Posts Tagged ‘work ethic’

Ad: Professionalism is a must

Wednesday, March 3rd, 2010

Our local paper (yes print media still exists) carries this ad:

Law firm seeks paralegal that can handle additional secretary and receptionist duties. Ideal candidate will have ability to organziae, prioritize and complete tasks under time constraints. Must be multi-tasked oriented and able to work in a fact paced envrionment. Excellent writing, verbal and communication skills. Professionalism is a must.

Of course, this ad interests me because it confirms my contentions that (1) those paralegal who demonstrate professionalism with control the market, and (2) professionalism is more than a set of skills. Thus, the empowered paralegal is one who is effective, efficient and professional.

This leads to the real challenge – determining just what professionalism is. In some ways it is like art and pornography – you can’t define it, but you know it when you see it. In this blog and in my book I attempt to shed some light on its primary ingredients.  It is, quite clearly, more than simply a manner of dress. I frequently point out to students that the very phrase “I dressed like a professional” implies that there is something more to professionalism than a good suit, clean hands, and a haircut. If one can “dress like a professional” and still not be professional, then dress alone does not make a professional.

As discussed in The Empowered Paralegal and throughout this blog, the ingredients of professionalism include reliability, trustworthiness, work ethic, honesty, attitude, self-reflection, standards, personal integrity, the ability to think ahead, and inter-personal skills especially in dealing with clients and attorneys.

Initial results of the Professionalism Anthology are encouraging and I hope that publication will ultimately lead to a better understanding of professionalism in the paralegal profession. In the meantime I will contact the firm that place this ad to see what it means by “Professionalism is a must.”

It’s been said before, but it’s worth saying, and hearing, again.

Tuesday, February 9th, 2010

Law.com has a good article by Mary L. Creekmore, a practicing paralegal entitled, “Top Essential Skills and Assets for Paralegals.” It describes the standard skills discussed in most paralegal textbooks, but goes on to discuss areas like time and workplace management that are the focus of “The Empowered Paralegal.”

With my current focus on professionalism and the paralegal profession I was particularly taken by this passage especially as it too echoes The Empowered Paralegal:

The last asset is the ability to be self-motivated and work with minimal supervision. This means knowing what has to be done and doing it without having to be reminded. Managing your workflow, keeping track of assignments and deadlines, assertively asking when a project needs to be completed, asking for more responsibilities and being willing to do more than what is expected all fall within this category. These actions are all indicative of your work ethic and desire to be a success.

Let’s not forget perhaps the most important aspect of being a paralegal: being a professional. The national and local paralegal organizations have fought long and hard to get our profession recognized. The paralegal profession is still relatively young, and we need to continue to fight the battle, not only on a local and national level, but every day at our jobs, to be recognized and respected as professionals.

This places a huge responsibility on each and every one of us every day. Being a professional means acting like one. Your demeanor, the way you speak, the way you dress, the way you act, how you tackle the challenges that you face and your attitude are all indicative of whether or not you take being a professional seriously.

Follow the link above for the whole article. ALM Media, Inc., who published it thinks highly of it also. According to its “Permissions and Reprints” link if you want to make 30 copies for educational purposes it will cost you $60! (I didn’t check to see what the price would be if you were trying to make money off of it.) In any case, my students will have to read it online.

Do you have slackers in your office?

Monday, September 7th, 2009

The New York Times“Career Couch” yesterday had some sound advice for anyone who works in an office with colleagues. The article is entitled “When A Colleague Doesn’t Pull His Weight.” However, its first question and answer asks us to consider the possibility that we are mis-judging the situation when we feel that a colleague is not pulling his weight:

When we compare our own work with that of others, we can easily overvalue ourselves and undervalue them, said Ben Dattner, an organizational psychologist in New York and founder of Dattner Consulting. That’s partly because we know much more about our own work, he said, and partly because most people have a self-serving bias, believing that they’ve made greater contributions than others recognize.

“How much time you perceive someone is working is not necessarily a valid reflection of the effort they are expending or the results they are achieving,” he said. “They may have terrific time-management skills, stay late or work weekends.”

They may also have legitimate personal reasons for their behavior — for example, the stress of dealing with an ill relative, problems with a spouse or the foreclosure of a home, he said.

To avoid overreacting, ask yourself why you are so angry. “Did you miss a deadline because of this person?” said Rick Gibbs, a senior human resources specialist at Administaff, a human resources outsourcing firm in Houston. “Did you have to stay late because he left early? Your goal is to establish the impact on your performance.”

