As a paralegal, you are critical to the success of your law firm. You interview clients and witnesses, conduct important research, and prepare court documents. You chose this career for a reason, and you want to be good at your job, while constantly improving, because no one wants to be a “good enough” paralegal. Still, how do you find the time to improve or, harder still, know in which ways you need to improve?
Below we’ve listed six skills critical to succeed as a paralegal, along with some brief advice for each to help you improve, even incrementally.
Skill #1: Communication
There are two kinds of communication to improve upon to be a better paralegal: verbal and nonverbal. Verbal communication matters because your day is spent interacting with others. You’re interviewing witnesses, working with attorneys, even interacting with a judge. You must communicate clearly and you must listen well. You also need to know when it’s appropriate to ask questions, and how to frame those questions.
However, your body language is also important. This is your nonverbal communication. What does your body say? Are you confident? Authoritative? Defensive? Your body language can speak louder than words, so even if your mouth is saying one thing, your nonverbal communication might be saying something completely different.
For some commonsense advice on improving both verbal and nonverbal communication, see this infographic by Illumine.
Skill #2: Writing
All great paralegals need great writing skills. You simply won’t get far without being an effective writer. You spend your day drafting legal correspondence to any number of parties so your writing needs to be clear, concise and persuasive. From word choice to grammar and syntax, you need to be an expert. But how do you get better? Try this interview at LegalTalkNetwork.com. You’ll learn why writing is such an important skill for paralegals, and how you can improve.
Skill #3: Tech savvy
Like many people in the workforce these days, paralegals spend a lot of time on computers and online. Whether you’re drafting up legal correspondence or you’re researching a case, you need to be tech savvy because the faster you can pull documents or research effectively, the better you’ll be as a paralegal. Also, consider that many legal actions that used to be done without technology—such as finding a lawyer, contacting a judge, or requesting a transcript—are now done online. The legal field’s use of technology will only grow, and the types of software you’ll use will only increase. Understanding these new processes will be important to keeping your status of a great paralegal.
If you’re not sure you’re up to speed on paralegal technology, consider taking a class on the subject. Check Google for options.
Skill #4: Multi-tasking
As a paralegal, you’re called to perform multiple tasks each and every day all with different functions. That makes multi-tasking a crucial skill, and if it’s not multi-tasking, it might be that you must be able to organize tasks and prioritize them accordingly. You could be called to schedule an appointment, locate a transcript, interview a witness and conduct legal research all within the hour. Which takes precedence?
Some experts say multi-tasking is not really possible because our brains don’t work that way. So how do you multi-task without multi-tasking? An article at Entrepreneur.com suggests three tips: 1) work on related tasks together, 2) keep your to-do list visible, and 3) use downtime to review new information. See if those tips help you juggle!
Skill #5: Investigative skills
As a paralegal, chances are that you’re your lawyer’s or law firm’s private investigator. Are your investigative skills as good as they could be? Being able to think outside the box with an inquisitive mind makes for a great researcher. This ties back into the tech-savvy skill, as much of your research will be done online. To improve your investigative skills, seek out resources and learn from them. For example, ParalegalToday.com published an article titled, “Honing Your Investigative Paralegal Skills: Tips From a PI.” Find tips like these and make a commitment to yourself to improve.
Skill #6: Teamwork
By necessity, paralegals are team players. You take the back seat to the lawyer who generally gets all the credit, but without you, the lawyer wouldn’t be able to complete and win cases. Being a good team player means being reliable, staying flexible, pitching in when needed, and having a positive attitude. If you think you’re lacking in any of those areas, see if you can get better with a conscious effort.
You became a paralegal for a reason, and every workday you juggle more tasks and responsibilities than many other people in different jobs. Now take that to the next level by growing into an even better paralegal by working on improving these six critical skills.