Looking back at the start of their careers, most seasoned paralegals would probably agree that having the opportunity to learn some tips and tricks on being a more effective and successful paralegal would have been valuable information to know when they were getting started in the profession.
Instead of learning from your own mistakes and suffering undue stress because of it, why not take our advice? Keep reading to learn some tips that can help you do a great job as a new paralegal, be more productive at work, and help advance your career as a paralegal.
Many new paralegals can’t resist the temptation to give out legal advice to friends, family members, and even clients—even though they’re absolutely not supposed to. Depending on the severity of the infraction, this behavior could even rise to a criminal offense. Rather than risk muddying the waters or potentially exposing yourself to serious penalties, you’re best off avoiding the issue altogether.
The most effective paralegals possess superior organization skills. When you’re just starting as a paralegal, focus on being as organized as possible. Otherwise, you might find yourself in a difficult situation where you need to locate critical files but have misplaced them, and you’re now potentially jeopardizing the case and your job.
When you’re beginning your career as a paralegal, one of the most important things you can do is stay laser-focused on deadlines. Yet all too often, legal teams miss filing deadlines for any number of reasons. Unfortunately, when this happens, it’s the clients that suffer. Make it a habit to rigorously ensure that you’re meeting every filing deadline. One way to do this is by posting reminders on your calendar to automatically notify yourself when deadlines are approaching. You will impress your bosses while ensuring your firm delivers top-notch service to clients.
Sooner or later, you’ll find yourself involved with a case filled with incredible details. Maybe the story seems so outlandish it can’t possibly be true, or maybe your client is a celebrity, and you’re privy to the juicy gossip. Whatever the case may be, you simply can’t tell anyone—not your friends, family members, or even strangers. In the legal industry, the attorney-client privilege is of the utmost importance. If you ever violate it and are caught, you could wind up facing criminal charges. At the very least, you could do irreparable damage to your professional reputation and potentially lose your job.
In the event you find yourself dealing with a case where conflicts of interest might emerge, it is critical for you to disclose those conflicts immediately. Failure to do so could have disastrous effects on your firm’s reputation, the case itself, and your career prospects.
While the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure govern the proceedings in district courts across the country, individual state court rules can vary on a court-by-court basis. That being the case, you must do your due diligence and educate yourself on the rules of the courts you’ll be dealing with. When you’re unsure about something, don’t guess. Find out exactly what the rules are and follow them accordingly.
Despite all the innovation that’s occurred in recent years, no one’s figured out how to cram more hours into the day. As a paralegal, you’ll no doubt have tons of work on your plate week in and week out. In order to tackle all of it on time and to the best of your abilities, you’ll need to do everything you can to manage your time as effectively as possible.
One way to improve your time management skills is by making to-do lists that include everything you need to get accomplished each day. By doing so, you’ll be sure not to miss any tasks (big or small) that need to be done, and you’ll be able to create a more time-efficient plan to accomplish each task versus working off the top of your head ad hoc. You’ll also have the visual gratification of crossing off completed tasks from the list. It’s an easy way to feel a sense of accomplishment.
In addition to to-do lists, you should also look into digital tools designed to help you work more productively. For example, instead of walking down the hallway to ask a colleague a question, you might be better off using a communications platform such as Slack for quick dialogue. Similarly, you can use a project management tool such as Trello to collaborate with colleagues remotely—or even just to keep track of your own work progress. Additionally, you can use a platform such as Proof to serve legal documents and have every aspect of this managed for you instead of overseeing the process manually.
You might be tempted to work every minute of the day. But it turns out that taking breaks can actually have a positive impact on your productivity. According to a 2018 study, nearly 90 percent of workers say lunch breaks help them feel refreshed when they come back to work. Make it a habit to go for walks, step away from your computer, and otherwise relax during the day and you can accomplish more—however counterintuitive that might sound.
You won’t be able to reach your full potential as a paralegal if you don’t eat healthy meals, get enough sleep, or exercise regularly. Investing in your health and well-being will return dividends in your professional life because you’ll have more energy and focus to get things done every day.
The best paralegals are lifelong learners. They know that the legal industry is constantly changing, so they spend time studying industry trends to keep pace with this evolution.
If your goal is growing as a paralegal, you might want to narrow your focus from being a generalist to something more specific, such as becoming an expert in all things compliance or e-discovery. Specializing in a niche can lead to more lucrative job offers down the road.
No matter how good your memory is, chances are some details of conversations will slip through the cracks. To make sure you retain all the information you need, make it a habit to take detailed notes of all work-related conversations and phone calls. Not only will this make your job easier, but your attorneys will no doubt notice and be thankful.
In the age of innovation, new digital solutions are coming to market on a regular basis. By staying up to date with these developments, you can become a trusted advisor at your firm and recommend new tools and platforms that will make everyone’s job easier.
Instead of thinking no one will notice those few minutes you’re showing up late, get to the office—and any meetings you have—on time or even a few minutes early, and don’t leave right at quitting time. This will demonstrate your commitment to the job, which will help put you on a fast track for a promotion.
Paralegals deal with court and clerk staff regularly. The better relationships you have with these individuals, the easier your job will be. Not only will friendly court and clerk staff let you know about changes to rules and filing requirements, but they can also be resources who will answer your questions when you’re unsure about something.
When you’re just starting your career as a paralegal, it can feel a lot like an uphill battle. After all, the experience is entirely new, and the job is complicated, nuanced, and fast-paced.
The good news is just because you’re starting out doesn’t mean you have to go through the transition entirely on your own. By learning from others’ experiences—and continually striving to absorb new knowledge and improve your skill set—you’ll no doubt accelerate your career trajectory and be on your way to reaching your full potential as a paralegal.
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