Most of us are familiar with the African proverb, “It takes a whole village to raise a child.” The phrase brings to mind a large and generous network of people, not just parents, but relatives, teachers, neighbors and mentors, working together to produce healthy, happy children who grow up to be productive members of our community – and go on to guide the village’s next generation of children.
Today it takes a village to succeed as a paralegal. The legal field has changed radically from even the practices we were familiar with five years ago. The ways that firms manage documents, exchange information, advertise for clients and hire new employees are evolving at a pace faster than the speed of light. Paralegals, including new paralegal graduates, are expected to stay abreast of the latest technological, practice, marketing and hiring trends.
That’s when paralegals need to turn to their own village, their co-workers, colleagues, mentors and experts in the legal field. But how do we reach out to them and ask questions, especially if we work full-time, raise families and try to squeeze even more education into our crowded schedules? We aren’t going to get mentored while eating lunch at our desk every day – or are we?
Using social media (simply defined as internet tools for sharing information) is key to enjoying the support of our village, and to giving support in return. Social media is key to building a network of legal and related professionals who know what is happening now, and who are smart enough to forecast the future of the legal field. Social media is absolutely key to surviving in a recessionary economy where many of our peers are losing their jobs at record rates, even the ones who thought they were safe.
I’m going to paraphrase a quote that has been circulating on Twitter recently, “You need to build your network BEFORE you actually need it.” It’s too easy to sit in our offices, comfortable in our expertise with the current firm technology, comfortable with getting clients from the same familiar sources, and maybe too comfortable that after a decade or more of working for the same employer that we’ll never need to look for another job. This is the kind of complacency that can leave us without a job, struggling to learn new skills, and not only redundant, but non-competitive.
Our village is the key to our evolution as paralegal professionals. Our village has many open doors and many hospitable and knowledgeable members sharing information every day in numerous places on the Internet, including blogs, social networking sites, listservs and forums. For paralegals interested in growing their own networks and resources, here are a few of the basic types of social media that you should explore and use regularly.
LinkedIn (http://www.linkedin.com/) is a free professional networking site. It’s an essential online resource to publish your professional credentials and to build your professional network. Most career experts recommend creating and maintaining a LinkedIn profile, especially if you are (or may be) seeking new employment opportunities.
There are many LinkedIn Groups for legal professionals, including those particularly geared to paralegals. They offer opportunities to not only increase your network of contacts, but to participate in discussions started by members of the group, or to start discussions of your own.
Another free social and professional networking site, I’ve found Twitter (http://www.twitter.com/) to be invaluable for greatly expanding my professional network, and to keep up with “real-time” news and technology updates. Twitterers are limited to 140-character updates, which means news, information, questions and answers are delivered rapid-fire and continuously.
Not only is there a wonderful community of paralegals already utilizing Twitter, but there are many other kinds of legal professionals providing extremely informative content (I like to call it “great Tweet”), including attorneys, marketers, legal nurse consultants, virtual assistants, legal publications and legal groups.
Legal professionals need strong writing skills, and many of them direct those skills to now essential legal blogs that provide up-to-the-minute information regarding the law, specialty areas and technology. Identify those blogs most helpful to your current practice and future goals, and then spend a few minutes a week reading current posts – a fast and free form of continuing education (Twitter has brought amazing blogs to my attention that I would otherwise never have known about).
Two excellent legal blog directories are ABA Journal’s Blawg Directory and USLaw.com Law Blog Directory.
In addition to participating in your state legal association listservs, consider joining one or more of the national paralegal listservs, including:
Legal Assistant Today-Forum
Paralegal Gateway (Yahoo! Group)
Paralegals (Yahoo! Group)
Don’t be intimidated by the frequent postings; you can always receive posts in a weekly digest form or direct listserv posts to a folder to read later.
Benefits of listservs include the opportunity to engage in longer “conversations” with paralegals all over the country and to quickly get answers to questions, especially in the areas of legal research, technology and career-building.
Use social media to be a part of our village, a group of amazing, knowledgeable and generous legal professionals committed to the success and enrichment of the paralegal profession. The best part is, you can enjoy the benefits while eating your lunch at your desk.