TPS Writing Contest – Mentors/Mentorship
By: Elona M. Jouben, MPS (Guest Blogger)
Greetings, TPS readers! You’re looking truly fabulous this Monday morning. Today, we’re sharing an honorable mention written by Elona Jouben, a Paralegal who works in Washington, D.C. We really enjoyed Elona’s insights regarding the paralegal-attorney relationship. Besides, any article with a title that contains the words “Attorneys: Help Us, Help You” is destined to be a great read!
Without further ado, here’s Elona…
Two articles circulating the legal news vine reveal that attorneys wish their paralegals knew how to perform – or better perform – a number of substantive legal tasks involving legal research, writing, drafting, and written and verbal communication skills, among others. (Kim Walker, “What Do Attorneys Wish Their Paralegal Knew?,” Daily Business Review, Oct. 7, 2010, http://www.dailybusinessreview.com/PubArticleDBR.jsp?id=1202472974938; Sandi Edwards, “What Do You Wish Your Paralegal Knew?,” ParaLegal News, Vol. 2, Issue 1, Pg. 1, Spring 2011, http://www.nwfpa.com/docs/Spring%202011%20Newsletter.pdf). While attorneys and paralegals agree that paralegal skills can be improved through formal education and CLE courses, education alone is not enough to fully develop a professional paralegal that can perform substantive tasks competently and ethically. The next time you are frustrated because you are not quite getting the quality work product and professionalism you want from your paralegal, you might perhaps contemplate your paralegal’s fervent, but often overlooked, wish – that you would do something to enable her to more fully develop the skills necessary to fulfill your wish list. The answer is simple and may not have even occurred to you. Mentor your paralegal.
Many paralegals have earned paralegal degrees prior to entering the profession, while many others have worked their way up via on the job training and learning from the attorneys for whom they have worked. Formal paralegal education provides a basic foundation in legal terminology, concepts, and skills such as legal research, writing, and drafting rudimentary pleadings and discovery requests. On the job paralegal training teaches the “nuts and bolts” of the procedural practice of law; however, substantive skills such as legal research, writing, and developing legal theory are often overlooked. Formal paralegal education, CLE courses, and peer mentoring are all important in developing a successful paralegal. The most successful and satisfied paralegals, however, are those who have been mentored by an attorney who helped them more fully develop their skills, professionalism, and understanding of the practice of law as a whole.
My own career and professional success are directly attributable to the mentoring I received from several of the attorneys for whom I have been privileged to work and attorney Ed Holt in particular. Mr. Holt mentored me much like he would have an associate attorney. He not only helped me develop procedural and substantive skills, but also taught me much about the practice of law; interaction with clients, other counsel, and court personnel; ethics and professionalism from an attorney’s perspective; and how to avoid the unauthorized practice of law. Mr. Holt had an open door policy, encouraged questions, gave comprehensive explanations, provided constructive feedback, and directed me to resources I otherwise would not have known to peruse. His mentoring continues to influence and guide my career today, and I, in turn, try to pay that mentoring forward to newly minted paralegals and associates alike.
I have encountered many paralegals who desire to perform more substantive work or wish they possessed a better understanding of their cases as a whole and were not pigeon-holed into only managing or summarizing discovery production. Many paralegals feel disconnected from the cases they work on outside of the discrete tasks they are assigned because they have not been taught the “why” of certain legal theories or strategies or the relevancy of particular facts to them. Paralegals want to be fully vested in their cases and to understand the legal theories advanced by both their attorney and opposing counsel. Paralegals want to produce quality work product that satisfies their attorney’s high standards. Paralegals want to understand and see the big picture of the case strategy so they can better identify relevant documents and information. And, ultimately, paralegals want the personal satisfaction and fulfillment that comes from knowing they have performed to their fullest ability to ensure a successful resolution for their – your – clients.
Mentoring your paralegal begins by simply being willing to take the time to answer questions – not just “what” and “how,” but “why” it is important as well. Opening and encouraging channels of communication and providing constructive feedback on your paralegal’s work product allows her to understand not only what you want corrected and how, but the all important why behind it. This will enable your paralegal to identify similar instances in the future and apply that knowledge to develop better work product, thereby making her more effective and efficient. Mentoring is also about developing a personal level working relationship with your paralegal –welcoming her input and valuing her contributions. Mentoring also includes supporting and encouraging your paralegal’s pursuit of formal paralegal education, CLE courses, peer mentoring, and networking.
Through mentoring, you will develop a competent and professional paralegal who will enable you to more successfully deliver cost-effective, quality legal services to your clients, which in turn generates more business. Thus, mentoring your paralegal is ultimately an investment in the success of your clients and your practice, and that’s the bottom line.
Elona M. Jouben, MPS is the Paralegal/Program Assistant for the in-house legal office of the American Association of University Professors in Washington, D.C. Prior to relocating to the DC metro area, Elona worked for a solo practitioner and several litigation firms in Pensacola, Florida; thus, her 10+ year career has given her a broad range of experience in a number of legal specialty areas in both transactional and litigation work in state and federal courts. Ms. Jouben received her A.A. in General Studies from Pensacola Junior College, B.A. in Political Science (2000) and B.A. in Legal Studies/Pre-Law (2006) from the University of West Florida, and MPS, Paralegal Studies from the George Washington University.
Elona was among the first paralegals to participate in the Florida Bar’s Florida Registered Paralegal (FRP) program and held the FRP designation from 2008-2010, when she relocated. Elona was appointed by the Florida Supreme Court to the Florida Bar’s Unlicensed Practice of Law, First Circuit Committee A as a Public Member in 2010 and was a Florida Notary Public from 2001-2010; she subsequently resigned those appointments when she relocated. Her professional development also includes attending numerous CLE seminars and successfully completing the NWFPA’s Leadership Development Course (2009) and Professional Development Course (2010).
Elona has been a member of the Northwest Florida Paralegal Association (NWFPA) since 2006 and has served on the Executive Board as Secretary and Parliamentarian/Student Liaison Chair. She continues to make significant contributions to the NWFPA, including serving on a number of committees as well as authoring and editing articles for the NWFPA’s feature column “The Bottom Line” in the Escambia-Santa Rosa Bar Association’s newsletter, Summation, and serving as co-editor of the NWFPA newsletter, ParaLegal News, in which she authors the regular grammar column “Grammar Gurus” and other feature articles.
Elona has a passion for mentoring and was instrumental in bringing the NWFPA’s Student Mentor program to fruition and serves as a mentor. She also informally mentors paralegal students and other paralegals around the country via participation in a number of online paralegal listserves, forums, and via e-mail. Elona has given presentations to paralegal classes at PJC, UWF, and Virginia College and served as the sole paralegal representative on a panel at an ethics CLE seminar co-presented by NWFPA and the Escambia-Santa Rosa Bar Association in 2009.
Elona contributes to the paralegal profession as a whole as a published author on a range of topics, including paralegal education, regulation, mentoring, ethics, and the use of social media. She also contributes to the work of other authors, having been interviewed and quoted in online and print publications. Her credits include Facts & Findings and Paralegal Today magazines and the legalcareers.about.com website. Most notably, her graduate thesis, “Compulsory Regulation of Florida Paralegals is Unnecessary,” was published in The Empowered Paralegal Professionalism Anthology, by Robert E. Mongue.
Elona can be contacted via LinkedIn at http://www.linkedin.com/in/elonajouben
TPS readers – is there anything else you wish your attorneys were cognizant of that could help you, help them? If so, leave a comment! We’d love to hear from you.
See you soon!