How Paralegals May Gain More Responsibility Within the Firm Setting

Employers generally treasure workers who seek to improve their job performance and are eager to take on more responsibility-and law firms are no exception to the rule. A paralegal or legal assistant who's willing to learn new tasks and help out with additional duties may enjoy a boss who respects and values his or her contribution to the firm.

"For the most part, attorneys are looking for go-getters," said Glenda Van Syoc, Registered Paralegal at Sloan, Eisenbarth, Glassman, McEntire & Jarbor, LLC, in Topeka, KS, and President of the Kansas Paralegal Association. "Attorneys have a lot to do, and when a paralegal offers to take care of additional responsibilities, attorneys are generally happy to (accommodate him or her)." In fact, taking on additional tasks may allow paralegals to better fulfill their greatest task of all: allowing attorneys to work more quickly and efficiently.

But by taking initiative, paralegals and legal assistants aren't just helping their bosses; they're also helping themselves. Offering to take on more shows interest in one's work and the firm itself; consequently, go-getter paralegals are viewed as integral parts of the firm as a whole. They also show the willingness to take on even the toughest jobs, allowing their bosses to see their full potential. "If you don't have the willingness to learn as you go and jump in as needed, you won't get anywhere," Ms. Van Syoc said. The decision to take initiative often signifies an assertive and motivated employee.

But just how do experienced paralegals and legal assistants go about landing more responsibility? "Indirectly asking for new tasks by offering to help others may work," recommends Brenda Willett, Legal Assistant at Hinkle Elkouri Law Firm, LLC, in Wichita. KS, who's also actively involved with the Kansas Paralegal Association. "Ask questions about different projects and show initiative by showing your interest."

Sometimes a direct approach may also be a winner. "Ask your boss to let you try your hand at a new task," Ms. Van Syoc said. Simply asking may not always be enough, she warned. "At times, you have to look for a new project to come across your desk. Even if it's something you've never done before, give it back partially done. Show your understanding of the project by taking care of it the best way that you can. Use your current knowledge on the task, and let the attorney fine-tune (the final product)."

Although you may not perform perfectly the first time around, your employer will let you know what you still need to improve upon, Ms. Van Syoc points out. At the same time, he or she will realize your diligence to take on new tasks. And improvement is something all paralegals and legal assistance should seek, experts say. "Even seasoned paralegals can improve," Ms. Van Syoc said.

When all else fails, paralegals may consider bringing up their desires to add to their plates at meetings with their employers. "Bring it up at your annual review, for example," Ms. Willett recommended. "Let your supervisor know that you'd like to add more duties as part of your job-related goals for the following year."

And showing initiative doesn't end at five p.m.; paralegals and legal assistants may be well served by reserving some of their time outside of work for additional training and learning. "Take classes for your own professional and personal development," Ms. Willett advised, recommending seminars in one's practice area and computer training. Assertiveness training and motivational seminars, as well as membership in professional organizations, may also help on-the-job performance.

Being more assertive and motivated comes with many perks. Besides benefiting from their employers' increased faith and respect, paralegals may actually gain some tangible benefits from taking on more. "It makes you a more valuable employee," Ms. Willett said. "Eventually the firm will realize that, and you may be paid more." A diligent and innovative employee may also be less likely to face layoffs and more likely to receive the things he or she is seeking from his or her job and employer.

In addition, tackling more responsibility often leads to better job satisfaction. "It helps you gain confidence in your own abilities and job knowledge," Ms. Willett said. "Taking on more responsibility promotes tremendous fulfillment within yourself," agreed Ms. Van Syoc. "You're either in this for the job or for the career; (if it's the latter), knowing that you're doing your best will provide great job satisfaction."

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