Posts Tagged ‘career’

Master Your Ship

Friday, March 30th, 2012

In a post The Estrin Reportreprinted in the most recent issue of KNOW, The Magazine for Paralegals Chere Estrin spells out “10 Ways to Sink Your Paralegal Career – Guaranteed.” My position is that a sinking paralegal career can be summed up by “unprofessional” and letting yourself be managed by events rather than managing them. Hence a good part of my motivation for writing The Empowered Paralegal: Effective, Efficient, and Professional,” providing (I hope) clear and concise information and techniques to be effective, efficient, and professional. Chere does a very good job here of emphasizing a “Top Ten” list, taking a paragraph or two to explain each, while summarizing my theory by advising that we all be the master of our own ships. I’m providing the link here. Just click through to the article or the magazine for the full article.

(The magazine has a number of worthwhile articles in this issue – as is often the case – including a good story on Marianna Fradman’s journey for a childhood in the Ukraine to President of the New York City Paralegal Association, one of the most active, vibrant, and professional such associations in the country.) Anyway, here’s the list:

Here are 10 top reasons why your career may be stalled, dead-ended or become routine and repetitious:

1. You Are Your Own Worst Career Manager

If you don’t watch out for your career and goals, no one else will and you may become a candidate for right-sizing, downsizing, merging or purging.

2. Breadth, Not Depth of Skills

You do not want to be a one-trick pony. In today’s paralegal field, there is a greater emphasis on the breadth of your skills not just on the depth.

3. Don’t Be a SMEL (Subject Matter Expert on Life)

We all know these folks – the ones who have the answer to everything. They’re annoying, really.

4. Not Being a Tall Tree

You want to be noticed in a positive manner. Do not try to blend into your paralegal department to avoid attention.

5. The Living Resume

You’ll hear over and over to keep your resume up-to-date. There must be a good reason.

6. The Written Word (and Picture) Remains

What you write in emails and instant messaging can be used both for and against you.

7. Don’t Burn Those Bridges

What a temptation it is to “tell all” in the exit interview! Telling your boss and colleagues what you really felt about them, particularly when you’re angry, is a potential future career buster.

8. Don’t Disconnect or Isolate

The reach of social networks and professional sites should not be underestimated – even for paralegals. Take a look at LinkedIn.

9. Technical Complacency, Ignorance or Denial

Never make the assumption that you have all the computer skills you need. New technologies are emerging at a furious rate and to remain relevant, you need to learn these new skills.

10. Lack of Soft/People Skills

In today’s market, paralegals that assume simply having updated skills will give them a ticket to career advancement, have their heads buried deep in the sand.

Above all, be responsible for your own career. Being the master of your ship instead denying what’s going on at the helm, guarantees a move forward in a growing, changing and fantastic journey.

Who is making your choices?

Friday, August 13th, 2010

Recent discussion regarding a proactive approach to being a paralegal with minimum stress led me to think of Ivan Ilyich, a Tolstoy character who was dying. The passage brought to mind is:

‘But what was this? What for? It cannot be! It cannot be that life has been so senseless, so loathsome? And if it really was so loathsome and senseless, then why dies, and die in agony? There’s something wrong.’

‘Can it be I have not lived as one ought?’ suddenly came into his head. ‘But how not so, when I’ve done everyting as it should be done?’ he said, and at once dismissed this only solution of alll the enigma of life and death as something utterly out of the question.’

But however much he pondered, he could not find an answer. And whenever the idea struck him, as it often did, that it all came of his never having lived as he ought,m the thought of all the correctness of his life and dismissed this strange idea.

Certainly, as explained by Chere Estrin, it is important that you be in charge of your career, but also of your life. The enigma, of course, lies in the difficulty of making the “right” choices. One can indeed plan for happiness. But “what is happiness” is not the entire question. Rather the question is “What is happiness for me?” Ivan based his choices on what “ought” to be done and struggled with himself as to whether he has lived as he ought to have lived.

