Career Development: How to Achieve Your Professional Goals

Expanding on our Professional Development webinar which painted a picture of the paralegal profession including career paths, legal specialties and academic programs, our “Career Development” webinar delves into the nuts and bolts of how to achieve your professional goals. Now that you have outlined your ideal career trajectory, let’s discuss what steps you can take to successfully get there.

Transcript

Amanda Walter: Hi, everyone. My name is Amanda. I’ll be your moderator today. I wanted to start by thanking you all for joining us for today’s webinar about career development and how to achieve your professional goals.

Before we begin, I’d like to point out some of the key logistics for today’s webinar. The total length of the webinar will be about 45 minutes to one hour. Also everyone is set in to listen-only mode to minimize background noise. We will have an interactive Q&A session at the end of the webinar. However, please feel free to ask questions at any time by typing them into the chat window on the right side of your window. Direct your questions to me, the host.

At the end of the presentation, I will read some of your questions out aloud for our panelists to respond to. We’ll certainly do our best to answer as many questions as possible during the Q&A session. However, if we’re unable to get to everyone, we will have an enrolment advisor follow up with you afterwards.

Finally, today’s webinar is being recorded and it will be posted on the online program website within the next few weeks.

Our presenters today are Melissa Feuer and Tracey Young. Melissa’s the Director of Career Services for the College of Professional Studies at George Washington University and she assists students and alumni with short and long term career strategies. Prior to assuming her current position, Melissa worked with mid-career attorneys as a senior career advisor at a private outplacement firm in the DC area. At that position she specialized in resume and cover letter critique and interview preparation.

Previously she practiced law at a large law firm as a senior in-house council for a public company. Melissa has also been teaching in the GW Paralegal Studies Program since the fall of 2007 and currently leads the thesis course in the online program.

Tracey Young is a Litigation Paralegal in Clifton Park, New York, practicing in the areas of plaintiff personal injury and criminal defense. She’s more than 25 years of experience and has worked in a variety of areas of law, including family law, real estate, collections, estate, personal injury and miscellaneous civil litigation.

Tracey’s been a member of several high profile paralegal associations since 1995 and has also served many of these associations in a leadership capacity. She has served the NFPA since 2006 and is currently the Federation’s president. In this position, Tracey provides mentorship to the paralegal profession and is responsible for making daily ongoing and long-term decisions regarding the NFPA’s overall effect on the profession. Tracey has also spoken about the future of the paralegal profession at many industry conferences.

As for to today’s agenda, we’re going to be covering a number of different topics, but primarily focusing on your career progression, outlining your career goals and how you go about achieving those. We’re going to take a look at the job market as it looks today, how to navigate that and how to prepare for interviews, maintain a strong resume and also look at the benefits of networking and association membership.

Again as I mentioned, at the very end of the webinar today, we’ll have a Q&A session, which is interactive. For that, ask any questions at any time in the chat window on the right side of your screen and direct those to me, the host. I’ll ask those at the very end of the session to our panelists so they can respond to you personally. If we don’t get to your questions, again, we’ll have someone follow up with you afterward.

I’m going to hand things over now to Melissa and Tracey.

Melissa Feuer: Hi, everybody. This is Melissa Feuer and I’m the Director of Career Services here at the College of Professional Studies at GW and our college includes the Paralegal Studies Program. And I’ll say that of all the different programs I support, I’ve probably seen more students from the Paralegal Studies Program than any others, which is exciting for me because I’m an attorney and I teach in the program and I love talking with paralegal students and alumni.

I based this presentation on the kind of things that I typically hear when students and alumni come into my office and ask for an appointment and we’ll kind of start at the beginning. What I hear most often when I ask people what are they interested in doing, what do they think they want to be specifically and what kind of jobs do they think they’re interested in.

Most of the time I hear, I’m open to anything. It all sounds great. I’m good to go with anything. And while that is a great, flexible mindset, it’s really tough to start a job search process when you say you’re open to absolutely anything in the paralegal field. The field is huge. So the first thing that I talk about with students and alumni and, really, this is true of any job search but we’re obviously tailoring it the paralegal field here, is that there are three kind of prongs or components of a job hope or what you’re looking for.

There’s three different pieces to what you should be looking for and you don’t necessarily need to know all three of the pieces, but you kind of need to at least figure out one of them even just temporarily and that will start the process for you, so starting to focus a little bit. And those three areas are the type of substantive work you want to do. What kind of law do you want to be involved in? And we’ll talk about these in more detail in a little bit.

The second area is the environment. Where do you want to be doing this work? And the third area is lifestyle. What specific requirements do you have that you need to make sure a job meets? So why don’t we go forward to the next slide and start talking about the first of the three areas in a little bit of detail?

We’ll start with the working environment. I used to – I think Amanda mentioned, I used to council attorneys, who’d actually been laid off from large law firms and I provided them with outplacement services, helping them figure out what the next step would be. And sometimes they would say to me, I don’t want to be a lawyer any more. I don’t want to practice law and, given their circumstances, I can understand that statement.

