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By: Jamie Collins
Welcome back! We’re so thrilled to see you on this absolutely fantastic Wednesday!!! Hey – it’s either going to be a fantastic day or we’re going to die trying to make it happen. That’s the spirit! (We see you reaching for those pom-poms…or was that a coffee mug, telephone receiver or pleading?) For those looking to enter the profession as newly-minted paralegals or the savvy paralegals among us ready to transition into a new area of law, this one’s for you! So lift up that mug/can proudly in a united, universal, caffeinated, paralegal, drink salute to the possibility of change.
Here’s to you…
Chameleons constantly change their color. They display colors ranging from shades of gray to whitish, black, vivid green, green-yellow, olive, and blue. Paralegals, like chameleons, often wish to blend into a new background or area of law. I have a theory that if you followed a busy paralegal around a chaotic law firm long enough (a/k/a for one 8 hour shift of crazy in the legal paper factory), you would likely see that paralegal display many of those same, lovely shades of gray, as he or she exuberantly diffuses a mind-boggling number of crises, and somehow still manages to soak in just enough desk-side calories to escape sudden death, and partial insanity.
You find yourself working at a law firm. You enjoy the work, people, and atmosphere, but then the day comes when you decide it’s time to make a change. You have a vision of stepping out of one area of law and into another. It’s time to rethink your professional image. Who am I kidding? You find yourself in need of a full-on image overhaul. The brand of you called and is demanding a newer and better version of yourself. It sounds easy enough. Yet, it can be daunting. What we’re really talking about here is your personal brand and what it conveys to the professional world.
If you currently find yourself ready to try on a new shade of law, but aren’t sure how to wander away from the gray and onto the path of change, the answer is quite simple. Make changes today…and tomorrow, to begin to convey a professional image (and personal brand) that is consistent with the type of paralegal you want to become.
Regardless of what area you are departing and what unchartered area you intend to enter, it is imperative that you do everything you can to convey an image that is appropriate for an individual working in that particular area.
So how do you go about doing that? You follow these tips!
Seek and you shall find. Determine what you need to find/know/research/learn. It sounds easy, but it is usually far more challenging once you actually sit down and attempt to write out a list enumerating all of the things you “think” you need to seek and find for the new area. What types of skills, expertise, and software programs are typically expected of a person working in this genre? If have no idea what you should learn in order to enter the niche area, reach out to an experienced paralegal working in that area to seek some guidance.
This is beneficial for many reasons, but we’ll focus on the Top 2. First and foremost, this paralegal works in the coveted area of law. He or she can share a wealth of resources, ideas, information, and valuable career tips taken from lessons learned while breathlessly running the gauntlet. He knows what you need to know, and can tell you where to go to seek the information/people/resources you’ll need.
Secondly, who better to know moving forward through your career transition than a friendly and experienced paralegal who works in your chosen area of law? Can we say paralegal jackpot?! (And a future lifeline, if you get it right).
Networking Tip: Be extremely gracious and friendly if you expect this kind, paralegal soul to spend his or her time helping you, as he/she has limited time from sun up to sun down, just like the rest of us! Most people are willing to lend a bit of advice or support, but if Patty Paralegal types through her lunch break to answer a question (or twelve) you posed via e-mail, and your response is a curt “thanks” or “thanks a lot,” followed by a signature block, chances are, Patty will not spend her lunch hour desk-side in your honor again. It is best to offer a thoughtful, heartfelt response that is commensurate with the level of information/assistance Patty has provided.
Do: Tell Patty why this information will help you. Share a bit of information about yourself and your anticipated journey. Tell her why you sought her out in the first place. Above all else, thank her in a meaningful way, i.e., “Thank you so much for this valuable information. This will be so helpful to me on my journey.” If you establish a meaningful connection with Patty, she may spend future lunch hours responding to your questions, desk-side at her PC, frantically shuffling forkfuls of salad into her mouth while sending coveted gems of wisdom your way! Gratitude may eventually help bring you into this person’s inner circle going forward. Make your communications count.
