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Getting to ‘go to’ status – As published in The Lawyers Weekly Magazine – August 16, 2013

Written by Catherine D'Aversa - Published in The Lawyers Weekly Magazine - August 16, 2013

Getting to "go to" status
Find what differentiates you and market those skills

With law firms and corporations under constant pressure to reduce costs, the legal field is becoming more competitive and the way legal services are delivered is changing. More work is being pushed down the food chain to paralegals, and many law firms are outsourcing work to independent paralegal or law clerk services.

By doing so, they curtail expenditure, reduce staff and the accompanying overheads, and still have the benefit of professional services when they are needed. This is a superb opportunity for paralegals and law clerks to develop their practices and become “go to” practitioners.

How do you become the “go to” paralegal? Do you have the qualities which make you a sought-after member of the legal team? Learn how to market your skills, develop a personal brand, network within and outside your organization and become known as the “expert” in your field.

To achieve this, you’ll be required to prove that you are a qualified legal professional with expert, specialized knowledge in particular areas of law. You need to display excellent literary and communications skills and a high standard of professional ethics and behaviour. Most importantly, you must deliver quality work, on time and within budget to become the practitioner of choice for your clients.

Here are some strategies for building your practice.

Present yourself as a legal professional

Striking out on your own as an independent law clerk or paralegal practitioner is challenging and exciting, but before you can really bid for client work you need to be able to display your areas of knowledge. Start by identifying your differentiators, so you have specific unique selling points that you can market to potential clients. These could include knowledge and experience in particular areas of law, skills or strengths that you possess, or an expertise you have developed along with a reputation for succeeding. Define yourself as a member of the legal teams you work with and dress and behave as a legal professional would.

Niches are powerful, so developing your expertise in an area you are interested in or passionate about will give you an edge over your competition. Do this by:
n Researching industry groups and associations that focus on your niche and becoming a member.

  • Joining committees and getting involved with community activities in your chosen field so that you increase your knowledge and exposure.
  • Building your credibility by delivering public addresses, writing papers and books on your chosen niche, responding to questions on community forums like LinkedIn groups and obtaining formal recommendations from leaders in the field.

Use these strategies to develop your practice

Marketing yourself and building your personal brand are vital for development of your paralegal or law clerk practice. It isn’t enough to be available; you need to interact with the legal team, clients and the community. For licensed paralegals:

  • Implement content marketing on your website by means of a blog and articles written around researched keywords that pertain to your field of expertise.
  • Create social media profiles on sites such as Twitter and LinkedIn where you can interact with potential clients and other legal professionals.
  • Attend networking events and introduce yourself to corporate representatives or lawyers you meet.
  • Print quality brochures advertising your services that you can hand out to those you meet.

For all paralegals and law clerks:

  • Educate lawyers about the services you can offer by arranging to deliver professional presentations to their team.
  • Get to know the type of work the law firms handle and identify how you can contribute to the various processes.
  • Set up meetings at which you highlight your expertise in their field, and identify the specific ways in which you can be of service to their team.
  • Show how you can help maximize their profit margins through increased productivity, efficiency and reduced costs.

Alternative fee arrangements (AFAs) are rapidly becoming standard in the legal profession. This is mainly in response to ongoing client demand for affordable legal fees, which has pushed law firms and legal service providers to commoditize legal services by finding ways to bill clients at non-hourly rates. Examples of AFAs include fixed fees for law clerk services, project fees for specific transactions or projects and annual maintenance packages for large corporate clients. Consider ways in which you can accommodate this shift in billing in your practice, to make your services more appealing to clients.

Manage your practice

Getting organized in your paralegal or law clerk practice has never been more important. Not only will it ensure your efficiency in delivering the work, it will also help keep your personal costs manageable:

  • Plan ahead on a daily, weekly and monthly basis, scheduling time for recurring activities and highlighting priorities and deadlines.
  • Break down your annual objectives by monthly, weekly and daily time and activity goals.
  • Reward yourself for reaching your goals.
  • Determine where you want to be in five years and put your plans on paper. Communicate these goals with your peers and colleagues to make them real.

Use the “one-touch” rule wherever possible in your work. Decide whether you can accomplish the task within a three-minute time slot. If you can, do it immediately. If not, schedule a time in which to do it or delegate it to someone else. Don’t revisit it, except to handle queries.

Conquer procrastination by handling one thing at a time, breaking it into bite-sized chunks and getting on with the job. Manage your communications by setting aside time each day to deal with this aspect of your business, and use technology to minimize disruption of your work. Don’t multi-task. It is a proven time-waster.

By following these fundamental principles you can develop your practice, develop into the “go to” legal professional and ensure that your services become essential to the lawyers and clients you work with.

Please share your strategies to getting to "go to" status.

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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.