We would sit down and I would say them, what don’t you like about being a lawyer. And most of what they would talk about would have to do with the particular firm or environment they were practicing law in, not the actual job, to which I would say, well it may not be that you don’t want to be a lawyer, maybe that just don’t want to be a lawyer in this particular place.

There are lots of places to be paralegals. Everywhere there’s a place to be a lawyer, there’s a place to be a paralegal and some of those places include law firms. There are such a variety of law firms. The sizes are so different out there. You can have a global firm. You can have a one-person firm. They’re very different. And Government agencies, obviously a different kind of a practice than a law firm. Non-profit organizations, they tend to have a mission. Maybe there is something that really speaks to you and you want to be part of the organization that promotes that mission.

There’s corporations where you’re part of legal in-house team. It’s a very different environment than a law firm. I’ve been in both and they’re very different. Then there’s all kinds of other organizations out there. So one of the things you’ll think about is where do I want to be a paralegal?

Then let’s move on to the next factor, which will be the substantive work. What do I want to do? What kind of law do I want to be involved in? Paralegals work in all of them. So some of the things you might want to think about are well, what’s an area that’s thriving because you want to be some place that’s probably not going to be scaled back and that’s growing. So for now anyway, what we’re hearing is litigation is thriving and transactional work, making deals is starting to come back.

So that may influence what you want to do or you may just say I’m really, really interested in family law. Maybe something in your background makes you feel that way. Maybe you just think it sounds neat and you’d like to learn more about it. That’s a place to start. Our program gives you an overview of a number of different substantive areas and can help you start to figure out what you might be interested in doing.

We can move on to the third factor, which is lifestyle. This is more important for some people than it is for others. I’ve certainly met with students and alums who say, I don’t really care. I can work late, I can work weekends, I can travel, I just really want to get in and get my hands dirty and do as much as possible. And I’ve had mums and dads say, I need to be home at a certain time, I need regularity of a schedule, I need to not be dealing with emergencies at 5 o’clock on a Friday.

Those are all legitimate concerns, as are the ones that are listed here and they may very much affect where or what you do and those are all things to be thinking about. So you kind of need to know one of them.

You kind of need to know one of those three or it’s hard to get started and you can change your mind about them. That’s fine, but start some place. Figure out which of the three is most important to you and begin there and so when I say begin, what I’m referring to is doing some research to figure out if the decision you’ve made on one of those three factors is a good one for you and or finding out more about the two factors or at least one of the factors that you don’t know that much about already.

So let’s say you know you absolutely want to work for the government. So then you don’t necessarily need to talk to people who are working in the government right now. It’s maybe you had experience, you know you want to work there. Well start talking with people about different kinds of work that you could do in the government.

and when I say talking to people + most people ask me when they come to talk to me about job search, they’ll tell me that they’ve been looking and haven’t found anything or they’re just starting to look and when I ask them what looking means, almost always it means sitting at the computer, looking at job postings.

It’s not a great way to find a job. Lots of people are doing that all at the same time and the only the only thing that the people, who are hiring see of you is a resume and a cover letter and we’ll talk about those in a little bit but that’s it, but that’s it. There’s no relationship there. There’s no personal connection there and those personal connections and relationships tend to yield the most jobs.

So how do you kind of tap into those folks? Rather than just sitting and applying for jobs online, we in the industry, call them informational interviews, going out and talking with people, who are doing kind of work that you want to do. If you become part of our program or, if you’re considering it, you can say to somebody, I’m thinking about the Paralegals Studies Program and I’m thinking this is what may want to do with it. I’d love to hear your thoughts.

If you’re actually a student in the program, you can start to approach people and there are ways to do this that we work with you on and can talk about a little bit here. You can start to approach people saying, I’m a student in the Paralegal Studies Program at GW and I just took a class on litigation and I know that you’re a litigation paralegal and I’d love to talk to you about the kind of work that you do or I’d love to talk to you about doing litigation work in a larger law firm.

Talking with people, who are doing the kind of work you want to do or, or maybe and, doing it in an environment you think might be interesting to you is the best way to start going out and making those kinds of contacts and connections that you’re going to need as you looking for positions.

So why don’t you go ahead on to the next slide and we can talk a little bit about informational interviews. Amanda, can you forward this slide for me?

So an Informational Interview is what it sounds like. You’re talking to somebody else about the work that they do, not necessarily about you. So obviously, in the regular interview, you’re mostly talking about you although you’re partly learning about a job. But in an informational interview, you’re talking to someone about their work and what you’re doing when you do that is you’re establishing a connection with somebody who’s in the world you want to be in or at least you think you want to be in.

You may find out by talking to that person that it is not the area you want to be in and that’s fine too. And you’re also making an impression on that person. If you go into a conversation with someone and you ask them educated, pointed questions that really show that you’ve looked at their field, you’ve thought about it and here are the questions you have you make a great impression on that person.

Well when that person gets an email from somebody which says, does anybody know of anybody good? I’ve got an entry level intellectual paralegal property position at my firm and I’m looking to fill it, your name comes up to someone’s mind. So you have a goal of learning about things and you also have a goal of establishing some connections.

