On October 21, we at Loio hosted a webinar on tips and strategies for being a better paralegal. At this webinar, two brilliant paralegals with a load of experience under their belt shared their best practices of collaborating with lawyers and tips for providing more value as a paralegal.
We were honored to have these exceptional professionals as speakers at our event:
Holly A. Sheriff, Founding member of Best Virtual Paralegal LLC, certified career and empowerment coach, award-winning litigation paralegal, entrepreneur, motivational speaker, and author.
Eda Rosa, freelance paralegal, legal career development coach, author, and a host of two popular podcasts “Everyday Law with Eda Rosa” and “Let’s Talk Paralegal with Eda Rosa.”
This event was a must-visit for paralegals who never stop learning and developing professionally. But if you couldn’t make it to the event, don’t worry: we’ve collected all-important insights for you in this article.
1. How to optimize your workflow as a paralegal?
As our speakers unanimously agreed, being comfortable with technology is the key element of an efficient workflow. On the contrary to how it was some decades ago when all paralegals had was a typewriter, now there are tons of tools that can help you maximize your productivity and do more with less. And a paralegal needs to find their groove with technology to work at the utmost efficiency. Moreover, it is important to have deep knowledge about all of the tools you’re using in your daily work routine, from contract management software to Zoom or Gmail, rather than just a superficial understanding of their main features. So, if you seek to optimize your workflow, the best step to start with is going through your current technology stack and learning to use it to its full potential.
Our speakers also noted that another important puzzle piece of the efficient workflow for a paralegal is transparent communication with the lawyer and the overall team spirit. Here is what Holly Sheriff told on that matter:
What works best for a lawyer, may not work best for a paralegal, and as a team, you need to talk about that. You need to have hot conversations that are honest, open, and two-way.
2. What things should successful paralegals do and not do as part of their job?
The first step a paralegal should take when they start a new job is recognizing that they are an extension of the lawyer. Our speaker Holly expressed this with a great metaphor — a paralegal is a handle on the umbrella, whereas a lawyer is its shoot.
Another point our speakers touched upon at the webinar was that paralegals should learn about themselves in terms of their capabilities, skills, and responsibilities. A good paralegal can do anything, starting from the intake process to answering the clients’ phone calls. A paralegal should also never stop learning about the organization their work for. Walking around the office, getting to know your colleagues, their responsibilities and needs will help you gain an understanding of how and when you can be useful. And, of course, learning new things to upgrade your skills is also key for being a successful paralegal.
On the things that a paralegal should never do, our speakers were also unanimous in their opinions. First of all, as a paralegal, you should avoid saying “I’m not going to do this.” You have to learn quickly, so that you would be able to assist even with the things you haven’t done yet.
Our speakers also emphasized that a paralegal should never exceed their responsibilities. This means you should never practice law or provide an independent legal judgment for a case if such competence is not set out by your license. Lawyers sometimes don’t have a clear understanding of what paralegals do, so you must know your area of responsibility really well.
Finally, paralegals should never provide bad customer service. You should always remember that you are the face of the whole team, and being impolite to the client may ruin the reputation of both the lawyer and the organization you work for.
3. What skills should you have to stay relevant as a paralegal?
Our speakers outlined several key skills and characteristics a paralegal needs to obtain to be successful:
- Tech-savviness. If you want to bring the highest value to a lawyer or a law firm you work for, you need to embrace technology even if you’re not used to it.
- Confidence. As a right hand of a lawyer, you need to be confident, and show your confidence to them. Thus, you will gain more trust and provide a lawyer with the kind of support they need.
- Communication. It is very important to learn how to communicate with people that are not like-minded. You should also keep in mind that people who seek legal advice are usually stressed and terrified because they know nothing about the law. So, you need to build your communication respectively, providing a client with a feeling that they can count on you in their time of need.
- Being able to provide solutions. Of course, it is critical to be self-organized, but it is also very important to be able to create processes if they are not in place yet. It means, that if something is not working well, the deadlines are being missed, the documents are mixed up, etc, — you as a paralegal need to not only be the person who spots these gaps, but who also provides an alternative solution that will solve the problem.
