How to Boost Your Paralegal Career -- and Your Legal Salary

Question:

I’m a paralegal at a small law firm, and I feel like I’m stuck in a rut. I’d like to acquire more skills through professional development so I can move up in my career and merit a bigger salary. What are some practical steps I can take? 

Answer:

No matter the size of your firm or the stage of your paralegal career, it’s always a smart idea to keep learning and growing professionally. Here are several ways you can increase your earning potential and move up the career ladder.  
 
1. Hone your technical abilities. Are you keeping up with the rapid changes in legal software and platforms? Employers value paralegals who are comfortable with technology. You could go the DIY route with self-study and attending webinars on topics like eDiscovery and LexisNexis. Sites like Lynda.com help you acquire advanced skills in essential software like Word, Excel, PowerPoint and Access, a database management system. Once you’ve gone through the initial learning, regularly apply these technical abilities in your current job so you become proficient.  

2. Sharpen your soft skills. Top-notch legal knowledge and software proficiencies don’t mean much if you can’t think critically, work in a team or draft a typo-free brief. In your current job, focus on polishing your work ethic and abilities in verbal and written communication, customer service and time management.  

3. Brush up on another language. Depending on the area you live in, bilingualism could benefit your career, according to the Paralegal Salary eBook from Robert Half Legal. If you know a second language but it’s been years since you’ve really spoken it, brush up. But even if you aren’t fluent in Spanish, Mandarin, French or Arabic, your intermediate second-language skills can improve a client’s experience and increase your value to a company. 

4. Branch out. In a small firm, paralegals have the opportunity to wear many hats. For example, you could offer to handle some of the trial preparation tasks typically performed by first-year associates that don’t require a law license. The more experience you acquire in your current role, the better prepared you’ll be to move up to a legal job with greater responsibilities. 

Rather than feeling like you’re in a rut, change your mindset. Think of your current job as training grounds for better things to come, then take the necessary steps to help attain higher levels of success.