So there are two issues with informational interviews. One is who you talk to and then the second is what do you say and we’ve talked a little bit about the what do say part, but the who do you talk to part, there are lots of different ways to find people to talk to. One great way is doing a program like the GW Master’s in Paralegal Studies Program because when you become part of the program, you’re part of a large group of people who care an awful lot about each other, certainly as professionals and sometimes personally too.

So for example, you could make an appointment with me, as the Careers Services Director, and say I’d really like to talk to somebody who has some connection in Family Law and I can go to our population and find somebody who works in that area and make an introduction. And I can even teach you how to do that on your own so you don’t even need to rely on me to do it.

You can go to events in your own state or, if you’re in the Washington DC area, we have some events going on here for paralegal studies. Most of the events that we do here we’re able to record and put online for our distance students. You can participate in those kinds of things and you can approach people who are speaking at those events by email or, if you’re here in person, then say that was a really great presentation. I really, especially liked when you talked W, Y, Z and I’d love to have your 15 minutes of your time to talk to you further about it.

The program makes those opportunities possible. Also your facilitators, the people who are assisting the instructors in the courses and the instructors, are resources for you. One of our facilitators are paralegals. That could be somebody that you could reach out to outside of the class area or arena and say I’d love to talk to you about the work that you’re doing. It sounds fascinating. And LinkedIn is a great tool. With or without the program, it’s a fabulous tool.

It’s the magic answer for career services people to the question of who do I talk to because you’d be surprised how many people you could be connected to through LinkedIn that have the background you’re interested in finding out more about. You may not realize it, but LinkedIn will show you that you probably know people, who know people who are doing what you are interested in doing. And if you go to learn.linkedin.com, if you’re not already on LinkedIn or you’re not actively using it because just being on there is really, it’s good, but it’s not really enough.

If you go to learn.linkedin.com, you’ll find out a lot of information about using LinkedIn to connect with people. And then the people you connect to can be connectors for you to people they know, who are doing work that you think is interesting. Okay, why don’t we go ahead?

We talked a little bit about this, about what do I say when I found someone, is really important. I have a lot of students, who haven’t really thought through or haven’t really researched what they may want to do and think it would be okay to just go in and say to someone, tell me about what you do.

and very few people are going to be responsive to that question because when I’m asked for informational interview, I assume the person knows something about me, that they looked me up on LinkedIn and have some idea of what I do and took a really good look at my LinkedIn profile, not just a quick one. And I would expect that they’ve done a little bit of research into the field.

People interview me a lot about teaching. Lots of people want to teach in the Paralegals Studies Program or something similar. The folks, who come in and talk with me, have taken a look at our program first. They know what it’s like. They have some idea of the requirements so they’re able to talk to me about it. So I see you have a class on litigation. I’d love to hear more about that or which of these classes were you involved in and then I’d know the person was serious.

They really cared about this. They didn’t just come in and want me to just do a complete data dump, which I probably don’t have the time or, really, the inclination to do. I want somebody to come in who’s excited and knowledgeable, but obviously not an expert in this area or they wouldn’t need to talk me.

So you can ask questions like how that person got his or her job because you want to hear about the career path and you’re in a great position to do that if you’re a student because the person doesn’t see you as a threat, they just see you as coming up behind them. That works out great.

What the person likes and doesn’t like in an informational interview, they’ll be honest with you. In a real one, maybe not, because now they’re trying to hire you, but in an informational interview, somebody will be honest with you about what’s good or bad about this particular job or field. And also what skills that person recommends you highlight when you’re thinking about getting a job there. That person probably knows what they are looking for, even if she’s not the hiring person.

I was asked that as a paralegal studies teacher and I would say, well you need to highlight your editing and writing abilities, you need to highlight your presentation abilities, your one-on-one interactions. I know what people are looking for, for our program and I can tell somebody that. So it’s a great opportunity to get all that information.

You may have a conversation with someone in family law, let’s say, and then say I don’t think that sounds like a good match for me. That’s a great informational interview. You’re now able to cross something off the list and continue to focus.

And I would say don’t send a resume with an informational interview request. When somebody asks me for an informational interview, they don’t send me a resume and, if I’ve asked somebody else, I don’t send them one because this is supposed to be about them, not about me.

Now often the person, who you’re going to speak with will say to you, why don’t you send me your resume so I have some idea of your background first and that’s fine. Go ahead and do it and, if it’s in person, I’d bring one in case they ask for it. They may even be willing to give you some feedback on it, but I wouldn’t send it with a request for an informational interview because then it looks like really what you’re doing is a request for them to think about you for a job and that’s putting someone on the spot and that tends not to be particularly productive.

So that’s my pitch for informational interviewing and making connections with people and I make the pitch every day to students and alums, who are sometimes excited about it and sometimes wishing they could just get a job off a job posting, which can happen, so you should do that too, but it tends to be frustrating if you’re only doing that, but you’re going to do that so your resume and your cover letter, particularly if you’re talking about a posted position, are obviously very important.

I’m not getting into great detail here because everybody’s situation is a little bit different, but let’s start with the resume. As you probably know, a resume should be tailored to a job. You may have one that you think of as your go-to resume, if you’re talking with somebody and they say, do you have a resume? Oh, sure, here’s one.

