrin Report
and The Paralegal Society
Choose when to voice your opinions
There’s a difference between being pushy and knowing when to voice your opinions. The first step in being a better paralegal is to listen. It’s difficult to solve a problem if you don’t fully understand the situation. Take time to formulate an opinion and when you have a solid, well thought out solution, take that opportunity to voice it. You’ll become known as the person who remains calm in the face of chaos and always seems to have the perfect solution to any problem.
Growing in Your Paralegal Career
One thing I’ve learned over the past 26 years is to never stop learning and growing. For example, I learned a valuable lesson about listening to younger paralegals. I hired a paralegal with very little work experience right out of paralegal school. I assumed that she would be learning from me but this wasn’t always the case. She developed a case tracking system that made mine look like something a cave dweller drew on a wall (well, not quite that bad but very poor by comparison).
You should always be growing and learning as a paralegal from a variety of sources. If you have learned other ways to advance your paralegal career, please share with us in the comment section. We would love to learn from you.
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).