Find a Role Model That Fits the Mold. Begin to look at the profiles of other paralegals around you on LinkedIn, and other social networking sites. See what sets these individuals apart. What do you find impressive about their profiles? Ask yourself, “Does this person look like a litigation/corporate/medical malpractice/family law/employment law/criminal law paralegal?” Why or why not? Determine what you like about others’ profiles, and what you don’t. Work to emulate the good profiles, and allow the bad ones to serve as examples of what to avoid when creating your own brand. Take more of a big picture view of where you’re headed in your career. Consider what you want someone to see when they take a look at your profile. And lastly, work to create an honest, thorough, impressive, and consistent personal brand.
Tip: Look for friendly paralegals. All paralegals are not created equal. Some are far friendlier than others. Watch their interactions on social media sites, and paralegal forums to determine who seems most approachable…and make the approach!
Become Jello. Okay, not literally, but you now know what you need to learn, seek, whom you should befriend for knowledge and support, and what type of professional image you’d like to convey. It’s time to fill the mold with – yourself!
Ask yourself: What can I do today, this week or this month to “look” more like a [insert area of law] paralegal? What type of brand am I attempting to build? What can I do to move myself further along the career track? The key is to find things you can do right now to shift your image, and move one step closer to becoming the next in demand paralegal on the block who may just land herself a new job!
Tip: Join your local paralegal association. Check the association’s website to see if it is partnered up with one of the national organizations. If so, this will give you two memberships for the price of one! In a matter of minutes (and about a hundred bucks or so), you’ll instantly have two things to immediately list on your resume and profile! This will make you appear more professionally involved. Association membership also offers a lot of great perks. For example, you’ll likely have access to a network of paralegal peers, subscription to a monthly newsletter, access to the group’s publication(s), and countless opportunities to mingle by attending regular events, monthly luncheons, and meetings. This is all in addition to the potential for free or discounted CLE (continuing legal education) opportunities that may be offered through the associations, and more importantly, a really cool place to make some new paralegal friends!
Worth your hundred bucks? Most paralegals think so! I sure do. Besides, you’re only five minutes away from beginning your image overhaul by adding professional associations to your resume and profile, and potentially meeting some really great people along the way! Check out the association websites, and join today.
Understand that knowledge is king. Any paralegal worth her weight in greatness will readily attest to one key quality that sets the successful paralegals apart from the pack, and that one thing is – an extensive knowledge base. While an attorney could certainly replace a paralegal (in theory), trying to replace a savvy one who possesses tremendous knowledge and expertise is a tall order! Learn anything and everything you can to set yourself apart. Learn the lingo, information, procedures, processes, terminology, trial rules, federal rules, and nuances today. Distinguish yourself with your knowledge.
Invest in additional education. This could be in the form of books, magazines, training modules, webinars, seminars, boot camps or workshops. You’d probably be surprised how many are available and quite affordable or even free! You can then add any relevant, educational webinars/seminars you attend to your resume and professional profile to show people you aren’t just interested in this new area of law, but are actually committed to fully immersing yourself into it! A little effort and education goes a long way.
Take the challenge and embrace change. Whether you are entering the paralegal professional as a newbie or simply ready to make a change, follow these tips to start the journey today. Determine what you need to learn/know/find, seek out a suitable role model, work to overhaul your professional image and personal brand, and continue to learn anything and everything you can to set yourself apart! As Bryant H. McGill so eloquently stated, “Change will never happen when people lack the ability and courage to see themselves for who they are.” The journey begins today…or at least it could. The only question left is: Who do you want to be?
Now get out there and join, learn, seek, find, research, network, and update that professional profile! Take yourself from fifty shades of gray to the next level of great by transforming yourself into precisely the type of paralegal you want to become, and the type that next law firm would love to hire – starting today.
What are you waiting on? Get out there! Your personal brand is waiting on you. So is your next potential employer! Get out there and do it! Change it! Rework it! Create it!
Most importantly…become it.
“For the past 33 years, I have looked in the mirror every morning and asked myself, ‘If today were the last day of my life, would I want to do what I am about to do today?’ And whenever the answer has been ‘No’ for too many days in a row, I know I need to change something.”
– Steve Jobs
“A rock pile ceases to be a rock pile the moment a single man contemplates it, bearing within him the image of a cathedral.”
– Antoine de Saint-Exupery
Be sure to check back with us on Friday, TPS Nation! We’ve got a really fun post planned to kick the Paralegal Freedom Movement off right! See you then.