4. How to show your worth to your attorney
As our speakers suggested, you should be the go-to person to prove your value to a lawyer. And this means that you should be an everlasting learner who can provide answers to all questions coming your way, and be able to learn fast if you lack some skills. Here is how Eda Rosa put it:
Be the “know-it-all” person. If you don’t know something, go home and learn it in your own time. Always keep educating yourself. Learning doesn’t stop in the classroom. Knowing everything about every single thing will provide that value to the law firm.
To bring the maximum value to the lawyer, you as a paralegal should also know them very well. You should know the way they work, the way they communicate, and the way they prefer to get the work done. A lawyer shouldn’t have to give you a directive for each case: you should know what should be done in advance.
5. Tips for using technology as a paralegal
The first thing you as a paralegal need to figure out before adopting any technology is not what are the best tools for you to choose, but how you work the best. Technology is an enhancer, but not a solution itself. So, to make sure it will really help you, you need to analyze your workflow, your tasks, your responsibilities and think of how you can cut the time you spend on this or that task with help of technology.
There are so many solutions to choose from that it is very easy to get lost in the fluff. So, to not end up having dozens of add-ins and case management systems that are hardly ever used, you should carefully analyze each tool before buying it. And the best tip is to start from the basics. Look at your email software and make sure your emails are secure. Go through the Microsoft 365 tools or G-Suite and think if you are getting the most out of these basic solutions. Then, when you come up with a clear picture of what you lack for your workflow to be most efficient, search for the specific legal technology tools that will address your particular problems.
It is also very important to monitor the tech market and constantly learn about the tools that are out there. You don’t have to know the name of each tool, but it is really helpful to be aware of the existing software categories.
Finally, as Holly pointed out, remember that technology is not to replace us but to enhance us. Don’t be afraid of it — try to figure out how it can help you instead.
6. How to manage stress as a paralegal
Our great speakers shared two tips for coping with stress as a paralegal.
First of all, let yourself take breaks. Whenever you need to. Even if it’s in the middle of the conversation, feel free to take a couple of minutes to breathe and calm yourself down. It is also great to practice some mindfulness and meditation.
Secondly, learn what triggers you. Reflecting on what makes you feel bad is very helpful for your mental well-being. This means you have to ask yourself what are the reasons why you feel that way because of a certain situation. What are the subconscious drivers of your stress? Knowing your own triggers will help you cope with challenging situations more effectively.
These were the key insights from the event. But that’s not it!
Bonus: three unanswered questions from the audience
Because of the limited timing, some questions from the audience were left unanswered at the webinar’s Q&A session. So, our wonderful speakers have answered them in written form! Here they are:
- What type of insights and advice could you offer for paralegals working in-house?
Holly advised striving to understand your work style, know your talents, understand what work-life balance looks like to you, set money goals, and then find a role within a firm or law department that aligns with your strengths, weaknesses, and financial goals.
Eda added that you should learn as much as you can. Work well with outside counsels and others to help you reach beyond your potential.
- How can a paralegal be a great entrepreneur?
Holly shared a short list of golden rules to follow to emerge as the leader in every situation:
- Manage yourself – don’t make a promise you can’t keep – prioritize self-care, professional development, and your workload.
- Speak less – Listen more.
- Constantly and consistently seek ways to learn new things to help cultivate a growth mindset.
- Focus on developing others – not self-promotion.
Eda completed this list with another simple yet smart tip: make sure to learn a little bit of everything, i.e. marketing, taxes, and automation.
- How can I be a successful and efficient paralegal without overexerting myself? (i.e. dedicating 10+hours/day)
Holly’s response was the following: evaluate your work style, your day-to-tasks, and your limits. Use this self-aware knowledge to evaluate barriers, develop possible solutions, and then talk to your boss or teammates about helping you perform a job analysis and eliminate or delegate unnecessary work. If the latter part is not an option, consider finding a career or life coach who can help you make sense of your day and develop a workable action plan to optimize your efficiency.
Eda’s advice was to be proactive with your caseload. Look at your tasks as reminders to review your caseload rather than just getting the tasks done.
If you want to get the most out of the discussion and the Q&A session, check out the recording of the webinar below:
And tune in to our next webinar on October 28! There you will get tips for better self-care and work efficiency.