Paralegals - Become Indispensable to Your Law Firms
by Rona M. Lum, Esq.
Character and Attitude
All things being equal, I have always felt that character and attitude trump ability in every situation. Perhaps it is because character and attitude cannot be taught. You either have them or you don't.
Without exception, the best paralegals I have worked with have possessed strong work ethics, good attitudes, desire for constant improvement, and passion for their work, coupled with excellent communication and people skills. They arrive to work on time, if not early. They are self-starters and have the ability to work independently with very little supervision from the attorney, yet they have the intelligence to know when to ask for guidance and the ability to identify those matters that should be directed to the attorney — which is a nice segue into my next point.
Know Your Limits
Attorneys are held to ethics standards set forth in the Rules of Professional Responsibility. We are responsible for not only our own conduct and work product but also the conduct and work product of our support staff. It is no defense for an attorney to blame unethical conduct and unacceptable work product on his or her paralegal. As a paralegal, you should familiarize yourself with the Rules of Professional Responsibility that govern the conduct of the attorney.
Be a Team Player
Remember: you are an important and integral part of a team. Competent attorneys are usually backed up by competent paralegals. They work together like a well-oiled machine.
What makes you indispensable to a law firm? Remember that you are not operating in a vacuum. Take the time to learn the habits, preferences, and idiosyncrasies of the attorneys to whom you report.
For example, I prefer to handle all legal-related matters, such as analyzing cases, in the morning. My paralegal has figured this out, so she holds all phone calls and interruptions until the afternoon. She also recognizes my tendency to immerse myself in my work and reminds me when I have meetings scheduled outside the office at least an hour prior to each meeting, ensuring that I arrive on time for all appointments. She goes beyond the call of duty. She doesn't merely meet my expectations; she exceeds them. Indispensable? You bet.
Knowledge of the Law and Computers
Even though you are not an attorney, you should take the time to have an understanding of the law and regulations that affect the area of law in which your firm specializes.
My law firm is a niche practice. I specialize in the business and corporate aspects of immigration law. It is imperative that my paralegal has a working knowledge of the area of immigration law which impacts my practice. Over the years, I have received many resumes of potential paralegals with stellar academic credentials and work experience but no knowledge in my area of practice who, therefore, would not add value to my practice.
Also, competence with computers and the software application programs that are utilized by your law firm is critical to productive performance. If you are weak in this area, do your due diligence and invest in yourself by taking classes, if necessary, to upgrade your skills.
Accuracy in Your Work Product
It never ceases to amaze me that so many law firms send out correspondence and legal documents with simple typographical errors, misspellings, and incorrect punctuation. In addition to using the spell check feature on your word processing program, take the time to review your documents before giving them to the attorney for review and signature. Frankly, giving a document to the attorney with errors does not make a good impression at all and is definitely one of my pet peeves.
As an attorney, I appreciate the value that a competent paralegal with a good attitude brings to my law firm. In most instances, their initial interactions with paralegals are the first impressions that clients, prospective clients, and business colleagues have of our law firms. Make the impression you create a good one, and you will be well on your way to becoming indispensable to any law firm that employs you.
About the Author
Rona M. Lum can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. For more information about Rona M. Lum, P.C., visit www.corpimmigration.us.