Recently, I was a speaker at the Los Angeles Paralegal Association's 19th Annual Spring Conference. The theme was the Paralegal Career - What's happening today; alternative careers and the ever-talked about licensing, registration and regulation. What can I say? It was informative, lively and eye-opening.
I was invited to be on the alternative careers panel. Oh, boy. Having taken one of the most unorthodox career paths in paralegal history, this is a topic I knew. There were going to be 3 people on the panel. A litigation paralegal doing something else interesting, a legal administrator who was never a paralegal and me. That meant 20 minutes each for the hour.
OK! I can do this! I did my research. I got in touch with my network. I interviewed a number of former paralegals all over the world and now had different titles and responsibilities. I poured a lot of hours into condensing a wide topic into 20 minutes. I got those new fangled PowerPoints so I looked on top of things. I went out and bought a brand new outfit at Neiman Marcus. (Spring-like, Tahari, make-you-look-thinner-type of thing.) Ok, it was Neiman Marcus, the outlet and I got it on sale. I even found out salaries (hard to get info). I load up my flash drive and I'm ready to go.
I arrived to find there were 5 people on the panel - 2 extra who were invited by mistake which meant if it ran precisely on time, not one second over and no questions, there would be exactly 12 minutes each. Oh, dear. I had a lot to say. Which 8 minutes would I cut? Obviously, some of the folks on the panel weren't too happy to see me either. When we sat down, someone next to me told me that I wasn't supposed to have PowerPoints. This was after all, she said, a panel discussion. She was practically hissing. I didn't know who she was but she certainly seemed annoyed with me. Great. I squirmed in my chair. If I squirmed any harder, my new Neiman Marcus Tahari all linen beige pants might split right down the middle. Then, of course, I wouldn't be able to get up. It's always something. All I could say was, "Oh."
I frantically searched my memory. It was totally blank. Totally. I had no notes and wasn't sure if I could do the presentation minus 8 random minutes without the prompting of the PowerPoints. I mean, I'm an experienced national seminar speaker and all but hey, I'm up there in front of 200 people being told the show has suddenly changed in the last minute and a half and some one who thinks I've taken her spot is chastising me under her breath. I think I'm in trouble. My palms started to sweat. Not a pretty picture.
Just then, as I am sitting there wiping mud off my face, Bobby Rimus, the most wonderful association president in the world, comes over to me and tells me I'm scheduled to go last and we would put on my PowerPoints and we'll go over the hour. Don't worry about a thing. Somehow, I am no longer warm, wonderful and charming. At least for just a second. I set a Cheshire grin on my face and turn to my colleague. I don't say a word. I just grin. But truthfully, I was really glad I had given myself an extra dose of Secret that morning.
The other four panelists turned out having interesting things to say. The Legal Administrator, Luci Hamilton, had originally immigrated from Brazil to the US without knowing one word of English, spoke six languages and ended up leading one of the most prestigious boutique employment firms in Los Angeles. She stressed how paralegals were generally lacking financial skills. If they had that knowledge, combined with management skills, ability to size up situations, work with difficult personalities, and team skills, they were solid candidates for good career paths in HR and administration.
Kai Ellis, a senior litigation paralegal talked about her foray into paralegal teaching. Here was an opportunity to exercise the benefits of your experience, gain the satisfaction of knowing you have assisted someone in their career and just feel great. Teaching also has upward career movement - besides writing opportunities, you can become head of a paralegal program or more.
There were two paralegals from a well-known major corporation, Disney. They talked about working for The Mouse. In-house legal departments have always caught the interest of paralegals from law firms. The myth is that the job is easier than one in a law firm. The reality is the job is not necessarily easier but the level of stress and politics is different. There are few, if any, billable hours, so the pressure on attorneys to make partner based upon how many clients they bring to the firm is non-existent resulting in less pressure on non-attorneys.
One of the in-house paralegals, Tamara Loveland, was in a hot, hot arena: technology. She rose from paralegal to head of the Litigation Support Department. This is a well-paying arena ripe for paralegals for a couple of reasons: professional technologists who also have a legal background are frankly, very hard to find. While paralegals have user friendly backgrounds, heavier technology skills are not that easy to find. Throw in management skills and the position becomes one that pays very well. I mean, very well.
The other paralegal, Yvonne Kubicek, spoke about the paralegal manager position. This is an interesting position as the job has changed over the years. Paralegal managers now have additional responsibilities than in earlier years. They may be in charge of other departments, They may have financial control over sophisticated budgets. They have more personnel responsibilities and certainly have more control over the workflow process and project management. It was interesting to hear her take on what it took to get into paralegal management. It is no longer the paralegal who does the best work who wins. It is now the paralegal who can demonstrate the best HR skills and understanding of the big picture - not an opportunity every paralegal is offered. This is one position a paralegal will probably have to seek training on their own.
It was timely that I was on the alternative career panel as I am adding an additional career avenue to my own career path: that of a job search strategist. With over 20 years in paralegal management, staffing, executive management, CEO and author of 10 books on legal careers, I realized this was something that I knew a lot about.
So, I have launched a new website, LegalJobSearchRx.com. I am consulting with just a few select clients on job hunting strategies. Using the latest techniques to match the new norm job market, I have been coaching clients on the new way to write resumes, cover letters, answer tough interview questions, beat age discrimination, negotiate for the highest salaries, write a compelling LinkedIn profile, create a network that works and get your dream job.
So far, I have a 95% success rate. One person hadn't had a job in a year. Within one month, she had a job in a Fortune 1000 corporation. Another hadn't had an interview in months. With the new cover letter, she had 4 interviews lined up for the following week. I can't tell you how excited I am. Alternative careers can give you a boost even when you don't think you need one.
Oh, as for the paralegal on the panel who had the hissyfit, she didn't exactly apologize (which upon reflection, she probably didn't owe me). However, she did ask for a copy of the PowerPoints. I mean, what more can you ask for? My new BFF.
I have a free eBook I've prepared on alternative careers for paralegals. I'd be happy to send it to you. For a free copy, drop me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org. You just never know. A little spice here, a little spice there. It's good for the soul, believe me.
Chere Estrin is CEO of the Paralegal Knowledge Institute, a national online continuing legal education organization and President and Co-Founding member of the Organization of Legal Professionals (OLP), providing legal technology training for lawyers, litsupport professionals and paralegals. She has written 10 books in the legal field and has been interviewed by the Los Angeles Times, Chicago Tribune and other publications. She has written the blog, The Estrin Report since 2005. Chere is a Los Angeles Paralegal Association Lifetime Achievement Award Recipient. She can be reached at email@example.com
This article was reprinted with the permission from Chere Estrin. http://www.estrinlegaled.typepad.com