By: Mark B. Fjelde, Esq. (Guest Blogger)
In over two decades serving as in-house counsel in the law departments of Fortune 100 financial services companies I have enjoyed the privilege of working with nearly a dozen exceptional paralegals in wide-ranging practice areas: commercial real estate mortgage lending; corporate law and governance; bankruptcy; wage garnishments and subpoena responses; and securities investment transactions. I have hired a few; I have developed and trained several; and I have deployed them in innovative roles. Some of them carried me as I worked my way through learning curves. All of them served as valuable collaborators in delivering high quality, timely and cost-effective service.
They came from different backgrounds, with different credentials, different temperaments, different personalities and different competencies. All provided valuable insights into their critical role as partners in delivering high quality, timely and cost-effective legal services. Mostly, working with these professionals gave me insight into their Keys for Success, guaranteed to interest The Paralegal Society.
First, some keys to obtaining and keeping employment as a value-add paralegal: (a) intellectual curiosity; (b) initiative (within the bounds of ethical and supervisory expectations); (c ) professional demeanor; (d) effective communicator; (e) attentive to details; and (f) an instinctive sense of when to “circle back” to your supervising attorney(s).
Where and how a paralegal gains these skills can vary, from formal education, to practical experience or, better still, some combination of formal and practical experience. For example, the following candidate would present a sufficiently compelling resume to warrant an initial interview for a financial services paralegal position: a candidate without a high school degree, but with several years’ bank teller experience, including records preparation for bank examination and interaction with bank regulators. Add paralegal certification or a college degree, and this candidate has enhanced employment prospects.
Through these skills (and ongoing development), paralegals have consistently delivered value, mostly through their knowledge of the details which, in the aggregate, become The Big Picture. They know the Who, Where, How and What of providing legal service, to a breadth and depth seldom matched by their supervising attorney(s). When an attorney effectively collaborates with this knowledge and experience, the paralegal and attorney become a formidable team.
Lastly, in this era of expense management pressures, paralegals establish their criticality to the profession’s continuing efforts to control legal costs whenever paralegals consistently deliver the highest quality, timely services. By definition, they provide lower costs services, and this attribute becomes their marketing mantra: deploy me effectively, integrate me meaningfully in your practice, and I will most assuredly manage your legal costs.
Combine this branding with the other Keys to Success, and paralegals will prove the most valuable lesson: they can become an attorney’s most effective collaborator in delivering cost-effective, high quality professional services. I therefore encourage paralegals to develop your intellectual curiosity, take initiative regularly, exude a professional demeanor, become an effective communicator, pay attention to details, and know when it is time to “circle back” to your supervising attorney(s). If you develop and continue to hone these fundamental Keys to Success, you will assuredly become a dynamic force on a formidable team and a tremendous asset to the attorneys who have the privilege of working alongside you.
Originally from North Dakota where Mark lived Life in the Vast Lane and received undergraduate and Law degrees from the University of North Dakota (THE ND), Mark has extensive experience in sophisticated transactions as in-house counsel for Fortune 100 companies.
In a 32-year career, including four years as a private practitioner in his home town of Fargo (NOT at all like the movie), Mark has worked with attorneys, accountants and investment professionals in the US and from around the globe: Chicago; New York; Washington, DC; London; Dublin; Paris; Brussels; Hong Kong; Tokyo; Rio de Janeiro; Santiago; Lima; Mexico City; San Jose, Costa Rica; Manila; Mumbai and Hyderabad.
Throughout his career, Mark has also relied heavily on the support of paralegals, including real estate transactions, securities investment transactions, securities class action litigation, even creating a paralegal position in an area of law where paralegals have seldom been deployed. He enjoys developing paralegals and takes special pride when they use their skills and knowledge to advance to even greater challenges.
We’d like to say a warm and heartfelt thank you to Mark for taking the time out of his busy attorney schedule to write this terrific piece for us! We must say we are very impressed by the last paragraph of his bio too…so if you didn’t already read it…go back up there and check it out!
TPS readers, as always, please feel free to reach out, share a thought or leave a comment in response to this fabulous article. We’d love to hear from you.
See you next time!