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By: Rodney Lumpkins (Guest Blogger)
Count your lucky, paralegal stars, and move on over people – Rodney Lumpkins is in route to the TPS stage to share an absolutely fabulous article with us today! It is, by far, one of the best general advice pieces we’ve read in a really long time on “how to stand out” in the paralegal crowd a/k/a your law firm. No need to further prolong the anticipation. Here’s Rodney, with the best advice you’ve read all week.
Let’s face it, when looking at today’s job market, you’ll find the “haves” and the “have nots.” If you’re like me, you have seen countless articles and guides written for those looking for work. However, very little has been offered for those looking over their shoulder, hoping that they are not part of the next reduction in force or layoff. Or just as important, what about those of us who just want to rise and shine in their current position. Well, after working in the legal industry for over 20 years, I’d like to offer you several tips that I believe will help you stand out amongst your peers in the workplace and separate yourself from the average employees.
#1: Dress for success – If you want to be a success you must dress for the part. It doesn’t matter if your workplace is business casual or business formal, it’s imperative that you dress like you mean business. Even if you have little to no client contact, you should always be prepared to be “the face of the firm,” as one partner told me years ago. My office is business casual but I keep a suit jacket and tie on a hanger just in case I need to step into someone’s courtroom or visit a client’s office. Even on the firm’s occasional “jeans day”, I always noticed that the most respected people in the building would opt for Khaki’s instead of sporting jeans.
#2: Invest in your career – I worked for a firm that didn’t provide blackberry services for Paralegals although many of the cases that I worked on required that I be accessible after hours and on weekends. For five years I paid out of pocket for the “enterprise” blackberry service so that I could respond to attorney emails when I’m out of the office. It wasn’t long before I developed the reputation of being available and responsive when others were not. That investment of less than $40 per month has paid lasting dividends that continue to pay off for years to come. Other successful paralegals pay for certification courses to validate their particular skill set and knowledge. Certification will boost your confidence in your current position and make you even more marketable to potential employers and higher paying jobs.
#3: Take care of your supporting cast – Get to know the people you will be counting on to be successful on your projects. In most offices, the supporting cast will include the copy center, the mail room staff and couriers, accounting and the IT Department. It’s inevitable that you will need a rush copy job when the copy center is swamped; or you will need a quick check cut from accounting; or a special favor from the IT group. You will need these guys at some point or another so make sure you know them and they know you. Buy the group pizza, coffee or doughnuts just because – let them know you appreciate them. They will go the extra mile to fulfill all of your requests and will often move your projects to the front of the line.
#4: Be active within the office – Let me be clear, being active in the office does not mean office hopping or chatting it up for 20 minutes at a time at the water cooler. It’s important to visually engage and speak to everyone you come across (this includes everyone from the file clerks to the partner with the corner office). Learn your co-workers’ names and make sure they know your name. Greet everyone with a simple “good morning” or “hello, how are you.” Also be sure to participate in office events not directly associated with your current position. Whether it is group lunches, dinners or cocktail parties, make an appearance, then meet and greet. Volunteer for leadership roles on non-billable or pro-bono projects that your firm participates in.
#5: Continue to learn – Do not get caught in the complacent cage. We are in the information age and the legal field is ever evolving at record speed. From online research and court filings to digesting depositions and electronic discovery, you must hone your craft and stay as current as possible on all aspects of your field. The great thing about this information age is that there is so much available online for next to nothing. For example, I’m a long time Summation head, but recently taught myself Concordance in a weekend watching online demonstrations. There are hundreds of free webinars available online. Also, be sure to subscribe to the free periodicals in your field. I recently learned of an excellent website https://www.coursera.org/ offering free online classes from top schools across the nation like Georgia Tech, Cal, Emory and more.
#6: Never turn down assignments – Turning down work in a law office is like a death sentence. You want to be known as that person that takes on all challenges and sees them through to the end. Remember, the attorneys that you work for do not turn down work, so neither should you, if possible. Of course there will be times when you just can’t fit any more on your plate. In those instances, be prepared to fully explain your workload and offer the attorney an alternative resource.
#7: Be active in the industry – Join local legal organizations and volunteer your time and services to assist those organizations. Paralegal associations are the perfect platform for networking and staying current with industry trends, legislation and resources. As an active member of your local paralegal association, you will be privy to a wealth of information based on the diverse background and experiences the other group members bring to the table. Another way to stay current and network in your field is to maximize your LinkedIn network. Update your profile, comment on group postings, add relevant content to your network. Whatever you do, do not be that person who sets up a LinkedIn profile and does not log back in for months at a time.
#8: Take pride and ownership in your work product – A good way to stand out and make a difference is to take pride and do each project the best way it can be done. Sounds simple but trust me, if you consistently bring your “A” game to assignments, it will get noticed. Attorneys will come to you with projects that are important to them and soon you will be that “go to” person that they can count on to get the job done.
#9: Create a pet project that adds value to the firm – I will never forget a conversation that I had with a young paralegal during a recent period of layoffs. She was concerned about being laid off due to a lack of work after she was moved to a secretarial position six months ago. I suggested that she take advantage of the down time and write a proposal for a firm “Green Team” that would benefit the firm through waste reduction, recycling and reducing our global footprint. Well, she declined and was later laid off. Meanwhile, a similarly situated attorney took on the task and the firm’s Green Team is thriving and is at the forefront of the firm’s marketing effort. In fact, the firm now has a “Green Practice Group.”
This recipe for success does not guarantee you will get the promotion or the corner office you’ve been eyeing. However, I will guarantee that if you put this plan into action you will not only be a better paralegal but you’ll be a better person over all. Remember, some people dream of success, while others wake up and work hard at it.
Rodney Lumpkins is a Senior Litigation Paralegal at Morris, Manning and Martin, where he sits on the firm’s Diversity and Pro Bono Committees. He is a decorated US Army veteran. Rodney also served as Vice-Chair of the Executive Board for the Gate City Bar Association’s Paralegal Section. He has over 22 years of legal experience with an emphasis on litigation, e-discovery and class action cases and has assisted attorneys on numerous complex litigation matters, employment disputes and breach of contract claims. Rodney is a leader in the Atlanta Paralegal community and has been a guest speaker at events for Herzing University, Kennesaw State University, Atlanta Technical College, the Georgia Association of Paralegals and the Gate City Bar Paralegal Section. Rodney is also a syndicated writer, a member of the Advisory Council of the Organization for Legal Professionals. In his spare time, Rodney enjoys mentoring, cooking, comedies, travel and time with his wife and children.
We think Rodney covered all the bases in this one, but if you’d like to add a tip of your own – go hit that comment button! It’s sitting right over there, just waiting on you.
We’ll see on Friday with an outstanding article by TPS Mentor, Jennifer MacDonnell. Jennifer is making her way straight down the middle of “honest paralegal row” with this one – and debunking some major, paralegal myths in the process! You won’t wanna miss it.
Until next time, embrace the advice, tap your paralegal potential, and avert every legal crisis that comes your way, as you spend yet another thrilling day running the gauntlet! We know you will. Lace up those high heels/oxfords and make the most of it.