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12 ways to turn your job into a profession: from two career paralegals

Have you recently joined the legal industry as a legal support staff member? Or are you an experienced professional who’s ready to invest in your future, and in your career?

During the One Legal Live virtual event in March of this year, two long-time paralegals and experts in their field took the time to share their experiences with our own Lili Daniel. In those in-depth interviews, Shara Bajurin and Bobby Rimas discussed recommendations and suggestions for others who were looking to dig deeper in the legal industry.

What resulted was a comprehensive list of ways to turn a job into a profession. Here are a few of their top suggestions for legal professionals in every domain and at every level to excel.

1. Follow your interests

While studying at UCLA, Bobby pondered issues in current events, particularly the LA riots. “Before I began at UCLA, I always had a passion to do one of two things: go into teaching or go into law. Now I’m actually doing both.”

It doesn’t have to be the usual path or goal. Interest in legal matters didn’t mean law school, and interest in teaching didn’t directly translate to being a teacher full-time. By being open to new opportunities and following the ones that aligned with his passions, Bobby was able to engage with multiple interests. He is now a full-time paralegal for in-house counsel of a bank, as well as a part-time professor at UCLA.

2. Join an association

Both Shara and Bobby highly recommended looking up your local association. Our industry is full of groups and opportunities to connect with others who share your same title, work environment, challenges, and adventures. Joining an association gives you the chance to talk with people who understand what you’re going through, and who often have valuable wisdom and feedback to share.

Ready to level up? Serve on the board or in a leadership role at your association to add major cred and experience to your resume. Over the course of their careers, both Shara and Bobby have served on the boards of various associations as well as been president of their respective organizations.

3. Be intentional about where and who you work with

In a “job” it’s easy to justify working, even temporarily, for a business that does not appreciate you or for a boss whom you do not respect or like. Not all attorneys are good managers, and not all firms are looking out for all member of the firm equally.

As you progress in your profession, however, decide what you want your ideal work environment to look like, and be deliberate in seeking out a place where that can become a reality.

Time to start thinking about moving on? Here’s what you need to know to start preparing for your next legal job.

4. Always be learning

Whether it’s through online webinars or in-person training, it is critical to be constantly honing your skills. Beyond the mandatory continued legal education (CLE) hours, seek out opportunities to continue to increase and improve upon what you know about your profession. Look up tutorials on YouTube for quick primers, or reach out to the software companies themselves for assistance.

Attend legal seminars to both network and learn at the same time. Your local association likely has an event or two planned in the near future.

“You can work in a law office for years. I suppose, without the educational component, but it definitely makes the job a profession to dive in, volunteer, and do more.” Shara Bajurin

5. Be willing to try something different

Even when (or especially if) you don’t have the experience, consider taking a leap of faith when given the chance to do something different. Heading outside your comfort zone can introduce you to new areas of interest and potentially untapped skills.

Trying new things and staying open to opportunities is a major way that careers evolve and grow into livelihoods that don’t always fit neatly into a box. Consider what your career could become if you let it.

6. Volunteer and do pro bono work

If you’ve ever considered offering your services to those who are in need—or even if you haven’t—Bobby recommends starting with the information on the Los Angeles Paralegal Association (LAPA) site. There are a variety of ways to get experience while also giving back, even if you’re a working paralegal who can only offer a weeknight here and there.

“It’s a win-win situation for both parties,” explained Bobby. “It’s a win for them because you’re assisting that organization to achieve its goals and help the underprivileged. But also it’s a win for you because you gain that experience.” You can eventually put this on your resume, making you more marketable. “In a competitive market, everything can help.”

7. Seek out internships

New paralegals especially should look for internships that can help get them further ahead than other new paralegals. In many cases, an internship gives you a foot in the door of a more prestigious firm than you would otherwise be able to work with. Or it allows you to gain experience in the practice area of your choice, even if a job isn’t available at the time.

8. Consider legal specialties

Just as attorneys may decide to specialize in one practice area or niche, paralegals and support staff can focus their learnings and experience on certain areas, too. Various organizations and universities offer certificates for some specializations, and in certain job markets, these focused specialties can provide an advantage and a chance to earn more.

Consider the pros and cons of having a paralegal specialty as you look for ways to hone your expertise.

Not sure what your legal specialty should be? Our quiz reveals your ideal paralegal specialty based on your favorite tv shows>>

9. Ask for more responsibility

Ready to take on more? Ask for more. Walk around the office and inquire if other departments need assistance. Offer to take on more projects during busy seasons, or to be a resource for coworkers who need help in an area where you have expertise.

By proactively seeking more responsibility, you are showing your interest in the firm’s success, and that you are ready and willing to be a team player.

10. Network, network, network

“Network, network, network” was pretty much a direct quote from both Bobby and Shara’s interviews. Spending time with others in your industry and getting to know colleagues can be critical to your career and can be fun, too.

Read more: Networking for paralegals and legal support staff: how and why>>

Meeting with vendors is hugely important, too. Shara points out that whether it’s having a subpoena prep team ready to go or an eDiscovery firm on speed dial, you’ll want to know about your vendor options should the need arise.

11. Get certified

There is an ongoing discussion about whether or not paralegals should be certified—or what that even means. It is one of the most immediate and straightforward ways to turn your job into a profession, with a credential to back it up.

When asked by a listener how necessary a paralegal certification was, Shara encouraged those who were able to become a certified paralegal. While this is especially important for new paralegals who don’t have much legal experience to draw on, anyone can benefit from the quantifiable knowledge that comes with becoming certified. There are multiple exams and tests beyond the NALA certification, too, that will help with this strategy.

12. Stay current

Things are constantly evolving in the legal industry. If something is changing that you’re not comfortable with, your best approach is to get comfortable with it. This applies to learning about requirements for electronic court filing, staying on top of what local and state rules are changing, and being aware of upcoming legislation.

Staying current with what’s new and interesting in the legal world makes you more marketable when job searching and more dependable to your current firm.

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These are just a few of the ways legal support staff can turn a job into a profession. Every career is different, however, and different things will work better for some than others.

Did you miss out on hearing the interviews with Bobby and Shara? One Legal Live 2019 is already in the planning stages, so stay tuned for more great conversations like these.

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