Ride the Horse in the Direction It’s Going


When we accept a position, we are accepting the dream: that life will somehow be better with the upward mobility this job is sure to bring.  Rarely do we attribute disappointment or growing frustration with our own lack of personal responsibility for planning our career.

You may be one of a large group of paralegals experiencing tremendous job satisfaction but wondering how to advance in a field that is only in the beginning states of defining career paths. Many paralegals repeatedly state that they enjoy an intellectually stimulating environment, have challenging work and are part of a team.  It is the push forward to other areas that many paralegals find difficult.  These areas include higher salaries, moving up within a firm that has no vertical climb, negotiating for more sophisticated assignments, breaking that glass ceiling, or getting off the sticky floor.

The paralegal field is not necessarily an upward climb.  I mean, you're not ever going to make partner. And, only one or two people in your firm are going to get the manager's job.  Rather than climbing vertically up an invisible ladder, a paralegal's career climb is horizontal – outward. 

So, where do you go?  I've known paralegals and paralegal managers who have held the same type of position for 20, even 30 years. I guess that's ok in the job stability arena but highly intelligent human beings generally like to show some kind of defined, trackable upward growth. How do you identify what to do next?  If there is a next, that is.

Ride the horse in the direction it is going.  What events have taken place in the legal field that require new skills? What laws, technology, procedures, positions, trends have occurred in the past five years that you observe but are either totally ignorant or marginally aware of?  If you think that nothing really new applies to you because your firm is not currently applying anything up-to-the-minute to its current practice areas, I'll bet you also have an IBM Selectric typewriter hidden under your desk.

Take a brand new position:  eDiscovery Paralegal.  Not Litigation Paralegal.  eDiscovery. Highly specialized, knowledgeable in both substantive issues and technology, up on the latest, motivated, curious, and trained. eDiscovery – the hottest practice area to hit the legal field in decades. Take a look at a sample job description:

  • Thorough knowledge of electronic e-discovery process and e-discovery software, processes and methodologies.
  • Works with counsel and IT to compile data for e-discovery (and hard copy discovery).
  • Creates, implements and manages organizational tracking systems for document collection, review, analysis and management both on and off-site.
  • Familiar with EDRM and Sedona principles.
  • Knows the new Federal Rules of Civil Procedure.
  • Understands processing, collection, review and presentation.
  • Researches and employs best practices for collection and processing of documentation for e-discovery.
  • Understands metadata.
  • Familiar with International eDiscovery.
  • Understands litigation holds, meet and confer, sanctions, duty to preserve.
  • Familiar with ethics & eDiscovery.
  • Works and interfaces with IT to provide assistance on processes related to litigation support.
  • Develops project plans/timelines and provides updates/status reports.
  • Manages and tracks projects and ensures deadlines are met.
  • Employs software tools and databases to translate electronic evidence into acceptable formats for e-discovery.
  • Conducts database searches – culling and extrapolating data using various methods (i.e. keyword searching, document relationships, date culling, privilege and responsiveness review, redaction, etc).
  • Runs queries for document review.
  • Inputs and manages data into the litigation support database.
  • Performs quality check of all data processed in the e-discovery system and develops QC tools to facilitate review and analysis of information prior to production.
  • Performs audits of databases.
The only way that you are going to avoid falling into the vicious circle of Stuck and Stumped is to reach out and undertake an educational journey.  Knowledge does not just come to you and on-the-job-training is hit and miss, at best. 

Start taking webinars, seminars.  Read books, articles, white papers.  Many of the legal vendors have excellent materials – although bear in mind that their ultimate goal is not education, it is to sell their product. 

Take the eDiscovery courses with The OLP.  They are offering three dynamic, online, interactive 8 week complete courses:  eDiscovery 101A: The Fundamentals; eDiscovery, The Next Level; and EDiscovery for Non-Legal Professionals.  Courses start July 19, July 20th and August 3rd with a team of seasoned instructors who care about your success.

Whatever you decide, look at the history of paralegals:  It is a myth that the paralegal who produces the highest quality work product will automatically get "promoted" to the next level. There are few promotions in this field. You're going to have to create your own.
To move forward, you must always demonstrate knowledge that others do not have.  That makes you unique enough to lead the group. No matter how hard you work, how good you are, or how much you want to move up, over or out, unless you capitalize on current going-ons, you're liable to go unnoticed. Ride the horse in the direction it is going.  You won't be sorry.