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Taye Akinola

Part II of Our “Unwritten Rules” Series
By: Taye Akinola (Guest Blogger)

Newbies: We hope you enjoy these tips and find them helpful in your future communications with experienced paralegals in the land of legal!

Experienced Paralegals: Please (by all means) feel free to chime in with some additional tips and advice for the newbies regarding effective communication with their peers a/k/a you! We’d really appreciate your input on this topic. 

Being an inexperienced paralegal or what some would dub a “newbie” in the paralegal world, I do not know the intricacies of breaking into the highly competitive job market in the paralegal field. I do not know if my resume should be one page or two. I do not know which professional associations I should join or which field of law I am interested in. Every year, newly minted degreed (associate’s, bachelor’s, certificate, or master’s degrees) students are looking for jobs. They are looking to break into the field. They are scouring the internet to find some reassuring messages that everything will work out if they have a game plan for finding their first post-graduation job as a paralegal or engaging in other networking opportunities.

Through my own personal observations, I have made a mental note of some trends emerging among paralegal students in their interactions with the experienced paralegals. As a newbie, I do not claim to “know it all,” but I have certainly made a mental note of some of the social interaction trends emerging between us (the newbies), and the experienced paralegals.  Today, I want to share some of those observations I’ve made, here at The Paralegal Society, with the intent of helping my fellow paralegals – newbies and experienced paralegals alike. 

In the wonderful world of social media, you can find an array of websites and blogs that paralegal students can join, which will allow them to interact with experienced paralegals; individuals who already waded through the trenches that the paralegal students now wade through. The experienced paralegals can provide advice, mentorship, guidance, and support for those who are trying to break into the field. However, based on my observations on various online forums and some conversations I’ve had with experienced paralegals along the way, there seems to be something missing.

Paralegal students want to know how they can break into the field and learn more about the paralegal profession. With that in mind, the experienced paralegals are more than willing to share their experience, knowledge, and vast expertise with paralegal students. However, there appears to be a major disconnect between the intention and the reaction and action coming from the part of the newbies toward the experienced paralegals. When a student reaches out to an experienced paralegal, they hope for (and often expect) a detailed response to their questions and concerns. But when it is their turn to respond or to maintain a dialogue with the experienced paralegal, it is often curt.

What I want you to take from this article are some real life tips and lessons that you (the newbies) can utilize during your budding, professional career and your interactions with experienced paralegals.

Fact Pattern #1: Robert, a paralegal student sent Susan, an experienced paralegal, an e-mail inquiring how to break into the field. Susan decided to respond to his e-mail during her lunch break, which resulted in a detailed 3-5 paragraph e-mail on how to break into the field. His response to her e-mail with a simple, “Thanks.”

Tip #1: The experienced paralegal took time out of her busy paralegal schedule to respond to a newbie’s e-mail and interact with the newbie on an online forum. The newbies can (and should) do the same, if they would like to continue to enjoy the full benefits of interacting with experience paralegals and learning as much as they can in the future. It is common courtesy.  A simple “Thank you” in response to a 3-5 paragraph e-mail will likely not earn any newbie a coveted spot in the “inner circle” of an experienced paralegal.

Fact Pattern#2: Ava, a newbie, typed an e-mail to Tamara, a senior paralegal: “Hi Tamara, what’s up? I want 2 thank you 4 willing to help me out with the job search. It is like so ca-razy! And OMG, the job descriptions are an eyesore and some of them want like 3+ years of experience. And I am like – HELLO! I am new. How the hell can I get experience if I don’t have any. Do you feel me? And OMG – I was talking to this receptionist at this law firm and she was so majorly rude! I am like – I don’t like her. She is so mean. Don’t you agree, girl? Well, I gotta go. TTYL! P.S. You totally need to get better at responding to my e-mails.”

Tip #2: In e-mail correspondences, proper grammar and spelling are imperative. The interaction among your professional peers is not the same as interacting with your friends. Avoid using slangs and acronyms that are usually employed by teenagers (i.e. LOL, BTW, OMG, etc.). The person that you are interacting with will wonder if you are immature or if you have the professional capacity to interact in a professional setting if you use slangs and acronyms. (If you develop a relationship over time and an experienced paralegal corresponds with you in slang terms or “friendly chatter,” then it’s okay to reciprocate, but let the experienced paralegal initiate that switch in dialogue).

Also, do not expect them to reply to your e-mail right away. Experienced paralegals typically lead pretty busy lives. There are some days that your e-mail will not take precedence over pleadings due at 5 p.m. that day, a much needed lunch break or family obligations, so be patient when you are awaiting a response to your e-mail. Do your best to keep a dialogue going as you may learn a couple of new things along the way through continuous interactions with an experienced paralegal.

Fact Pattern #3: Jennifer, career changer, joined an online forum on LinkedIn, and for three months has not participated in any of the online forums. Even though, she could easily contribute the dialogue, she decides to stay back, observe, and only read the comments.  

