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Professionals are masters of their field – See my article published in The Canadian Lawyers Weekly Magazine

Professionals are masters of their field.

THE LAWYERS WEEKLY  

Professionals are masters of their field 

Create confidence in your skills, knowledge and performance

By Catherine D'Aversa

May 17 2013 issue

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A professional is an expert and a master in a specific field. So what is a legal professional? It’s someone who has specialized knowledge in a practice area, excellent literary skills, a quality work product, professional ethics, behaviour and work activities, and who displays morale and motivation during their work. Does this describe you? Become an expert, create confidence in your work and get the work you want, while learning the dos and don’ts of working as a legal professional.

To be viewed as an expert you need specialized knowledge in your practice area and in-depth understanding of a specific niche within that area. It may be in areas such as e-discovery, environmental regulations, nationwide licensing and registration of corporate entities, corporate due diligence, trial preparation, exhibit management, project management or title searches.

To become the “go to” law clerk/paralegal, you must demonstrate specialized knowledge and deliver work product of the highest quality. Your work product includes preparation of legal documents, legal writing and presentations. Lawyers and clients rely on your delivery, so ensure that it is accurate, timely and comprehensive and that it contemplates the legislation, legal procedures, policies and regulations of the practice area.

You are the master of your domain. It is a cliché, but true. As a legal professional, you create confidence in your skill, knowledge, work and performance with these strategies.

Get it right the first time

Ensure that the information and recommendations are complete and accurate. Before delivering the finished product, review the instructions, applicable statutes, regulations and checklists. Use comparison tools to confirm facts, figures, names and dates. Check spelling and grammar and correct any mistakes. When you reproduce lengthy information, ask a colleague to read it with you to ensure accuracy of the reproduction.

Be accountable

Always ask for the due date of the work to ensure that you are able to deliver by that time; negotiate a deadline prior to taking on the work. Part of being a professional paralegal is taking accountability for delivery, so when you receive new work, contemplate your current workload before negotiating the timeline. If the lawyer is not satisfied with that timeline, communicate the work conflict and offer to assign another paralegal. This will prove your accountability in your practice.

Confirm instructions

Paralegals receive instructions in person, by telephone, and in writing. Read the instructions, contemplate the scope of the work, the legislation, regulations, and processes to ensure that they are clear and complete. Review the material to determine whether you have the information necessary to complete the work. Send a memo or e-mail confirming instructions, request additional information if necessary, clarify processes, procedures and timing. These strategies will ensure that you and the lawyer are on the same page and create confidence in your work.

Be available and responsive

The paralegal who responds in a timely manner and makes themselves available for projects, phone calls and meetings creates confidence in their abilities and performance. Part of being a professional is making a commitment to the practice, the team, the law firm or corporation. This doesn’t mean being available 24/7, but making yourself available to see the project through to completion and taking responsibility for the work assigned. A paralegal who is committed will create confidence in others.

Be proactive and stand out

I was asked to attend a meeting wherein the client and lawyers were discussing the legal requirements required for national registration of a new division launching a new product. Before the meeting, I researched the client and the new product, which took about 15 minutes. At the meeting the next day, I was an active participant with the knowledge I had acquired. Both client and lawyers were impressed and I received the work retained. The client also requested me on future work, and the lawyers had new confidence in my ability to bring increased value to their practice.

Dress as a legal professional

Should a legal professional wear a business suit? Do you appear ready and able to meet the challenges of a legal professional? Does your appearance create confidence in others? Here are some dos and don’ts:

  • Do appear fresh and rested to take on challenging work.
  • Do wear clothes suitable for business meetings, court attendance, and as a representative of your employer.
  • Don’t wear gym clothing, running shoes, nightclub attire to work.
  • Don’t wear ripped or faded jeans, flip-flops or tank tops on casual days.

Written and verbal communication
Legal work is about precise communication, both written and verbal. A simple error or omission can change the interpretation and impact the rights of the client. In all communication, avoid using slang words, “text” language and abbreviations. Ensure your communication is organized, accurate and easily understood, and save your personal communication style for friends and family.

Defining your role

In spite of increased work responsibilities, paralegals need to define their role in the legal team and ensure they are viewed as adding value to the work. Seek out work, talk to the lawyers in your practice area about what they are working on and new work coming in. Communicate the value you can bring to that work. Demonstrate the skill and knowledge you can contribute. Share projects and tasks you have worked on previously and let them know what value you brought to that work. When working directly with clients, communicate to them the scope of your responsibility and knowledge.

Catherine D’Aversa is president of Legal Resource Consulting and works with law firms and law departments to increase revenue and profitability of law clerk/paralegal resources while reducing costs. She can be reached at 416-988-3989 or 905-764-3989 and catherinedaversa@gmail.com.

 

About Catherine D'Aversa

Catherine D’Aversa is President of Legal Resource Consulting and works with law firms and in house law departments to improve law clerk productivity and profitability using her extensive skills developed over more than 32 years in the legal industry. Catherine implements programs, policies and procedures to promote consistent practices to better meet client needs and implements systems to monitor productivity and profitability. She delivers various professional development workshops. Catherine is a contributing author of several legal books and a regular speaker and commentator at business seminars and conferences.