Paralegals-Tips on How to Move Up in your Legal Department or Law Firm

It's difficult for paralegals to move up within a firm.  Often, there is no where to go, unless you want to go to law school and be a lawyer.  But if you work a t a firm with tier levels for paralegals, or where paralegals become management, it can happen for you. In this context, and to make sure that our career progresses smoothly, we have to make sure that everyone in our practice wants to work with us and that we are building results-oriented relationships with the rest of the team.

Perhaps the best way to achieve that goal is to see ourselves as internal consultants with the lawyers who we are working for being our customers.
—— As paralegals, what can we do to move up within the organization? ——
  1. Lawyers call us usually because they have a problem. There is a good chance that they have tried something else before calling us, and we all know that it is common to be called in late when the problem is getting really dicy and urgent!
  2. Lawyers often have a specific solution in mind, they may be right … or not.
  3. Notice the parts of the problem that seem particularly important to the lawyer and repeat back, in your own words, what your understanding of the issue at hand is. Listen to the feedback and incorporate comments and clarifications to make sure your understanding of the problem is complete and accurate.
  4. Express your interest in helping to solve the problem. You can say that you are ready to help, that the problem seems interesting, and that this sounds like a real opportunity for you to contribute.
  5. If you are working with a new partner (remember the goal is to go up and thus to create new working relationships) explain what resources you can draw upon: knowledge from past projects, from working with other partners, seminars, and so on. Describe similar projects that you have worked on and let the lawyer know that he/she is in good hands!
  6. Schedule the next calls and meetings, and agree on deadlines. Try to set up checkpoints in the future, when the project can be reviewed and milestones can be verified.
  7. Arrange meetings with the other members of your practice who will be involved in the project, so that they can give you their perspective on the issues at hand early on.
    Tell those who you involve as much as you can about what you are doing, in order to create an open environment where information is easily shared, especially if you are new to the team.
    Later, make sure that everyone that you involve in the project hears back from you frequently..
    It is never a good idea to ask people to contribute and then leave them hanging with no sense of what happen to their contribution.
  8. Creating an open environment holds benefits for all involved: it creates the ability to generate feedback and ideas from discussing the legal topics, project tasks, and work approaches. But most importantly, if you are on the wrong track in your analysis, others will be able to point it out to you quickly. Conversely, you will be able to say to others if they are off on the wrong track before too much time and effort have been lost.
  9. Gather all documents, sources, and information in a systematic way. While doing so; ferret out bias, as one common mistake is to gather information in a way that only confirms your first assumptions.
    Of course, make sure all materials are accurate and current, check, check and recheck.
    Be sure to organize your materials and analyses in a way that allows you to access the information quickly when you need to or when somebody else asks you to.
  10. Get lost in the data and the information. A natural part of the analysis process is to be confused for a while when the research initially does not make sense.
    To exaggerate slightly, if you are not confused by a new project with a new lawyer, then it may well be that you are missing something. Or, maybe you really are on top of the topic. Still, you should always consider alternatives to the first rationale that comes to mind, in order to be ready for challenges and, even more importantly, in order to verify your conclusions from different angles.
  11. In any case, sort and analyze the data in a way that can be easily verified and understood by your lawyer.
    If you want him/her to accept your recommendations, make sure he/she understands the analysis and sources that lay behind each of your conclusions.
    Try to develop alternatives solutions and answers, so you can show that you are thinking a step ahead of possible challenges in order to be ready in case that complications arise.
—— Building closer and better working relationships between paralegals and lawyers ——
It is common for a customer and a consultant to build close working relationships. As they do this, their additional knowledge and trust in each other can be the first step towards more work together. An employee who is in demand is prone to be promoted. Therefore, building this demand little by little in every project is key to advancing in your organization.
Put differently, by constructing new projects with new partners in your practice or legal department, as if you were their consultant, you can greatly enhance your chances for the next step up in your career!

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