9 Practices of Proactive Paralegals
by Vicki Voisin, ACP

Proactive: Thinking and acting ahead of anticipated events.

There are two undeniable truths about a career as a legal professional: (1) your work is deadline-driven and detail-oriented; and (2) your career success is solely your responsibility.

Recognizing this, what can you do reduce the stress of all the deadlines and details and, at the same time, take control of your career? The answer: become a proactive paralegal.

When you are proactive, you engage in continual long-range planning by focusing future activities, projects and events and then anticipating needs, potential problems and possible outcomes.  The result: you reach your goals, you avoid more work down the road, and you avoid disasters.

Proactive people are always looking ahead and asking, “What can I do NOW to make my life/job easier next (you insert the time frame).” This includes planning for the future and implementing strategies to make both your personal and professional life easier.

Here are 9 practices to follow to be a proactive paralegal:

1.    Planning is crucial. Hold planning sessions with yourself to set specific targets for your future. Put your goals in writing, along with deadline dates, and schedule time in your planner to actually work on them.  When you do this, you create your own future rather than allowing unplanned events to dictate your future.

2.    Utilize your planner. Make use of your planner to record future events and scheduled activities. It doesn’t matter if you use an electronic planner or a paper planner. What is important is that you use it. When you can look at future events, you can anticipate possible problems and act before they occur. Just looking at an event, such as a meeting, in writing sets your mind thinking about things you will need for that meeting.

3.    Focus on problem solving. Instead of bumbling along putting out fires, anticipate problems you might have and plan steps you can take now to prevent them from developing. Recognize that it’s never too early to plan and planning too late results in crises and time critical situations.

4.    Evaluate procedures and processes. Use checklists and processes for all recurring events or activities, such as preparing for trial, handling a real estate transaction, planning a meeting, or going on an interview. Update checklists frequently, adding anything that was missed and considering what works and what does not work.  Make notes for improvements and incorporate them.

5.    Automate routine tasks. Use templates or standard action plans to save time when you work on routine tasks.  Include the delegation of tasks to those best suited to do them. Do not try to do everything yourself or, instead of being a proactive paralegal, you will be a burned-out paralegal.

6.    Anticipate needs. Is any of your workload heavier at certain times of the day, week, month or quarter? What can you prepare in advance to lighten the workload during those times? For instance, if a trial is scheduled in 90 days, what steps need to be taken to be prepared? Plan when you will take those steps.

7.    Watch industry trends. Take charge of your career by observing new developments. For instance, if the work in your area of specialization is dwindling, plan how you will move to a specialty area that is in demand. If your firm appears to be downsizing, how can you be prepared so you land on your feet? Be sure to keep your resume updated and your options open. Take charge. Do not wait for someone else to make decisions for you.

8.    Network, network, network! A support network is one of the most important career success tools you can have. While you should always concentrate on networking events, there are other avenues for making new contacts: utilize social media sites, such as FaceBook, LinkedIn and Twitter; go out of your way to meet people at non-work, such as a United Way meeting or a church social.

9.    Work on your attitude. Attitude should be your weapon of choice in the battle to be proactive. Having the right attitude means you never resent the work you must do ahead of time to be successful in the future. Instead, you are always looking for ways to make your future easier and better.

Your challenge: Become a proactive paralegal by adopting these 9 practices. You will not only avert future disasters, but you will have a positive influence on your future – perhaps even the future itself.