Making such decisions seems to be a theme on the internet recently. In a discussion on the Paralegal Today discussion forum regarding which specialty to choose, Kelly Corbin, a paralegal in Texas, gave this advice:


Follow your heart. Do what you love and the money will follow. I believe it is especially important when you are starting out in your career that you pick an area that you are passionate about. The legal field can be a very stressful and demanding place. You may be expected to work overtime, etc. and you want to make sure that you like what you are doing or you will quickly burn out. If you are passionate about what you are doing, you will work harder than if you just take a position in a specific area because the starting salary is higher. When you are passionate and working hard, that dedication will pay off in the future. You can study other areas of law to see if there is something else out there that will give you the monetary satisfaction that you desire, but no paycheck can substitute for the feeling of a day’s work well done and a client helped by the services that you perform (whether plaintiff, defendant, human or corporation).

I have worked for pennies, dedicated my life, given up personal plans, missed anniversary dinners and on and on, but at the end of the day (or several years as it were), I built a resume and a reputation that allowed me to go exactly where I wanted and be paid more than adequately for my work. My attorneys know that I am dedicated to the cause. They know that if I won the lottery tomorrow, not only would I not quit my job, I would actually do it for free!

You don’t get there overnight. You must prove yourself in this field. So, my advice is follow your heart. If this all sounds corny or cliche, then follow the paycheck. But believe it or not, the old adage is true . . . . .Money can’t buy happiness! And in my experience, if you follow the money and not your heart, you’ll just be spending that extra cash on therapy, stress management or doctor visits for your depression/exhaustion!

Those are my thoughts.

Kelly echoes Joseph Campbell, a life-long student and teacher of the human spirit and mythology who said, “I say, follow your bliss and don’t be afraid, and doors will open where you didn’t know they were going to be.”

But even this is not always easy. As Vicki Voisin, The Paralegal Mentor points out in her newest newsletter, the grass can sometimes be deceptively greener on the other side of the hill. See her article “A Paralegal’s Struggle: Does a New Job Equal a New and Better Life? or Is the Grass Really Greener on the Other Side of the Fence?” And also follow the journey of Melissa at Paralegalese as she moves from a one attorney firm in a small town to a major firm in Memphis.

But following your bliss is indeed a good road to follow. Check out this from ABA Journal.comem>:

At one time, Nat Hussey spent part of his time in a courtroom, but now he works in a boat off the coast of Maine trapping lobsters the old-fashioned way, rowing to his traps and pulling them in by hand.

An Associated Press profile of Hussey says he started lobstering this summer as part of a “zero-carbon lobster harvesting project.”

“Other lobstermen roar about,” the AP story says, “pulling traps with power winches, their engines growling and radios blaring rock ‘n’ roll and country music. Hussey works in solitude, waves lapping gently against his boat, a bell buoy clanging gently in the background.”

On his blog, Outpost Matinicus, Hussey describes himself as a “musician, lawyer, dad, fisherman, meanderer.” AP says he was formerly a trial lawyer, and then held down an office job with the Maine Department of Corrections. He still does a little legal work, along with carpentry and odd jobs, to bring in some extra cash.

In a blog post Thursday, Hussey notes a neighbor has already left for a permanent home. “Here the sweet weather, warm water, garden growth all stretch out far past Labor Day,” he writes. “Yet so many departures and a lot less traffic change the atmosphere prematurely away from the summer parade.

“This is secret summer.”

And this post from another Paralegal Today discussion forum:

 a post on the Paralegal Today listserv thread discussing raises:

I recv’d an 18% raise last year but ended up quitting earlier this summer because it was dirty $$. Lots of questionable illegal and unethical things going on in that office. I just took on a new job at considerably less per hour, but good, solid attorneys whom I can trust. The new job is worth every penny.

Finally, I’ll leave you with this E. B. White quote from today’s post on Mississippi 12 Chancery Court judge’s blog:

“I get up every morning determined to both change the world and have one hell of a good time. Sometimes this makes planning my day difficult.”  —  E. B. White

Professionalism and Education

Thursday, February 11th, 2010

One of my basic propositions is that professionalism, or at least its components can be taught. This is the basis of my course in Professionalism and Empowerment, my presentation to regional and national conferences, and an article I’ve written for The Paralegal Educator.  The belief that elements of professionalism can be learned prompted my writing The Empowered Paralegal.

