Friday, November 21, 2008

Making the Case for Internet Networking Sites, LinkedIn and Facebook

I will admit to being a relative “newbie” to Internet networking sites such as LinkedIn and Facebook, but even in the short period I have used them, I am excited about the benefits. My adult daughter urged me to get a Facebook profile, even though I was initially not very keen on the idea. But once I got started, I was hooked. Now when I discuss the advantages of networking sites with friends, I hear some of the same reservations I had myself, such as “I don’t have time for it” or “too many people will have access to confidential information about me.” But these sites, used responsibly, can offer paralegals many benefits, including marketing and career opportunities, as well as an efficient and fun way to maintain and develop professional contacts.

A typical workday for a paralegal is extraordinarily busy, meeting never-ending deadlines, responding to multiple clients’ needs and preparing countless documents. Working at this demanding pace sometimes does not offer us many opportunities to get to know other paralegals outside of the workplace, except for the occasional break in the routine to attend continuing legal education seminars or professional association meetings. Even at seminars and meetings, our opportunities to connect with other paralegals may be limited to where we are seated at lunch. But I usually leave those lunches thinking how great it is to connect with other paralegals who understand both the rewards and stresses of working in the legal field. Suddenly, I do not feel like I am working alone on an island (covered with piles of paper and telephones ringing non-stop).

But what used to happen when I got back to the office after a seminar or meeting? I found it hard to stay in touch with my new friends. I forget names easily. I would suddenly recall talking to someone in a highly specialized area who might be able to answer a question or who I would like to refer a case to, and realize that I had lost her card (or never asked for it). I was back on my island, too busy to maintain or seek new professional relationships which could offer support, educational opportunities and career development. Paralegal listservs helped, but it was difficult to put faces with names or develop relationships with people outside of the listservs who had similar interests or goals.

LinkedIn (http://www.linkedin.com/), a professional networking site, and Facebook (http://www.facebook.com/), a social networking site, are two of the most frequently used Internet sites. Membership is free. Using them changed my relative professional isolation. Suddenly, my solitary island was full of like-minded legal professionals from all over the country who broadened my horizons considerably. I now had many contacts who could answer questions about marketing, law office technology and legal issues. I gained several new mentors who have given me great advice regarding my professional goals. I joined new groups for legal professionals and met people I would never have had the opportunity to meet in person. Best of all, many of the people I meet in professional situations have profiles on these sites, and by adding each other as contacts or friends, my ability to recall names and stay in touch with people has improved immeasurably. I have been able to expand professional relationships and social friendships with people I might otherwise never have heard from again. I even had several memorable evenings watching the presidential debates and the election night returns via Facebook with friends from all over the country.

Internet networking sites can be used to:

  • Market yourself, your business, your product and your professional associations
  • Maintain existing professional contacts
  • Meet new professional contacts and join new professional groups
  • Obtain professional advice and participate in discussion boards
  • Develop and maintain social relationships with people you meet professionally
  • Stay up-to-date with the latest developments in your areas of interest
  • Let other professionals know that you are available for referrals, consultations, projects and even employment
Internet networking sites such as LinkedIn and Facebook can benefit paralegals in many ways, but like any other resource, they have to be used carefully and responsibly. Do not use these sites to exchange privileged information or to engage in confidential communications with clients, witnesses and experts. Be mindful that information included in a profile may be viewed by other professionals and that they are forming an impression of you from your Internet profile, the same as they would if they met you in person. The same rules for face-to-face professional conduct apply to Internet communications. But professional networking is always beneficial to our careers, and these Internet sites offer us the ability to expand our professional horizons and make and maintain new contacts that can help make our profession even more rewarding

Friday, November 14, 2008

Resume Faux Pas for Paralegals (or How to Go Straight to “File 13”)

Over the years, I have had the opportunity to screen many resumes and cover letters for legal secretarial and paralegal positions. The tighter the economy, the more applications we receive for a single position. Sometimes applicants actually follow up and ask, “Why didn’t I get an interview?”

I'm going to share some of the most common reasons that many applicants do not get an interview and how a resume can almost immediately go into the “discard” pile during an employer’s initial screening:

  • Failure to follow instructions. For example, if an employer requests that resumes be faxed, that may well be a test. Bypassing the fax machine and emailing the resume may not be as smart and efficient as the applicant thinks.
  • Failure to include a cover letter. Many employers evaluate potential applicants’ communication skills from their cover letters. If the employer requests that salary requirements be included, not including that in the letter may also fall under “failure to follow instructions.”
  • Poor grammar. Incomplete sentences and misspelled words guarantee that the applicant will not be taken seriously. The ability to write well is an essential requirement in most legal support jobs.
  • Unattractive presentation. A resume and a cover letter also represent the applicant’s word processing skills, another essential requirement for law firm jobs. Poorly presented documents with unprofessional font choices and awkward layouts will not impress employers.
  • Too many employers. A chronological resume which lists multiple jobs with less than a year’s employment at most of the jobs will raise concerns for many employers.
  • Too many pages. Applicants with less experience should be able to present their qualifications in a single page resume. Applicants with extensive experience may use up to two pages, but more pages do not equal a better resume.
  • Listing the most recent job last. This makes a resume difficult to review quickly, especially if the applicant has had multiple jobs over a twenty year period. The employer should not have to locate the most recent job at the bottom of the page, or worse, on a second page.
  • Failure to list job titles, specific job duties and dates of employment. An employer with many resumes to screen will likely quickly pass over a resume which does not provide an accurate, succinct overview of the applicant’s employment history,

    An applicant for legal support staff positions that is not getting favorable responses to applications should have someone with legal experience review his or her resume and cover letter. It may be worth the expense to work with a professional to prepare a new resume and cover letter. There are also many free resume templates available with word processing programs or on the Internet, such as at Microsoft Office Online: http://office.microsoft.com/en-us/templates/CT101043371033.aspx

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

A Tip for Building a Professional Wardrobe on a Budget: Scarves are Back!

When I was a paralegal instructor, many of my students asked for advice as to how to build a professional wardrobe on a budget. In today’s tight economy, buying an entire professional wardrobe for that first paralegal job or expanding a limited wardrobe when moving from a more casual work environment to a more corporate environment can be an extra challenge.

I usually suggested that my students try to buy a 3-piece suit (jacket, skirt and slacks) in a dark color and then add basic pieces to mix and match with the suit. Good consignment shops and clearance sales are excellent sources for inexpensive good quality suiting.

Luckily, scarves are making a huge comeback in the current fashion scene. Most retail stores are showing them tied in a variety of ways on mannequins, and stars are often photographed wearing them. They are an easy and affordable way to accessorize and expand a limited wardrobe.

Scarves come in a variety of prints and fabrics, so it is not difficult to purchase several in colors and styles which flatter the wearer’s face and go well with existing wardrobe colors. Making the extra investment in a reversible scarf expands its usefulness.

Scarves can also be tied in many different ways to add interest and style to simple blouses and sweaters. I love the scarf-tying guide found at Texere Silk at http://www.texeresilk.com/cms-scarf_tying_guide.html. (An added bonus for the chronically cold crowd, including me, is that they keep your neck warm.)