There may be one that serves that purpose, but for the most part, you’re tailoring a resume to a job. And your resume, in its bullet points – and I suggest using bullet points instead of paragraphs to describe your work – the bullet points should address the kinds of things that the employer wants to know about.

Your resume is a marketing tool. So you want to make sure that you’re marketing yourself. And one of the things I spend a lot of time on, is working with students and alums to craft resumes that make sense for particular types of positions.

The same thing goes for a cover letter. You have two missions in a cover letter. One is to let the employer know that you really want them and here’s why. and that takes some effort and some research. You have to know about the employer before you can tell them that. And then the other piece is you want to tell them how you fit with the position that they’ve posted or that they have discussed.

Almost nobody does the first one. Most people know something about the second one, but the first is critical. If it looks to an employer like this cover letter went to 50 other places and isn’t specifically tailored to them and showing them that you want them and you know something about them, they’re going to be less than impressed. So a cover letter, I’m not sure that a generic cover letter will completely kill the deal for you, but it certainly won’t help you. Whereas a tailored, specific and enthusiastic, although not crazily enthusiastic cover letter, that can help you a lot.

Tracey Young: Hi there. I just wanted to jump in for a minute. When you’re talking about resumes and cover letters, I know that many paralegals, this is a sort of a second career and I wanted to remind people that many of your previous careers are going to provide you with skills and abilities and attributes that are going to be applicable to your professional paralegal job. And in your resume and in your cover letter, be sure to point out that, in whatever your previous job was, you learned how to do X, Y, Z and that applies to the paralegal profession how.

I think sometimes people have trouble translating what they learned in their previous job to the paralegal profession and there’s lots of things that you’ve learnt in the previous jobs that are applicable.

Melissa Feuer: That’s absolutely right and I do spend a lot of time working with people on that because most our students, you’re right, most of them, this is a second career.

That’s great. Thank you so much. A lot of people are a little rusty on interviewing. Sometimes people have been the interviewer recently, but maybe haven’t been interviewed and you want to practice interviewing. Nobody ever wants to do it, but it’s a good thing to do.

We have an online practice tool that we make available to students and alums and it’s wonderful. We actually make everyone do it because I don’t know if anybody would ever volunteer on their own to do it, but it’s very, very useful.

A LinkedIn profile is very important because you’re going to be using the LinkedIn tool to start to connect with people and find people and you want them to be able to look at your profile and get some idea of what you’re like. And you’re welcome to connect to me after this presentation is over. So if you don’t have my name posted somewhere, I can send it on, but I think you should have the spelling of name and, if you look me up on LinkedIn, I should be the first one that appears. So you’re welcome to connect me.

References are important. Sometimes they can be concerning. Sometimes you don’t want to give somebody as a reference that you think you probably should and that’s something that you have to talk about with someone on a one-on-one basis and, I certainly do that in my role.

And then finally, research. The more educated you are about whatever it is you’re looking to do, the better your tools will be, the better a candidate you’ll be and the more likely you’ll be to succeed. What employers don’t want is somebody who’s just looking for a job and hasn’t really done the research to find out if this is a good fit.

Tracey Young: I was asked to talk about professional organizations and the benefits of being a member of a professional association in your job search. I believe that paralegals can benefit from both the tangible and intangible benefits that you’ll get through membership in local and national professional associations. Among the most important of those benefits are continuing legal education and networking.

Paralegals who take their profession seriously will want to invest in their future by taking advantage of those benefits. Paralegals who continue to gain knowledge in law and technology and develop relationships with other paralegals locally and nationally will make themselves better paralegals and, as a result, more valuable employees. You’ll find that membership in a professional paralegal association is an investment in your career and in your future.

Membership demonstrates that you are serious about your profession and have a desire to succeed. I have been a member of my local paralegal association for approximately 15, 20 years and have participated in all manner of things and found that to be extremely rewarding, both personally and professionally.

As a member of your local paralegal association, you belong to a forum for paralegals that enables you to share your experiences and expertise, network with the other paralegals about the issues and concerns that are common in our profession. You can volunteer time and talent to help the public through pro-bono projects as well as learn new skills and gain valuable knowledge that you can use to further your careers.

Most local associations offer newsletters. many also have job banks or list serves. Most of them also offer seminars as a way to have continuing legal education or learn on a new topic. Most of them will hold luncheons or dinner meetings with a speaker or a discussion of an item of interest.

Many of the local associations also have mentor programs, which are very valuable for paralegal students or early career paralegals where you can link up formally or informally with a paralegal who’s been in the profession for a while.

With regard to job banks, I know that many times the paralegal associations will get notices of jobs before they’re actually posted in any other kind of public forum.

I know my association, we don’t have a formal job bank, but we do have emails that go out. an employer can just contact our association and give them the information about a job and I think many times those notices go out to us before they even consider going elsewhere. So we’re like the first choice of looking for potential employees, which is great for paralegal students trying to get their foot in the door in their first paralegal job.
Melissa Feuer: Tracey I think that is so huge for people to know that because, once the job goes out to the general public on law jobs or something like that, then it gets much tougher. so to be a part of a group that gets advance notice of those things is a huge advantage.

