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By: Jamie Collins

Here’s to your future “untils,” TPS paralegals! May they be plentiful and frequent.

When I initially joined LinkedIn in March of last year, I was moderately skeptical. I had received an invitation to join from a former client, who worked as an insurance agent and decided, “What the heck…I don’t do Facebook (yes, I know I’m one of the only non-Facebookers on the planet) and LinkedIn holds itself out as a professional networking site – so I’ll check it out.” Like most newbies to LinkedIn, I constructed a general, bare bones version of a personal profile, loaded a color photo and sent invitations to “join my network” to everyone in my in box. I instantly found a few friends and former colleagues and we connected. By this point, I was probably at a connection population of around 23. It’s funny looking back, but at the time, I really thought I was well on my way. To what, I didn’t know, but I had a whopping 23 connections. Woo hoo!

Over the months that followed, I made a consorted effort to work on completing my profile, joined a few of the paralegal forums, and continued to make some connections. My selections forum-wise were, of course, based strictly on the group names because I had little else to go on – I was LinkedIn clueless. I selected a few duds (which shall remain nameless), but joined a few good ones too. I remember being a bit overwhelmed by the forums in the beginning…there were thousands of paralegals in them (did I mention thousands…really…wow), and generally, only about a baker’s dozen or so that regularly posted comments.

As a LinkedIn newbie, the paralegal waters were a bit intimidating to navigate, but I began by posting a comment here, and a comment there – holding my breath every time I hit the “post” button. I started to see some familiar faces in those forums, and began to make some general acquaintances along the way. I’d say I probably had around 45 connections by that point. That’s a lot compared to the zero I had when I started! Again, I thought I was well on my way. Still not sure to what exactly, but I was on my way.

I’ve gotta tell you that somewhere along the way, LinkedIn became a professional mecca for me. I started meeting amazing paralegals from all across the country. We saw each other in the paralegal forums, interacted, engaged in a bit of friendly banter, often joined in the same conversation strings, and chatted it up via private e-mail exchanges. One of the funny things about life is that you never really realize what you’re missing out on in your life “until” you find it.

As a small firm litigation paralegal, I certainly made a lot of professional connections on my way down paralegal row. Nearly every attorney and paralegal I’ve ever worked with (minus the dark clouds  a/k/a keepers of the misery) became professional contacts and many of them, good friends. Yet, my professional “paralegal” network was virtually non-existent from a paralegal motivation and inspiration standpoint.

When you work at a small firm, it’s you and anywhere from 1-3 paralegals. As a small firm paralegal, your access to other successful paralegals can be fairly limited. The thing is…I never stopped to even think about it…and never even realized that to be the case…“until.” Until I met some of the most intelligent, articulate, friendly, positive, happy, thriving paralegals from all across the country; the movers and shakers, the doers, the top shelf talent in the US, the upper echelon, the who’s who in paralegal land. I had no clue what I was missing out on. I never realized how lonely it was to be a senior level paralegal at a small firm…“until.”

At this juncture, I’ve made over 500 contacts, most of whom are paralegals, sprinkled in with some senior partners, attorneys, editors, CEO’s, former judges, and business professionals. One might assume it’s the higher ranking individuals in my network that I find most impressive. I’m certainly happy to have made those connections along the way – especially the editors! Yet, the cross section of my LinkedIn “connections”that brings the biggest smile to my face is the paralegals; my paralegal counterparts and comrades in arms. They are my core network; my paralegal network. They became the group I never looked for… “until.”

Our TPS LinkedIn group has grown to over 350 active members over the past 5 months. Remember me referencing some of the other paralegal forums having thousands? Well, I’d take the TPS 350 over the masses any day of the week! We engage in some of the most interesting, intellectual, inspiring, helpful, fun and friendly discussions day-in and day-out. It’s a place we know we can turn to post a random question or seek a little advice or assistance with our paralegal careers. And when I say “help,” I don’t mean “here’s a generic answer – good luck,” I mean “give me a call and I’ll walk you through it” kind of help…“I’ll do a half hour of research to help you find an answer kind of help.” It has truly become a meeting hub of happiness via the world-wide web. I never realized I needed a paralegal social outlet…”until” it become my paralegal mecca.

Since March, I have managed to inadvertently form the BEST inner circle a girl could hope for. Personal note to self: Inner circles are WAY more important than random connections – they are a life line. When I have a question or need support and encouragement, I send an e-mail out to 8 or so paralegals and a litigation support guru, spread out all across the country, who are the best of the best. These paralegals (and guru) leap into action like stealth ninjas, to provide an answer to a question, proposed solutions, a few words of encouragement, a funny antidote, or to take part in a 2-way vent session, which as you all know, is much needed in paralegal land. The help, advice, support and strong sense of friendship and camaraderie that we all share is absolutely unparalleled. My inner circle is one of the greatest paralegal assets I have. Period. It too, became an “until” moment. I never realized I was missing them “until” I found them. I gotta admit, it’s pretty cool having your own, personal, online paralegal arsenal of back up reinforcements, supporters, idea bouncers, career coaches, rally speech givers, professional minds, motivational and inspirational beings, and most importantly…friends. Besides, how cool is it to have a whole group of paralegal ninjas to turn to at anytime? Really!

So to all of the LinkedIn skeptics, I say to you…maybe it’s not your thing, maybe you won’t like it…maybe you’ll be too scared to ever post in the chat rooms or too intimidated to make any new friends, but it’s allowed me to establish the Greatest Paralegal Network in America. What I’m here to tell you, is that there is no good reason for you to row the SS Paralegal all alone, small firm, rural community or otherwise. It’s a choice you make. There are thousands of amazing paralegals all across the country just waiting for you to pick up an oar and hand one off. Besides, you never know if it’s your path to harnessing the Best Paralegal Network in all of America — until you manage to find your “until…”

Who else has the Best Paralegal Network in America? Are any of you LinkedIn skeptics? Do you have a paralegal inner circle, and if so, how many people are in it? What’s the number one asset in your paralegal tool box? What was your “until” moment? By all means paralegals…share away! We’d love to hear from you.

If you’re riding on the SS Paralegal all alone – don’t! There are 350+ paralegals waiting to greet you in our LinkedIn forum for The Paralegal Society! So start a basic profile, load a pic, and you’ll be well on your way to establishing the Greatest Paralegal Network in America or proving me wrong, but either way, you’ll no longer be rowing the SS paralegal all alone. So, grab an oar and pass one on…