Paralegal Careers: Mistakes Made and Lessons Learned

Paralegal Careers: Mistakes Made and Lessons Learned

As I was working with a paralegal during a recent strategy session, she mentioned several times that she’s not where she wants to be in her career and she doesn’t see herself getting to “where you are”.

To get past this feeling of “not good enough” we worked on her specific concerns. She now has goals, a time line for her career, and an action plan – all of which suit her and no one else.

Still, her question made me think. How many other paralegals have similar thoughts? How many other paralegals let those thoughts hold them back?

It’s important to note that successful paralegals, me included, didn’t wake up one morning to a successful career. There are always tough times, everyone makes mistakes and — this is key — you learn from them.

Here’s a sampling of the frequent career mistakes I’ve seen over the years and the lessons learned from them:

  • Mistake: Comparing yourself to others.
Lesson Learned: You have no idea what’s going on with anyone else. You don’t know their personal circumstances, values, background, etc. Their journey isn’t yours. Stay focused on your career, your goals and your ambitions.

  • Mistake: Thinking you have to reach the same level as someone else. You want your career to be just like his/hers.
Lesson Learned: If they can do it, you can do it. However, there is no cookie cutter for career success. Success for one paralegal does not necessarily equate success for another. Don’t pattern yourself after anyone else. Instead, decide what you really want in the way of career success and develop your own pattern.

  • Mistake: Assuming you don’t “need” to belong to a professional association – you have all you can handle just with your job and your personal obligations.
Lesson Learned: Actually, you’re correct – you don’t “need” to belong to a professional association….unless you don’t think you need to network with other paralegals, keep up to date with the latest trends and systems, and know first-hand about changes in the law. The time you invest in a professional association (on the local, state and national level) will bring you immeasurable returns.

  • Mistake: Thinking someone else  or something else is holding you back from career success.
Lesson Learned: So you think your spouse, your boss, your family, where you live – you add anything here you want – won’t “let” you succeed? Wrong! In the end, it’s your career and you alone are responsible for its success. You have to set goals, make plans – and then forge ahead to make your career all you want it to be.

  • Mistake: Hesitating to write an article or speak at a seminar because the very thought frightens you.
Lesson Learned: Get over it! Moving out of your comfort zone is the best way to stretch and reach your potential. 

Everyone has second thoughts about writing an article – do you really have anything significant to say/know enough/have enough time? And everyone gets nervous when they speak before an audience.

Guess what? Everyone survives and they’re glad they took the risk. Writing and speaking are two of the most important steps toward career success.

  • Mistake: Hesitating to take a certification exam – no time, don’t “need” it, blah blah blah.  
Lesson Learned: Again, there’s nothing you “need” but when taking a certification exam moves you off the level playing field and sets you apart from other paralegals. It is also good for your ego and adds to your credibility.  


There are several other mistakes I’ve both made and witnessed I’m sure you can add your own to the list.

Remember: The mistake isn’t what’s important — it’s how and what you learn from it.

Your Challenge: Please leave a comment sharing what you’ve learned — it’s a great way to give back and help others while recognizing just how far you’ve come.