Tracey Young: Yes, absolutely. In terms of networking, personally, I think that if you’re at a luncheon or at some other event, take the time to talk to the other people that are at the luncheon. Talk to them about what they do at their job and if they know of any job openings, but get to know the other paralegals in the association and they’ll think of you if they hear of some job openings, as well as, making a point of talking to association leaders and let them know that you’re looking for a job. And if there’s a seminar or a CLE, take the time to introduce yourself to the speaker. I mean this is the way to sort of have an informal informational interview that Melissa suggested.

Introduce yourself, tell them that you’re a paralegal student, you’re looking to get into perhaps that particular field of law that the speaker was about or maybe just get some tips on the field or looking for jobs. I think you never know where you’re going to get a lead for a job so you need to talk to as many people as you can.

Local associations and paralegal associations and sometimes Bar associations also offer pro-bono opportunities, which I think is a good way for you to get a little experience as well as gives you another opportunity to meet attorneys who may be future employers or they could perhaps provide you with a great job reference. If you worked with them on a pro-bono activity, maybe they don’t have a job, but maybe they were really pleased with what you did and would be happy to give you a job reference.

So this all goes to participation in your paralegal association. It’s more than just being a member. You need to participate, so that you can get to know the other folks in the association. You can volunteer your time as a committee member or move up the ladder and be a committee chairman or even a board member.

Sometimes volunteering is frustrating because not enough people seem to volunteer and it’s usually a few people doing the work of a lot. But it still is a very valuable and rewarding experience and it helps you grow as a person an it helps you grow as a professional.

As I mentioned before, I have been a member – not just a member of my association – in the early days I was just a member because I had children that I was raising and it was difficult to find a lot of time to participate although I would go to as many events as I could. I wasn’t really an active member on a committee, but I at least made the point to go to the CLEs and talk to the other paralegals and tried to keep my ears open when I heard about jobs.

But being a member and participating, besides being personally rewarding, again, it looks great on your resume and it demonstrates an interest and a commitment in your profession. And it will ultimately, if you decide that you want to be a leader of your association, it helps to develop leadership skills, which translates, I think, into the employment forum as well.

So I have on your screen the Paralegal Association Centre in the Washington DC area, The National Capital Area Paralegal Association, The Paralegal Association of Northern Virginia and the Maryland Association of Paralegals.

Also I am President of the National Federation of Paralegal Associations, which is a federation of associations. Those three local associations in the DC area, are members of NFPA. For those of you who might be online, who are not in the DC area, we have associations all across the country. There are a number of paralegal associations that are not members of NFPA.

I encourage you to join your local paralegal association, whether it’s related or affiliated with NFPA or not. I truly think that being a member of your local paralegal association is very important in helping to grow you personally and professionally. And if any of you are interested in learning more about any of the NFPA associations, I’d certainly be happy to chat with anyone online or otherwise.

Amanda Walter: Tracey, do most of the paralegal associations have a student membership rate?

Tracey Young: Absolutely, yes. You can join NFPA as an individual student member, but most of the local associations have student members as well and it’s generally less expensive than working paralegals, many times quite bit less. But yes, every association that I have ever heard of, in terms of local paralegal associations, they have student memberships, they just try to have relationships with local paralegal programs and everyone recognizes that students are the future of the profession and try to encourage participation and involvement by students in their local associations. Good point.

Amanda Walter: Thank you.

Tracey Young: So how do you stand out in this sort of tough economy and competitive market? Well I think that you need to empathize that you’re professional. You need to show that you’re confident in your skills and your ability. Employers are looking for people who are proactive and willing to take some initiative in whatever it that they’re asked to do. Generally employers are looking folks who are willing to perform a range of tasks. No task is too big or too small. You need to be willing to try anything and give it your best shot.

I think also a paralegal formal education is more important now than it ever was. Employers are all requiring some kind of education in paralegal studies. For most people I think it’s going to be an Associate’s or a Bachelor’s Degree or a postgraduate certification program, but there’s very little on the job training in terms of what it used to 25, 30 years ago. Employers are looking for formal education.

In terms of fields that are important or as fields of study, eDiscovery and trial software are – anything having to do with technology, is really important. Employers are looking for computer skills, software and technology is changing. It’s really important to try and keep up with that. And if you have a particular expertise in a particular software or area of technology then that’s something that you can certainly promote in your resume and in your cover letter and in your interview. Employers are looking for people with good skills.

So you have a job and you’re trying to reinforce your value with your employer. Again, taking initiative. Offer to take on a project, offer to head some kind of project. Become the office expert or the go-to person for something; some particular skill or software or regular repeated project that you can say I would like to be in charge of this. Make yourself valuable to your employer by becoming the go-to expert.

Again, I can’t enforce enough that working in a law firm or in the legal field, it’s all about working as a team. Employers don’t want someone to say, oh that’s not in my job description. You need to be willing to do whatever it takes to get the project done and take the opportunity to demonstrate your abilities and take that next step.

