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Getting to ‘go to’ status – As published in The Lawyers Weekly Magazine

Written by Catherine D'Aversa - Published in The Lawyers Weekly Magazine

Paraprofessionals:  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 paraprofessionals.  This creates an opportunity for paraprofessionals to develop their practices and become “go to” practitioners.

How do you become the “go to” paraprofessional? 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

Before you can market yourself as the "go to" paraprofessional, you need to establish your areas of expertise. 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, technology 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 present yourslef as a legal professional through appearance and communication.

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:

  • 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 in your chosen area, responding to questions on community forums like LinkedIn and obtaining formal recommendations from leaders in the field.

Build your Brand

Marketing yourself and building your personal brand are vital for development of your paraprofessional practice. It isn’t enough to be available; you need to interact with the legal team, clients and the community.

For Ontario 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 paraprofessionals:

  • Educate lawyers about the services you can offer by arranging to deliver professional presentations to the legal team.
  • Get to know the type of work your law firm delivers 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 the legal team.
  • Show how you can help maximize profit margins through increased productivity, technology, efficiency and reduced costs.

Alternative fee arrangements and valued-based billing 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.  Consider ways in which you can contribute to the success in this shift in billing in your practice, to make your services more appealing to clients.

Manage your practice

Getting organized in your paraprofessional practice has never been more important. Not only will it ensure efficiency in delivering the work, it will also help keep legal 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 focusing on 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, establish credibility as 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

As President of Legal Resource Consulting Inc. (“LRC”) Catherine D’Aversa is engaged by law firms, government legal departments and corporate in-house law departments to improve paraprofessional skills and services using extensive skills developed over more than 32 years in the legal industry. LRC analyses and assesses paraprofessional services within its clients’ organization and provides recommendations on structure, technology, systems, processes and management to improve services standards, productivity and profitability. LRC acts as Project Manager to implement recommendations to enhance paraprofessional skills and services to better meet lawyer and client needs while increasing revenue. LRC delivers professional development workshops on topics such as Docketing Strategies, Practice Management, Practice Development, Project Management, Strategies for Productivity & Profitability, Working as a Legal Professional and Legal Writing and Reporting. Catherine is a contributing author of several legal books and a regular speaker and commentator at business seminars and conferences.