Make a fundamental investment in your expertise in 2016. We spoke with Jenny Tucker, owner and author of, The Paralegal Place, to get her take on this annual tradition. Ms. Tucker’s recent post, “10 Top Career Resolutions for the New Year,” got us thinking about more practical ways today’s paralegals can make real changes that will be profitable and easy.
What You Don’t Know
DLS: In your piece, you advise professionals to learn new technology, but this can be rather daunting considering the depth and breadth of tools available. How should someone begin to frame an honest self-assessment?
JT: I agree, it is a daunting task. I recently learned a personal lesson about honest self-assessment. I had always prided myself on keeping myself up to date on new technology. I followed several association blogs, read legal tech news, I work with and used several types of legal tech everyday on the job, and I have a large pool of paralegals I regularly network with in regards to what’s happening in the legal technology field. I thought that was enough.
While I highly recommend doing all of that, my conversations with larger firms revealed that I lacked a qualification these firms wanted and had no training on a software program that most of the larger firms in my area had adopted. I had overlooked this software as a major requirement everyone else was using it. Professionals should keep abreast of what other tools law firms are using by simply looking at open job listing and their experience requirements.
Also, review each of the legal technology tools you use daily and ask yourself if you are utilizing a product fully or if you could actually use a bit more education and training. Are you asking for help on projects too often because you don’t understand how to use the program? Are you passing up projects because you feel you lack the skills to do it right? If so, it’s time to look into education, whether it’s on the job training, college courses, training through a vendor program, or perhaps CLE’s offered by various professional organizations.
A self-assessment is easier once you know what you will need to stay ahead.
Challenge Your Vendors
DLS: In our business, we see a lot of people make assumptions about their communication tools for example. How familiar should professionals be with their own services, the vendors that provide them and should they have an expectation that they can learn from these partners?
JT: Law firms always want to get the most bang for their buck with office tools because it ultimately saves their clients’ money. In order to do so, it’s important to get educated and get the most out of these tools when they are utilized fully and properly. I feel that any legal professional should be very familiar with their vendors and the services they provide and professionals should view these people as partners. After all, these are the people that can help you achieve successful outcomes, so one should always engage vendors in discussions. I often turn to our software vendors for learning opportunities and training and I have used our production vendors’ knowledge to help streamline document productions.
DLS: Why is gaining these core competency valuable on the job?
JT: Speaking from a paralegals point of view, I see that, depending upon the type of law firm a paralegal may work at, it is difficult for paralegals to “move up” or expand in their careers, unless of course they want to head to law school. Gaining technical knowledge, keeping up with legal tech advances and changing methods while getting the needed training can add value to the paralegals current position, which in turn could mean a higher salary.
Larger law firms that have a tiered system of paralegals do allow for advancement and having the right technical skills just might get you that promotion. It certainly opens the door for many more employment options, such as Litigation Support Specialists. These positions are often filled with former paralegals that are knowledgeable on the technical skill side.
Showcase Your Progress
DLS: How would you suggest paralegals make their new skills sets known within their respective firms to help showcase their initiative and increased value?
JT: It’s always a good idea to share your new abilities with the firm. Obviously, a paralegal should share all skills and abilities with the attorney she is working for, as it will add value to your position within the firm. Knowledgeable, highly tech-skilled paralegals are ultimately the ones in demand when the firm needs a strong player on a case. A good time to summarize and showcase these new skill sets is during a paralegals yearly review. The paralegal can share particular skills acquired and discuss how they can enhance the coming year’s work productivity.
In addition, I always find it’s a good idea to let the Human Resources department and, if your firm has one, the IT Department, know about new skills. It may be that one day your knowledge will be valuable to them, and not just to your attorney or the client. For example, I had taken training courses in the past for Pro Law, a business management software program. Our firm had decided to update our current management system at the time and Pro Law was in the running as the replacement. Because I had let my training be known, both the IT and Human Resources department came to me with questions regarding the software, it’s ease of use and practicality, and whether or not training could be facilitated for the staff. I ended up being very useful to the firm and was ahead of the game when we eventually did get the software and put it into use.
Leadership and Value
Pledge to build these pieces into your annual plan and engage with your vendors directly. For example, DLS offers assessment services to help business ensure reliable network performance, identify opportunities to reduce costs and help reveal security and intrusion vulnerabilities. No matter what your firm’s goals or budget may be in the coming year, our discovery process can help ensure your firm is protected and prepared for what lies ahead.
We are also committed to ensuring our customers are well trained and taking full advantage of all the features available to them. Your current vendors should also offer extensive support and training to help you solve real problems and better use the tools you already have. Something as simple as your phone can clearly offer a wealth of resources to help you excel, if you know how to use them properly.
Demonstrate your professionalism and showcase a proactive approach to helping guide technical decisions for your team’s success.
Read more from Jenny Tucker on The Paralegal Place and join the discussion: http://theparalegalplace.blogspot.com
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