NFPA is a strong supporter of education and continuing education. So I think that, when you have a job and you’ve got your degree, that doesn’t end your education. You need to continue your education at all times even if your state or employer doesn’t actually require you to have continuing education. You need to stay on top of the changing in the law and sometimes I’ve gone to seminars and come back and told my employer about something and they say, oh I didn’t know that.

So you can kind of impress them with what you’re able to learn and in your own education. And I think most employers are certainly willing to support and pay for continuing education because it certainly benefits them as much as it benefits you. And again, it shows your willingness to take your profession seriously and learn what needs to be done to stay ahead of the game in terms of representing and doing the best for your clients.

So set yourself apart. Being a member of a professional association is one way to set yourself apart. Demonstrate that this is a commitment to a profession and that you want to be a paralegal as a career and that it’s not just a job or a stepping stone to something else.

Professional credentialing is one way to set yourself apart. NFPA offers two certification exams, which are on the screen. The case register paralegal, which is for experienced paralegals, the paralegal core competency exam, which is for paralegals that are just graduating from programs or early career paralegals and some states offer other certification; Pennsylvania, Ohio, North Carolina, Florida. Take those tests or do what it takes to become certified. That will set you apart from the other candidates that are in the field and that’s one way of also reinforcing your value to your current employer. Show them that you are professional and you take this profession seriously and that you want to do the best that you can.

And I think that wraps me up until we have some questions.

Amanda Walter: It does. Thank you very much, both Melissa and Tracey. We do have a number of questions coming in so I’ll start some of these off, maybe keeping with Tracey, for a little bit. Tracey there’s a number of different kinds of legal associations out there, whether they be specifically for lawyers or also even in the paralegal field, there’s paralegal associations, legal assistance associations.

What would you recommend from your vantage point? What would be the best ones to be a member of because obviously you cannot be a member of everything? So which do you think would get or provide someone the most benefits in terms of intangible?

Tracey Young: Intangibles, certainly. I think being a member of a professional paralegal association is the best place to start. You’re going to get the tips and the mentoring from your colleagues. Legal assistance is really the old term. It used to be more of the same. Paralegals and legal assistants was the same position.

In some areas of the country, they are still used to mean the same thing, but many legal secretaries call themselves legal assistants. So I think most paralegal associations have kind of gotten away from that terminology and paralegal is really the preferred term and the title for the job as well as the associations.

You’ll find that there are Bar associations that sometimes have paralegal subcommittees or paralegal membership. My state-wide association does not offer that. I think that sometimes it can be great, sometimes you’re sort of a second-class citizen and there’s really, very little interest given to you. Whereas a number of your paralegal associations, that’s the focus. That’s what everything’s all about, is their paralegal profession.

So I certainly would recommend that as the best membership where you going to get more bang for your buck and probably a lot more benefits for your career.

Amanda Walter: Okay, thank you. And is there any benefit to being a member of your regional and state-wide association as well as the national association?

Tracey Young: Our local associations are then members of NFPA so you’re getting membership in both. The regional associations like the state-wide things, those are also more sort of like, Federations. They’re sort of associations of associations. So they’re a way of talking about state-wide issues and perhaps proceeding with state-wide regulation or other issues that are addressed at the state level. So yes, you’re going to get something out of both of them in terms of professional growth.

Amanda Walter: Okay, thank you. Yes, that definitely makes sense. Let’s turn things over to Melissa for just a bit. Someone here is wondering what they can do in addition to potentially being a member of an association local to them, they’re also considering jobs in other states. Is there a way that they can go about applying to jobs in other states and still standout there?

Melissa Feuer: Well I think that even for jobs in other states and maybe especially for them, the best thing to do rather than just start applying to them is to start making connections with people in those states, in those marketplaces. That’s where LinkedIn comes in. So for example – and this is something I forgot to mention – the GW Paralegal Studies Program has a LinkedIn group page. So there’s a place on LinkedIn where you can go, basically to connect with, we have I think 475 or something like that, people who are somehow involved with our program.

and you could go to – you can join that group, you’re all welcome to join that group. Now I looked up on the group’s directory in LinkedIn, George Washington Paralegal Studies, and you’ll find the group. You can become a member of that group and you can take a look at who the members are. You can scroll through their profiles or even just a little blurb about them and see who’s in the area that you’re looking to go to. That’s a person I would reach out to.

You can actually send a message to a fellow group member in LinkedIn directly and say I’m thinking about, if you’re a student, I’m a fellow student in the program and I’m planning to move to Boston, for example, and I see that you’re a paralegal there and I’d love to have a few minutes of your time to talk with you about the marketplace in Boston and kind of strategize or help me figure out a few places that might make sense for me to go to and just learn something about it.

So that’s somebody who’s already involved in or interested in our program. That person is even more likely to talk to you and you could even be slightly more candid about the fact that you’re looking for a job and not just looking for information and that person may have some good advice for you. That’s one way you can start to make inroads and stand out and connect with people in a community that you don’t live in.

