Starting any new job can be a challenge. This is particularly true for recent college graduates entering the legal field where expectations can differ from those of a college classroom. When I and other paralegals made the transition from being a student to a paralegal specialist, there were definitely a few bumps in the road. This is normal and, most likely unavoidable, but hopefully this post can help you refrain from making these common mistakes:
1. Treating a draft as a draft
Do not do this! While drafts in college usually meant mostly unedited sketches of an essay you were planning to rewrite at least two more times to meet minimum acceptability standards, this is not what drafts mean in the legal field. At all! Attorneys expect drafts to be near final versions that have been fully copy edited well in advance of their seeing them. When an attorney asks for a draft (be it of a memo, demonstrative, or excel sheet) they are asking for your absolute best work that they can then, potentially, edit for content. Turning in drafts that are less than your best work (i.e. typos, lack of organization, wordiness, etc.) is the fastest to lose an attorney’s trust in your work product. It’s possible to earn this trust back, but better to avoid needing to do so in the first place!
2. Not taking initiative
Initiative can seem like an almost purposely vague term, but what it means in the context of your job as a paralegal is just looking at a given assignment and finding ways to make it more useful. This might not come naturally if you’re right out of college and used to completing assignments as directed by your professors. While professors might not be receptive to you asking them to make changes to their often well-thought out assignments, attorneys often are. Many times, it simply won’t occur to an attorney what the most logical and efficient way for you to complete a task is—they just want the task done. Looking for ways to make an assignment more useful and going the extra mile to do so shows attorneys that you are willing to put effort into and care about your work.
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3. Underestimating the importance of organization
In college it may not have mattered how long it took you to find a specific document or email (even if it was annoying to spend a frenzied few minutes searching for it) as long as you met your deadlines, but as a paralegal, a lack of organization can have a major impact on your performance. Having well organized files on your computer and in your desk for any hard copy documents and productions makes document retrieval easy and efficient which is incredibly valuable to attorneys in a time crunch (the same goes for keeping a well organized inbox). Practicing good organization from the beginning is excellent preparation for being a paralegal case lead later on in your career.