I’ve emphasized the comment regarding time-management skills above because time management is such a large part of the discussion on this blog and in The Empowered Paralegal. I agree with much of what the Career Couch says in this column. When I first started applying time-management skills and techniques after attending a time-management workshop, I found myself with time at the end of the day rather than a pile of unfinished work. I’m certain office colleagues would have wondered what was going on except for the fact that I was continuously marveling aloud at how much can be accomplished through time management!

It is, of course, a different situation if work is not being done, especially if the colleague’s failure to complete work on time delays your work. The Times article has several good suggestions for dealing with that situation. However, I would like to examine this a bit more not from the standpoint of the slacker, but from the standpoint of the person who, through the utilization of sound time and workload management techniques is able to complete their work efficiently and effectively. There are many questions to ask, many of which relate to personal integrity and work ethic.

What is the purposes of efficiency? What are the benefits and who gets them? If I can complete a “full day’s work” in seven hours and it takes the paralegal next door eight, do I get to “slack” for the extra hour? These questions cannot be answered fully here and there is good reason to doubt that there are firm “right” answers to them that apply in all circumstances.

Certainly the primary beneficiary of sound time and workload management is the person who engages in the management. It relieves that person of stress. A “good life” is one of balance between work and non-work. Time and workload management provide the possibility of reaching that balance.  That balance requires that work not be overwhelmingly stressful. It also requires that there be non-work personal time.

However, both personal integrity and work ethic should dictate that the non-work time not occur on the job. You will not be viewed as a professional if you do only what you are told to do, no matter how efficiently you do it.

I’m not suggesting that you don’t do what you are told to do by your attorney, but if that is all you do – put in your time, do what you are told efficiently and wait for the next task to be assigned filling in time by surfing the internet, you will not be considered to be professional. Take the initiative. Suggest ways you could be helpful. When your assigned work is done, don’t just pass the time – let the attorney know you are ready for the next assignment. Just being there is not enough. Make yourself useful.

If you truly have “down time,” learn something. Find out how to do something you do not already know how to do that will be useful to you in your capacity as a member of the legal team. Use this time to participate in professional associations, rather than just be a member of one. Offer to help others who are busy. Avoid distracting other staff by talking about topics unrelated to whatever they are working on.

The goal is to be viewed as a terrific time manager who is efficient and effective while minimizing stress, without being viewed as a slacker. You can have it both ways.

A Professional Is Ethical

Friday, July 31st, 2009

Here I’m not talking about the legal ethics you studied in class, although for attorneys the rules governing their professional conduct are often referred to as “Rules of Professional Conduct.” Certainly every attorney will want you to know, respect and apply the rules of legal ethics demanded of them by the court or other body that supervises and disciplines them as professionals. They will require you do to so even if they are not naturally inclined towards following them simply to avoid discipline. Most attorneys are aware that they are responsible for what their staff does even if they do not understand the particular role of a paralegal and their special obligation to supervise paralegals.

What you need to show your attorney is not only that you understand the ethical requirements of the legal profession, but that you have and follow a personal ethic that raises you to the level of a professional. Now I am not suggesting that non-professionals are not ethical or never have to make ethical choices. My remarks are made in the context of our discussion of you as a paralegal having or wanting more responsibility – responsibility reserved to professionals as a result of their specialized knowledge and experience. With that responsibility comes more opportunity for non-ethical choices and an higher expectation for ethical behavior.

The Professional Paralegal and Fees

Thursday, July 30th, 2009

Brian Craig at the Globe University/Minnesota School of Business Paralegal Program Blog posts an update summarizing recent cases upholding paralegal fees. He starts by noting:

A number of recent cases have upheld fees for paralegals when awarding attorneys’ fees to prevailing parties. Courts look at the reasonable prevailing market rate for awarding fees for paralegal services. Recent cases have upheld awards ranging from $50-$100 per hour for paralegals. In Nadarajah v. Holder, — F.3d —-, 2009 WL 1588678 (9th Cir. Jun. 9, 2009), the Ninth Circuit affirmed an hourly rate of $100 per hour for paralegals.

There are, however, limits to paralegal fees. Courts may reduce the hourly rate based on the given evidence.

This recognition of paralegal professionalism by the courts comes with a corresponding obligation on the part of the paralegal to be profession, effective, efficient and ethical, in performing the work.  There are many aspects to this including time management, solid knowledge of substantive law, and a firm grasp of how to do what needs to be done as well as what needs to be done. Perhaps the best short answer is that  in order to be considered a professional the paralegal must develop and demonstrate a professional work ethic.