Paralegal Career Advice from 17 Leaders in the Paralegal Community
We asked leaders in the paralegal profession to share the best career advice that they have ever received. Here are their responses:
I have been thinking back on all of my years as a paralegal, over 15, and the best piece of advice I have received came early in my career when I was told to “speak up”. Meaning that if the attorney you are working for is incorrect in any aspects, from procedures to laws, speak up. Our duties are not only to assist attorneys, but to keep them on the right track. This is especially true when you are a veteran paralegal and you are working for a green attorney.
-Donna C. Alderman ACP, President of the Mississippi Paralegal Association
I would say by far the best advice I have received is take five minutes in the midst of a hectic day and remember that things are not always as stressful as they seem. Maintaining perspective is important. When we paralegals are in our “work bubble” it can seem as though we will never be able to come up for air.
-LawSchoolDreamer, author of the blog A Paralegal's Journey to Lawyerhood
Don't ever hide a mistake; the sooner you admit it the better; never make excuses, and take responsibility.
-Maryanne Ebner, First Vice President of The Philadelphia Association of Paralegals
The best career advice I could give is to go the extra mile when it comes to your education. Obtain a certification, earn a diploma or degree. There are so many options now and convenient ways to do it. Your education will benefit you throughout your career.
-Nikki L. Campos, owner of TruE-Paralegal and Treasurer of the Central Nebraska Legal Professionals.
Always be organized – even when the unexpected happens. Keeping your composure in difficult and stressful situations is beneficial to you, your attorney, and your client. Let people know that you can be professional in any situation by the way you represent yourself at all times. Don't gossip about attorneys, staff, or other paralegals. It makes you look bad. “What is told in the ear of a man is often heard 100 miles away.” ~Chinese Proverb Keep learning! Things change — keep up with technology! Keep up with software (even if it is just knowing what is out there and being used). And finally, get involved! If you are making a career of being a paralegal – get involved in a local association, a local bar association, or a national organization. By being involved you can help shape the paralegal profession in your community and it creates great networking opportunities.
-Barbara A. Miller, 2nd Vice President of the Smoky Mountain Paralegal Association
The best advice I received was probably to be assertive in making sure expectations of your attorneys are clear. As a new paralegal, I was intimidated at the thought of asking follow up questions after an assignment had been made and I'd gone back to my office and begun my work only to realize I wasn't sure what I was supposed to do. Going right back to the attorney to clarify the instructions and expectations is the only thing to do to accomplish the task in a timely and efficient manner. The attorney will appreciate you for doing that rather than wasting time trying to figure out what he or she meant on your own and guessing wrong requiring work to be re-done.
-Tammie Pope, Board Member of the Palmetto Paralegal Association
The very best advice I received early on in my career was triple fold: 1) Own your files. From the very beginning get to know all the details of the case and build from there. 2) Dig in, dig deep and stay organized; and 3 (and what I think is the most important) keep the lines of communication open with your attorney.
-Vickie Baker, Board Member of the Palmetto Paralegal Association
I was told to find an area of the law that I enjoyed and stick with it. Do not try and be a jack of all trades and master of none. Find something, do it, get great at it.
-Shawn Hartman, Chair of Probates/Estate at the Massachusetts Paralegal Association
Learn everything you can and try different things.
-Mario Kiefer, President of the San Francisco Paralegal Association
Surround yourself with a group of people who work as a team with a common goal. There is no room for egos as a paralegal. Success comes by doing what it takes to obtain the goal.
-Natalie C. Butrym, Board Member of the Palmetto Paralegal Association
One of the best supervising attorneys I ever worked with told me not to make excuses when I made a mistake, because he didn't want to hear them. Instead, he wanted me acknowledge my mistake, learn from it, and then work on fixing it. Most paralegals are Type A personalities, and we're devastated when something goes wrong, especially when it's our fault. But it will happen (more than once) during even the most successful career. What's most important is that you and your supervising attorney work together to come up with a plan to address mistakes right away – and then take steps to make sure the same mistake doesn't happen again.
-Lynne J. DeVenny, author of the blog Practical Paralegalism and co-host of the podcast The Paralegal Voice.
The best paralegal advice I have ever received is “Document everything”.
-Suzanne Wells, Board Member of the Western Massachusetts Paralegal Association
Do more than what you are paid for. Eventually, you will be paid more than what you do.
-Rebecca Young, Board Member of the Philadelphia Association of Paralegals
Know yourself, your boundaries and have a clear strategic plan in place before you begin a job search. Otherwise, you'll accept positions that are not suited for your character (core values), skillset and/or goals. Understanding clearly who you are (the good, the bad and the ugly) is extremely important when determining your next move.”
-Tausha P. Major, Vice-President of the Philadelphia Association of Paralegals
The best advice I ever received was to not be afraid to move around and try different areas of the law until you find the niche that fits you best. It is not unusual in this area for a paralegal to move every 3 years during the first 12 years of their career. Moving can also increase your salary a lot faster than waiting for a raise.
-Stephanie K. Jones, President of the Louisville Association of Paralegals
My best advice for a new paralegal is to ask questions. Get a clear picture of what you are working on. Most attorneys are more than happy to explain things because ultimately your increased knowledge is a benefit to them in the long-run. The only dumb question is the one that you do not ask.
-Rachel Nesbit, Vice President of the Mississippi Paralegal Association
The answer is to join a local Paralegal Association! Each local association provides a wide variety of information and resources to new and seasoned Paralegals in every area of law. The associations provide invaluable contacts with other Paralegals around the corner as well as around the country and in some instances, around the globe. The associations provide continuing legal education by providing seminars though corporate support. Social and networking events where students and recent graduates can mingle and talk to Paralegals who have been in the profession for many years. Finally, the associations provide a platform for Paralegals to unite on such ideas as minimum educational requirements before someone can call themselves a Paralegal, voluntary and/or mandatory regulation of the Paralegal Profession and what the definition of a Paralegal should be.
-Shaun J. Pilcher, Vice President of the Massachusetts Paralegal Association
If you would like to share the best paralegal career advice you have ever received, email info(at)criminaljusticedegreeschools.com.