Professionalism and education go together in anothe respect – a professional is educated (sometims academically, sometimes through experience) in both the process and the substance of their field, and they stay educated through (for paralegals and lawyers) CLE.

All of this is an introduction of sorts to the latest episode of The Paralegal Voice, hosted by Vicki Voison, The Paralegal Mentor, and Lynne DeVenny of Practical Paralegalism. This edition is entitled, “The Power of Paralegal Education”,  and is available at Legal Talk Network. It’s approach appears to be to emphasize another aspect of paralegal education – its role in a successful paralegal career. Here’s how they put it:

Education is vital to a successful paralegal career. On this edition of The Paralegal Voice, [we] welcomed Linda J. Wolf, ACP, the current President of the National Association of Legal Assistants (NALA) and Attorney Elizabeth Mann, Department Head of the Paralegal Program at Greenville Technical College, to focus on the importance of paralegal education. Discussion also focused on entering and growing in the career field, as well as what employers look for when hiring paralegals.

I’ve not yet had the time to listen to this episode, but given the co-hosts, the guests, and the topic, I suspect it is well worth so doing.

Can Facebook Sabotage Your Career?

Tuesday, August 25th, 2009

Speaking of California, the April 2009 Fresno Paralegal Association Newsletter
has an excellent article by Vicki Voisin of the Paralegal Mentor entitled “Are You Sabotaging Your Career.” In the article Vicki warns of some of the pitfall of social networking websites:

You are, in essence, dropping clues right and left about yourself and you may be offering too much
information. Many companies (that includes law firms) now use social networking sites to screen prospective hires. They may also use them to check on the behavior of current employees. A simple entry of a name in the Google search box can reveal all kinds of information…some of it may be embarrassing.
Social Networking isn’t just about you. You really have little control over who sees your information. Your contacts have access to it. Their contacts have access. Those contacts have access. You can see how the web widens.

Vicki’s point cannot be overstated. Whenever I’m about to have significant professional dealings with someone new one of my first steps is to do an internet search for information about that individual. Interviewing a new candidate for a position in my office – a person who will have access to confidential information, be the primary contact with my clients and have access to client trust accounts – certainly qualifies as “significant professional dealings.” Consider the likelihood of hiring someone who’s Facebook profile picture show them well “under the influence” at a Jimmy Buffet concert. While a potential employer may understand and even approve of the events that led up to the picture, most employers would question the professionalism and discretion of a person who posts that picture as their first and best impression.

Vicki suggests

Your online presence is a virtual resume. Craft your profi le very carefully so you reveal only positive information. Don’t use a screen name that gives a poor impression. Don’t post pictures or videos you wouldn’t want your mother to see. Delete any photos your friends might post that show you drinking and partying. If any off -color comments are associated with your posts, delete them immediately. Choose your Facebook friends and followers on Twitter wisely. You don’t have to accept every request.

Does this mean you can never have fun or at least never share that fun with your friends? Not at all. However, keep in mind that you have a professional life and a personal life. Keep the two separate even on Facebook, mySpace and Twitter.

There is, of course, a tie-in between Vicki’s story and Chere Estrin’s story discussed in a previous post, “Who Is in Charge of Your Career?” Some of these same issues are also discussed in real-life networking contexts in “Martinis and Professionalism.

The bottom line is that Facebook cannot sabotage your career, but you can. You should be in charge of your career both on and off the internet.

Professional Associations

Monday, July 27th, 2009

Belonging to a professional association does not make one professional, and certainly one can be professional without belonging to an association. However, there does appear to be significant value in belonging to an association for paralegal professionals. If nothing else, membership can bring a sense of belonging to a profession as opposed to simply having a particular job or career. So I recommend that paralegals not only belong to an professional association but become involved in one or more.
o Be active in a local branch of the association.
o Subscribe to paralegal listservs and participate in discussions.
o Read, learn from and contribute to publications designed for paralegals.
o Become certified by your organization.
o Attend seminars and conference, especially those that include continuing legal education (CLE) credit.

In many instances your law office or other employer may be willing to cover the costs of such activities.

I have posted links to several paralegal professional association websites. If you are aware of others, let me know. You can post a comment or email me at

Your comments on this topic or on particular associations are welcome.