Tip #3: Speaking of dialogue, interacting on online forums cannot happen if you are only reading the comments. Get involved! Share an opinion in discussion that interest you. However, be sure to polite and respectful toward one your fellow group members and maintain a sense of decorum in the forums. You must keep in mind that what you type in those forums will be out there (on the world wide web) and you cannot take back what you’ve said. Potential employers or even co-workers may see the comments you make. Therefore, you must be careful and very mindful about engaging in conversations about controversial topics (such as politics, religion, and social issues). That’s what best friends (outside of the professional arena) are for. You cannot build a network if you never interact with anyone – so participate!

Fact Pattern #4: Rebecca, a paralegal manager, received a connection request from Sarah, an inexperienced paralegal, on LinkedIn. Rebecca is hesitant to accept the request because Sarah’s profile is not complete. It only has her name, incomplete work history, that she lives in the United States, and worked at a past job as a cashier at McDonald’s, complete with spelling errors, and no profile picture.

Tip #4: Have a complete LinkedIn profile that includes a picture of professional quality. It would be difficult for an experienced paralegal to interact with you if your profile is not complete (and they can’t tell much of anything about you). It leaves others to wonder what you are hiding and if you take social networking seriously? Posting a picture is very important. It is like going to a networking event in person or a first date – would you walk around with a bag over your head? No. By no means am I saying you should post your entire life story or write a personal biography, but rather, you should make an effort to at least share your professional story in a concise format to give readers a summary of your professional identity.

Fact Pattern #5: Jack, a newbie, reached out to Jonathan, paralegal, to seek feedback and advice on how to better market himself on LinkedIn. Jonathan responded by telling him to complete his profile, add a profile picture, and perhaps considering volunteering to add more legal experience to his profile. Jack responds saying, “Well, I don’t know much about LinkedIn. And honestly, do those things work? And I don’t want to become a victim of identity theft, so that’s why I don’t post my picture. Oh, and volunteering? I need a job and I think my experience on LinkedIn makes me a good candidate. Any employer would appreciate my past experience.”

Tip #5: When an experienced paralegal gives you constructive advice (or feedback) after you asked for it, do not become defensive. They are only trying to help because they want you to succeed. If you do not agree with their advice or feedback, then simply ignore it (after thanking them for taking the time to provide it). Do not criticize them for not knowing you that well or write them off because they never walked a mile in your shoes. This advice also extends to potentially lashing out at other paralegals when they are trying to help you in a group or on a forum. An experienced paralegal is way less likely to interact with a person if he or she is prone to lashing out at others.  So, don’t be defensive — and don’t be a lasher!

Fact Pattern #6: Ivy, a career changer, always claims to know everything and have all the answers when conversing on online forums. She claims with over 10 years of experience working as a manager of a big corporation that she is ‘god’ in the legal world, even though she is struggling to break into the paralegal field.

Tip #6: It is okay if you do not know everything. It is okay to ask for help and to learn as much as you can about the field. It is also okay to ask others for help. If you were a big deal at another field and you are new in this field, it is okay to make mistakes, but as soon as the mistake is made, own up to it and try to fix it! Do not act like you know everything, when in actuality, you do not. It will make your network (or those who recommend you for a job) look really bad and will ruin your reputation before you even have a chance to build it.

Respect and civility will get you far. By employing these tips along with whatever other tips you may find will make yourself indispensable among your peers and an attractive candidate to prospective employers. It will make you a better professional as you navigate the paralegal field.

We all worry about finding our first paralegal job or attending our first networking event. I know I am. And I am doing everything I can to increase my chance of getting a job and meeting new people. And while I am doing that, I am partnering myself with a strong group of people in my professional field that I could tap into anytime for advice, support, and mentoring.

There are many great networking groups on LinkedIn: The Paralegal Society, The Paralegal Network, and several others. There are also many great blogs to choose from: The Paralegal Society, Practical Paralegalism, Atlanta Paralegal Services, and many more. The wonderful world of social media is at our fingertips and it is up to us to grab it by the horns (or in this case, our keyboards) and soar.

Taye Akinola is currently completing his graduate certificate in paralegal studies program at Texas State University-San Marcos. He is also a paralegal intern within the City of Austin Law Department in Austin, TX. Taye holds a bachelor’s degree in graphic design, master’s degree in deaf studies, and a graduate certificate in deaf history. He is interested in pursuing the intellectual property field, as well as corporate law and administrative law. He is very eager to begin his career as a paralegal.

If you have additional tips for me and my fellow newbies, please leave your tips, pointers and advice via a “comment.” I want to keep this dialogue ongoing because the more tips we have, the better off we will be. 

Hey there, TPS readers – we hope all is well in your corner of the legal kingdom! If you missed Part I of our “Unwritten Rules” series, be sure to go to the top right of our blog and search “unwritten rules” to read Jennifer MacDonnell’s article:  “Unwritten Rules for Office Survivial Basics.”  Jennifer shares some great tips on everything from dress code to attitude, and all of the important things you’ll want to keep in mind when venturing into the paralegal field.

Please do leave a comment if you have any additional tips or advice to share with the newbies regarding communication, TPS readers. We’d love to hear ’em!

See you next time!