Tracey Young: I would also encourage folks to go onto the NFPA website and, if you’re looking for a job in a location where we have one of our associations, all of the associations have some kind of a generic email that you can contact them. And you might be able to reach out to someone in the Massachusetts Paralegal Association, for example, in Boston and while, maybe you’re not going to want to join yet, they might be able to put you in touch with some people who could talk to you and get you some further information about jobs up there.

Amanda Walter: Great, thank you and, Tracey, for locations that don’t have an association anywhere nearby, is there a process that people could go through to establish an association or would you recommend looking at nearby cities anywhere?
Tracey Young: Well there certainly is a way to establish an association. basically you need to gather a group of – to become a member of NFPA, you’d need to have 15 working paralegals and generally they form a non-profit corporation to be a paralegal association and then you submit an application to be a member of NFPA.

So as I said, most of them are essentially formalized in a corporate structure on paper anyway, in terms of being a not for profit corporation. It’s not really that complicated. You don’t need to hire a lawyer. It’s very simple paperwork in most states, yes. but you do it. you get together with a group of people, a group of other paralegals and, sure, you can create your own association.

Melissa Feuer: And Speaking of creating associations, our Paralegal Studies Program, our students created their own student association. We have a GW Paralegal Student Association. One of the few programs at the College of Professional Studies that has this. This is fabulous. This is an amazing networking tool.

We have students from all over the country. There’s an on the ground component and a very robust online component as well, trying to kind of bring the two populations together, all forming a community and all able to draw on each other’s experiences. Aand keep in mind that not everybody who joins our program is brand new to the field. We have plenty of experienced paralegals. Those would be great people for you to talk to.

So our own Paralegal Student Association is very active, very excited, making a huge effort to reach out all across the country and that’s something that, if you come to GW and study with us, whether remotely or in person, that’s an organization that I would highly recommend you join.

Amanda Walter: Okay, thanks. This question would apply to both of you. With the profession not necessarily requiring specific higher education levels and there being a number of different kinds of certifications out there, what would you recommend someone who doesn’t have a lot of experience? What path would you recommend that they take, whether it be certain levels of education first or earning some credentials, what do employers value the most?

Melissa Feuer: Well I’m biased so maybe Tracey should go first.

Tracey Young: Well I’m actually a strong advocate of education as well. So I’m probably biased in the same direction that you are, but if someone has maybe an incomplete degree and, if they could then qualify to take perhaps our PCC exam, depending on how much education and experience they had, the certification would perhaps help to set them apart, but I’m a strong proponent of education as well. And I think employers are more impressed by education overall. So that’s probably the same answer Melissa would give.

Melissa Feuer: Pretty much, yes. I think to add to that, our program is a Master’s program and an employer is probably not going to put in a job posting you have to have a Master’s in Paralegal Studies. Most of the time they’re going to say you have to have a certificate in paralegal studies, which is different from being a certified paralegal. They’re not the same thing.

So a certificate you’d earn from a school. to be certified, you’ve taken the test that Tracey was talking about. Anyway you’re not going to see you have to have a Master’s Degree. What I see coming out of the Master’s program is an ability to – one of the main things that I see is an incredible ability to write.

This program is heavy on the writing. Employers want people who can write. It’s a skill that I hear, over and over again, as hugely valued and a program like our Master’s program really helps you develop that skill. You’ll be able to market that to employers when you’re done in addition to a pretty good, actually a very good amount of knowledge that you learn over the two years, substantive knowledge that you can bring with you and an ability to work together in teams.

It’s a very rigorous and exciting program and all the things you get out of that, you’re going to be able market to an employer. It will be up to you to explain all of those things. That’s your job to give the information to the employer because the employer may not realize that the Master’s Degree means all of that, but you’ll be able to promote that to that employer and, again, set yourself apart.

Amanda Walter: Okay, thanks. And kind of along those same lines, in addition to all the intangibles that you’ve mentioned with association membership and obviously the Master’s program as well, have you seen any specific pay scale increases at the different degree levels? Do you think that corresponds with it as well as just the experience you gain?

Melissa Feuer: I’m assuming that one’s directed at me to start anyway. The pay, that is so all over the board that it is very hard for me to make blanket statement about pay. Certainly promotion is something that can come with getting an advanced degree in the field and we do see that.

Certainly in the Government whether it’s a – well I don’t actually know about State Governments in all the different states, but certainly the Federal Government, no matter where it’s locum, no matter where the office is located, your steps, your pay steps or even maybe your GS level probably both go up. That’s why a lot of people, who are in the government, tend to do this program because they have a lot more earning potential that way.

So if you’re interested in the government at all, and I would imagine states are similar, the Master’s Degree in particular can help you. I think another thing to keep in mind is that, in many large markets, certainly DC is one of them, but I would say Boston area, New York area and plenty of others as well, you know how black is the new red, Master’s is the new Bachelor’s. Lots of people have Master’s Degrees.

And so to be competitive with all the folks out there that have a Master’s Degree, it can help to also have a Master’s Degree. It shows a sense of seriousness. It shows scholarliness. It shows a commitment to a field. All of those things can only help you with getting jobs and with the appreciation, slash, monetary appreciation you get when you’re in them.

