Membership Benefits Create Value for Professional Paralegal Association Members
Victor F. Panieczko, The Legal Intelligencer
Twenty five years ago marked the beginning of my legal career, at a time when the world was a very different place. The year was 1990, Wilson Goode was the mayor of Philadelphia, the phrase "Google it!" didn't exist, Congress voted for the Americans with Disabilities Act, and President George H.W. Bush and Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev signed an historic agreement to end production of chemical weapons. I had no idea what a professional paralegal association was or why networking with other paralegal professionals was an important part of my occupation. As I built my career, I quickly found value in the opportunities and benefits that membership in a professional paralegal association provided.
One of the first steps toward furthering your paralegal career should be exploring the idea of joining a professional paralegal association. You might ask yourself, "How will becoming part of this group help further my paralegal career?" Joining a professional paralegal association may not be one of your top priorities. What paralegal has time for more meetings and activities after working all day with deadlines, charts, and other daily tasks? The answer is that you should make the time; an association is synergistic with your growth. As Thomas Jefferson once said, "Do you want to know who you are? Don't ask. Act! Action will delineate and define you." My membership in a professional paralegal association provides me with valuable networking benefits that include, but are not limited to, meeting and interacting with professional contacts, access to a wealth of useful practice information, continuing legal education through conferences and seminars, becoming an advocate of my career, and the opportunity to mentor others.
Associations sponsor countless events throughout the year that allow you to connect with your colleagues in the paralegal profession. Building such relationships is a fundamental way to establish and ensure that you are working diligently on your career path and consistently improving your skill sets. By attending various association events, you have the chance to socialize with other paralegal colleagues and paralegal students while extending your professional networking opportunities. It's not every day that you have a chance to meet the chancellor of the Philadelphia Bar Association, or federal, state, or local judges, or some of the prominent members in the legal community and hear them speak on legal issues. Your connections will extend beyond just your firm, but also with paralegals in different capacities such as in-house, government, and nonprofit paralegals. By becoming an involved and active committee member or even chair, you will become a highly valued member in your association. The connections you establish will be invaluable resources in your career. The more people you know, the more people know you, and the more you can learn from them. As Henry Ford said, "Coming together is a beginning. Keeping together is progress. Working together is success."
The paralegal profession is an ever-evolving practice that requires continued learning and expansion of skills. Every paralegal job has become more sophisticated as new technology continues to be introduced. Paralegals need to develop a culture of learning not only in learning the use of emerging technology, but the importance of improving the efficiency of their current legal technology skills. Associations offer several ways to broaden this knowledge. Opportunities include case studies, online courses, career guides, articles and books written by experts in your area of practice, educational conferences and seminars for association members to attend, and free subscriptions to industry magazines, print and online publications, and other informative resources.
Another important benefit to membership in a professional paralegal association is the career resources offered to members. Many associations offer job listings online that are only available to their members. When looking for job opportunities, your connections with fellow paralegals can offer insights and perspective on a firm's culture and leadership. They may also know of new vacancies being offered even before the job posting appears on social media or in other publications.
For recent paralegal program graduates, establishing relationships with alumni associations also will help you professionally and socially. This is especially true for job offerings from various organizations seeking entry level and experienced paralegals. Furthermore, such associations offer tips on resumes and the drafting of cover letters, strategies on job searching and techniques relating to negotiations.
Associations provide new paralegals with a chance to market themselves, gain career advice, meet potential mentors, make commitments, update knowledge, and take part in association activities. There are a variety of volunteering opportunities for new members of an association to get more involved. You don't want to miss out on the numerous membership benefits that a professional association offers. Ronald Reagan made a statement that "There are no great limits to growth because there are no limits of human intelligence, imagination and wonder."
Mentoring is the pillar of many professional associations when working with newer members. There is a noticeable difference in paralegals who had a mentor at the beginning of their career. Mentorship does not take much time. A short discussion over coffee or lunch, even a few emails will be suitable. Mentors who share their knowledge, experiences, and connections with newer members of the association will create a sense of appreciation, respect, and pride among colleagues. Giving back can be the greatest reward and benefit. Many mentees are looking to learn from experienced mentors. Mentees need to take an active role, be open, willing to work and be respectful of a mentor's busy schedule. Many mentoring relationships turn into lifelong friendships. My first mentor was my boss when I was working as a library clerk 25 years ago. My second mentor was an attorney that I had a privilege to work with and witness him grow professionally from a summer associate to a firm partner. I have built not just a professional relationship with my mentors but a personal one as well. As Steven Spielberg once said, "The delicate balance of mentoring someone is not creating them in your own image, but giving them the opportunity to create themselves."
In closing, regional, state and national paralegal associations provide information on training and certifications for paralegals such as the Pa.C.P. credential offered by the Keystone Alliance of Paralegal Associations [www.keystoneparalegals.org] or the CRP™ and RP® certifications offered by the National Federation of Paralegal Associations [www.paralegals.org]. Potential employers may favor candidates who have current membership status in an association or who validate their knowledge as a credentialed paralegal. •