I read an ABA article admonishing law students to sound less like a high school babysitter and more like a professional. This applies not only to attorneys; it applies to paralegals as well. Honestly, any professional needs to know how to communicate on a professional level.
Consider this – you go to the doctor because you are unwell. The doctor says, “We did some ummm, you know, we sent the blood over to that place that looks at it? The white stuff that’s in your blood is way too high. I dunno…I’m thinking maybe you’ll die in six weeks.”
First of all, that shows lack of empathy and concern. There was no professional diagnosis or thought of more tests. Second, the doctor showed lack of professional communication because the doctor didn’t know the proper terminology.
It works the same as legal professionals. You definitely do not want to be over a client’s head with legalese, but you don’t need to sound like the 15 year old that watches their five year old while they go out on date night.
Save the slang for your friends and family…and even then – use it on a sparing basis. You are a professional now and you have an image to maintain. Those are the people that send referrals to your supervising attorney. You need to sound like you know what you’re talking about at all times.
I realize we are only in week three of the phase. Honestly, though, it is never too early to at least start thinking of what you would like to do when you graduate. It is also never to early to think of a plan. Even if this is your first phase here at Vatterott OKC, you can look at your goals.
There will be times in your life that you meet someone you don’t like. You might not like their ideas or you might not just like them. Here’s the deal – that really doesn’t matter. You must remain professional if you expect to be taken seriously as a paralegal. It is easier than you think to disagree without being disagreeable. It is easier than you think to say nothing if you think you may say something angry.
You do not have the right as a student, a person, or a professional to verbally bash or belittle anyone else. It doesn’t matter who the person is in your life. Would you want to be treated in that manner? Would you want your best friend treated in that manner? Would you treat your boss in that manner?
The legal field is one of the most conservative fields in the professional industry. That doesn’t just include the way we dress. It also is inclusive of behavior. It’s really easy to get a bad reputation and not be able to find a job simply because you act in an inappropriate manner.
As an adult learner, you face some unique challenges. You must balance your education and your family, your work and your education, and your work and your family. That isn’t an easy task; these aren’t easy classes. However, a bad day doesn’t give anyone the justification to take out their frustrations on any other person. It is not only unprofessional, but it is also unkind.
Here are some tips for resolving a conflict:
We all encounter people we don’t necessarily have the ability to get along with on a personal level. That’s why we are professionals. More is expected of us than the average person. You are above average. You are the role model. You are the professional.
When should you start thinking about professionalism? In fact, what IS professionalism?
Merriam-Webster defines it as marks of a professional.
So it appears the most logical thing to do would be for you to think about the most professional person you know. What makes them professional in your opinion? Here are a few things that might have popped in to your mind:
Of course, you may have other things that popped inside your mind. I am just going to stick with these four core ideals for this post.
When should you start thinking about professionalism? You should start thinking about professionalism while you are studying to be a paralegal. Why? Because, frankly, old habits die hard. When you start thinking of yourself as a professional, you start learning as one and you start behaving as one. I understand that you don’t feel like you are a professional because you are still attending class. So? You are more professional than those that didn’t choose to get an education or a professional career path. You have also chosen a profession that requires certain things of you as an individual.
What does this mean for you while you are completing your education?
Manner of Dress
It is said that we only look as good as we feel. To a point, that’s true. I feel just as much self-worth in a pair of jeans and t-shirt as I do in the attire you all see me in on campus. However, when I am dressed in my work clothes it is almost as if a switch is flipped in my mind. I have a huge closet. Huge. It could almost double as a small office. I have lots and lots of shoes. I even have to keep clothes at my boyfriend’s apartment because I have so many.
Guess what? I don’t spend a lot of money on my clothes. I shop at thrift stores and I devour the clearance racks. I have clothing purchase rules. I will not spend more than $10 on a skirt or shirt. I will not spend more than $40 on a pair of shoes.
So, when should you worry about how you dress? Now. You will notice a change. Does it take a little more time to get ready? Maybe. I wake up at six. I am ready go by 6:30 most mornings. That is getting dressed, doing my hair, and doing light make up.
You don’t need high dollar clothing. You just need clothing that makes you FEEL like the professional you are going to be in a few short months. There are also places that can help you get business attire.
You have an image to sell. You ARE a product whether you realize it or not. That’s just part of life.
When should you start worrying about your time management? Now. You need to learn good time management as a student. That will project on to you in a positive manner. Your supervising attorney and the court won’t allow you to be late just because you felt like sleeping in or didn’t feel like writing a brief. In fact, that would make you incompetent. Ethics state we need to be both diligent and competent. Use common sense. Don’t you want people to be on time or do things for you when it is supposed to be completed?
Don’t get out into the professional legal world and be fed to the wolves. Learn to manage your time now. If you need help, I am more than willing to assist you. There are many good (free) calendar options that we can choose from to get you set for success.
Most paralegals bill their time. You need to know how to manage your time. You will have more than one deadline. How will you manage those if you can’t manage what you have now? Don’t let procrastination hurt you. You are paying for your education whether you are here or not. Get the most from it.
When should you worry about your attitude? Again, the answer is now. You are taking on a career that requires you to be many things to many people. You will be the right hand person for an attorney. You will coddle the clients that are emotionally distraught. You will calm those that are angry. One thing you shouldn’t neglect is YOUR attitude.
Every day is not good, but you can find something good in every day. Start trying to find the silver lining in ALL circumstances (no matter how absurd it may seem at the time).
On occasion, it IS okay to feel a little proud or egotistical. You worked hard to get where you are and not everyone can do what you do. However, it is NOT okay to treat people as if you are better than they are…ever. My grandmother taught me that no matter how smart or talented I am, someone will come along that is smarter or more talented. That’s just life.
Your attitude can make or break a situation.
As paralegals (and just quite possibly as humans), we all want to get as much done in a certain amount of time as possible. Some of you have a core number of billable hours that must be met for any number of reasons (or you will have once you get out in to the cold, cruel world).
Someone on Twitter asked me about the Five Ds of Time Management. Those in my Law Office Management class this past term will know them. Adhere to them and they can help you very well through out many aspects of your life.