Tracey Young: Yes, I’m not sure that I can really add much to that. I mean, as Melissa mentioned, the salaries do vary considerably. I think a lot of it is geographic, educational, experiential. It’s really hard to pinpoint and say that, by taking this exam, you’re going to get more money or, by getting this degree, you’re going to get more money, but certainly having either or both, it puts you one step ahead.

Amanda Walter: Would anyone, potential employers, ever consider someone with a Master’s overqualified or how would you get around that possible subject?

Melissa Feuer: Well I think it’s up to you to explain what you’ve gotten from this program and relate it to the job. I’ve never had a student come to me – and obviously this is anecdotal, I didn’t do research, but I’ve never had someone come to me and say I wasn’t considered because I was overqualified.

I have had people say to me, I don’t have the experience and I thought the Master’s Degree would substitute for that experience and so, even though they said three to five years, I thought I would still fit that because I’ve had the schooling. and that doesn’t work out too well, at least not on its face.

You can definitely market what you get out of a Master’s Degree to an employer to explain to that employer why that is so valuable and can be considered experience, but just listing it on the resume is not going to do that and that is something I talk about with students and alumni all the time.

I haven’t had the reverse happen to me or a student coming to me saying they won’t look at me or they’re giving me feedback because they’re saying that I’m overqualified. But again, it’s all in how you present yourself and present your skills and experiences. And there’s not really great generic advice to give on that topic because it’s very specific to the individual. And one of the things that students of our program get is very individualized attention with respect to things like that.

Amanda Walter: Okay. Thank you. Melissa maybe if you can touch a little bit on, or actually either of you, on the value or benefit of certification as well as the Master’s program or instead of, how do the two either stand independently or work well together. Does that make sense?

Melissa Feuer: Yes, I think, Tracey, maybe that’s better for you.

Tracey Young: I can try and take a stab at that. I would say that, having a certification, in other words taking one of the exams or taking whatever the criteria are for the state certifications, sets you apart from the other candidates is a demonstration of your professionalism.

Ultimately, down the road, some kind of certification may be mandatory. It’s certainly a step in the right direction to setting you apart from the other candidates and demonstrating your seriousness about the profession. Right now none of the exams really address a Master’s, as a criteria because there aren’t very many Master’s programs out there.

I think that having both would certainly be a really big feather in your cap in terms of getting a job and potentially promotions and qualifying for managerial positions in larger firms or employers along those routes. I think that a Master’s and certifications are really sort of two different things, but they complicate each other. Melissa.

Melissa Feuer: I don’t have that much to add except lots of our students go ahead and go and get a certification. So I think a lot of people feel like, if I’m that serious about the profession and I really want to show that, here’s another way to do it.

Tracey Young: Exactly.

Amanda Walter: Okay, great. And just one other question. This one’s directed to Melissa. What would you recommend people highlight on their LinkedIn profile as compared to their resume or vice versa?

Melissa Feuer: Yes, well, a LinkedIn profile is similar, but the problem with the LinkedIn profile is you’re not exactly targeting a job so you can’t necessarily make it as tailored as you can with a resume. So a resume, a lot of times you’re going to have a job description in front of you and that’s how you’re going to decide what to highlight on your resume. With a LinkedIn page, you can’t really do that.

So you want to think about what are the general kinds of things that people who are doing what I want to be doing, what are the general kinds of things that they care about? I would say your LinkedIn profile, I think, should be a little bit more of a narrative than a resume is. and the best way for you to see what I mean by that is for you to connect to me because I’ve put a lot of time into the LinkedIn profiles so that I can model it for others and you’ll see I have a summary under my name and I give a little narrative about myself.

Now obviously your narrative will look very different from my narrative, but you can get the idea of how you can craft this profile to tell your story a little bit. I have resume-type information underneath there, but not with a ton of detail because I’ve crafted that summary to give somebody the picture of me.

So I think probably the best thing I can – I know it’s sort of weird to describe this way, but the best recommendation I can make is, take a look at what I’ve done. Maybe join the Paralegal Studies LinkedIn group and take a look at some others. Toni Marsh, our Director, is another great one to look at and see what people have done. But I think you’ll find they’re not quite as formal and maybe not as detailed as the resume is going to be because I’m not sure you’d know exactly what detail to include.

Amanda: Okay, that’s excellent. Thank you so much. To keep things on time here, let’s go ahead and conclude today’s webinar, but I will make sure that we provide Melissa and Tracey’s contact information and some of those links in an email following this just so everyone has that handy.

And again, I wanted to remind you that today’s session was being recorded and will be posted on the program website within the next few weeks. When I send that email, I will make sure that I provide the link where the recording will be found and where you can access previous recordings of other types of sessions that we’ve held. Obviously I wanted to thank everyone for joining us today and definitely want to thank Melissa and Tracey so much for their time, both today and in preparation for this. We obviously appreciate it quite a bit.

And if anyone has any further questions, certainly feel free. I’ll leave the chat open for a little bit here and then we’ll have our advisors follow up with you afterwards. Other than that, thank you again and hope you have a wonderful afternoon.

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