Networking for paralegals and legal support staff: How and why

We may think of ‘networking’ as a very modern concept, but according to a Harvard Business Review article, networking has existed for the past 2000 years and is essential to our survival. But for many people, including legal professionals, networking doesn’t come easy and trying to connect with others in the industry can push them outside of their comfort zone. Regardless, networking for paralegals allows you to build a system of skilled professionals, people you can call upon with questions and be a resource to in turn as each of you need.

How added connections help paralegals and their firms

With a well-developed professional legal network, you have a group of knowledgeable individuals whom you can call on if you have a question, need a reference, or require specialized help to solve a problem. It’s a better way to get answers more quickly and more reliably.

Plus, your networking efforts also benefit the firm in which you work. When paralegals and legal support staff members network professionally, they help to:

  • Enhance the reputation of their firm as a compelling representative on their behalf.
  • Attract top-notch talent by being one of the first to know and first to connect when an experienced legal expert is open to new opportunities
  • Increase their firm’s profitability by connecting to potential clients and being aware of possible improvements.

The legal industry is extremely competitive, and every member of the firm should be building a network to achieve the highest level of success possible.

Finding opportunities for networking

There is no right or wrong way to network for legal professionals, and there are a number of options available from professional associations to educational pursuits.

PROFESSIONAL ASSOCIATIONS

Legal professionals can join dozens of national and local professional organizations. These groups host networking events, CLE seminars, conventions, workshops, and other events, providing an excellent tool to build and solidify your professional network.

There are also local groups in most states and counties. For example, in the area around our Bay Area headquarters, there are several professional associations for paralegals and legal support staff including

EDUCATIONAL OPPORTUNITIES

Annual mandatory continuing education doesn’t have to be a drag. The classes can be a chance to brush up on new skills and stay current on what’s happening in the industry.

A few weeks ago, we shared some of the best free and low-cost CLE opportunities. Schedule a few throughout the year in the same areas to better build relationships with people in those areas and groups.

Meetup, the community building website with millions of groups and thousands of interests, even has a Paralegal Networking section with dozens of groups meeting up around the country to work together on legal support and hone their tricks of the trade.

Whether you’re still in school or just returning for the required CLE, take the extra step to get to know the other attendees: it’s a win-win.

VIRTUAL CONNECTIONS

While nothing beats face-to-face contact, electronic networking at social sites like LinkedIn is also a popular and effective way for paralegals and legal support staff to build their network. If you haven’t already, setting up a LinkedIn profile is free, quick, and easy, and once created, users can form extended professional networks by inviting contacts to connect with them. Learn more about additional ways that legal professionals should be using LinkedIn.

LinkedIn users can also join online groups that are specifically geared toward paralegals and legal support staff. The Paralegal Group, for example, has more than 18,000 members, including paralegals, legal assistants, and those interested in the legal industry who, “share information on substantive issues, trends, success stories, and wish to network with others in the field worldwide.” All this can be done at your leisure, without having to attend any in-person social event.

Staying in touch

Making a connection is the first step of a hopefully long professional relationship. After that, you also have to spend time maintaining your network ties to avoid cutting off potential opportunities.

Prioritize who you want to keep in touch with, and why. These key people could include potential employers, influential colleagues, friends who are great networkers, and maybe just those whose company you enjoy. Audit your professional contact list occasionally, taking stock of who is no longer relevant, who you might add.

Use email, phone calls, coffee dates, social gatherings, and handwritten notes to nurture these relationships and stay in their orbit. Send along articles you think each would be interested in, and check in to follow up on things happening in their lives. Look for ways to help your contacts with the professional and personal challenges they face.

The person sitting next to you at an educational event may work at the firm where you have wanted to interview. A paralegal at a legal association’s event tells you about a new job opening up at her firm that isn’t even advertised yet. Someone you met via a networking site works at a firm you’re interested in and sheds some light for you over a quick cup of coffee.

You never know what opportunities may come up when you’re regularly talking to and spending time with fellow legal support professionals.

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Do you have any networking tips you’d like to share? Tell us about it in the comments!

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