According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor and Statistics, the demand for paralegals in the U.S. is high, and will only continue to increase, however, competition for employment is sometimes fierce. This means that the best opportunities may go to those with the most experience and the best education, unless your work related skills are beyond reproach. The most successful paralegals posses these important skills: superior interpersonal communications, highly developed writing, excellent research, and the ability to use the latest technology.
The good news for the inexperienced paralegal looking for a job? If you can demonstrate your superior skills to potential employers, you will have the edge on even the experienced competition; read on to find out what skills you need, how to get them, and what to do to show potential employers you have them.
Superior Interpersonal Communication
Paralegals often serve as a connection between attorneys, clients, and other parties involved in transactions or litigation. This makes the ability to communicate effectively with many audiences a very important skill for them to posses. There is almost never room for misunderstanding. Whether communicating with an attorney, a client, or a witness, a paralegal must be able to actively listen and understand the significance of the information that is given. A successful paralegal knows how to communicate professionally, both in face-to-face conversations and on the telephone, because his or her communication skills, or lack thereof, can make or break a case.
Depending on your current skill level, learning to communicate more effectively may mean simply paying closer attention to the words you choose, your body language, and your tone of voice, or it might require that you take a class or two. Whatever you need to do in order to develop superior interpersonal communication skills, consider doing it, as it will help advance your paralegal career. Some things you can do to improve your skills include:
If you have superior interpersonal communication skills, it will be obvious to potential employers with whom you have contact, but do not be afraid to list your skills on your resume. A sentence or two about the skills that make you perfect for the job can provide a potential employer with more information than a list of the classes you took in college or a stated objective.
Highly Developed Writing
Paralegals spend much of their day writing; drafting correspondence, briefs, legal memorandum, Wills, purchase agreements, resolutions, motions, contracts, and a variety of other legal documents. Mastering the art of writing clearly and precisely will help set you apart from peers and co-workers and advance your career. To be a successful writer, it is vital to learn the basics of writing, first. Errors in punctuation, spelling, or grammar give the reader the impression that the writer is incompetent. Therefore, using correct punctuation, spelling, and grammar is an all-important skill that successful paralegals must possess. Following a clear logic to your conclusion, as well as being able to persuade your audience with your words are also important.
Before writing a document, you should consider several things. First, who is your audience? Are you writing an internal office memoranda, a document for the court, or corresponding with a client? Next, what is your purpose? Is the writing formal or informal? Will it be persuasive or informative? After you have considered the purpose and audience, draft an outline, to help ensure that the writing follows a logical order. Then, begin writing. Be brief and to the point. If it is not required, omit legalese. Using overly technical legal terminology when corresponding with clients may be confusing. If you need help to improve your writing, take a free online writing class.
You can show off your writing skills to potential employers by putting together a portfolio of writings, and taking it to job interviews. Your portfolio should contain any legal articles, motions, briefs, and/or memorandum you have written, as well as any papers you wrote in school.
Mastering both Internet and traditional research is imperative, if you want to be a successful paralegal. Being able to locate case law, statutes, and other information quickly and accurately can give you a huge edge over your competition if you are looking for a job, or a promotion, and it makes you better at your job. To improve your legal research skills, you can:
As with communication skills, legal research skills should also be listed on your resume in a prominent place. You may also want to include memorandum that you have written, based on your research, in your portfolio, to help show off both your writing and your legal research skills.
Ability to Use the Latest Technology
Paralegals must be proficient in a variety of Microsoft Office applications, as well as various calendaring and file management programs. You should be able draft word documents, use spreadsheets, and prepare digital presentations. Those paralegals with advanced technology skills gain a valuable competitive advantage in the legal market. A number of courts require electronic filing of all litigation paperwork. Various courtrooms provide accommodation for electronic exhibits. Paralegals not familiar with these computer capabilities will eventually be left behind.
Advanced technological skills, such as the ability to troubleshoot computer hardware and software issues, can make a paralegal invaluable to his or her employer, or potential employer. Improving your information technology (“IT”) skills is easy and free with online classes from any of the following open courseware colleges:
If you are job hunting, be sure to include any IT skills you have on your resume. If you have experience with any of the file management and calendaring software used by attorneys, such as Clio, AbacusLaw, or Amicus Attorney, you may want to a list of the various programs that you know how to use efficiently. You can also include specialized software, such as Best Case for bankruptcy petitions or programs you have used for completing inheritance or gift tax returns.
Any advantage that a paralegal can gain in the job market can be the beginning of a remarkably successful career. Paralegals should always be on the lookout for new learning opportunities through continuing legal education (CLE) programs. There are a variety of seminars, teleconferences, and online courses available to paralegals. Continuing Legal Education for Paralegals is a great starting place to find inexpensive online college courses that are relevant to your career. Continuing education courses can help paralegals improve their skills, make themselves more valuable to their employers, and advance their careers.