How to Gain Career-Boosting Legal Skills 

Question:

I keep reading about job opportunities for legal professionals with in-demand skills. What can I do to gain such specialized expertise in my current position as a law firm paralegal so I can expand my career options?  

Answer:

You have the right instincts about developing specialized skills. Adding knowledge and abilities from hot practice areas can greatly increase your career potential. Here’s what to do. 

1. Know the needs 

If you want more doors to open for your paralegal career, spend time in the most desirable practice areas. But what are they? The Robert Half Legal 2018 Salary Guide shows the fields with the most jobs today are litigation, business/commercial law, real estate and regulatory/compliance. If you’re interested in moving to a position in a corporate legal department someday, the needs there are related to intellectual property, contracts and labor/employment law, as well as the previously mentioned specialty areas.  

2. Sharpen your tech skills 

Do some introspection. What areas need shoring up? Are you shaky with cloud-based platforms? How are your online research skills? Can you speak the language of eDiscovery? Law firms and legal departments look for employees who are fearless around technology. Once you’ve decided what skills you most need to work on, look for relevant degrees or certifications, continuing legal education (CLE) courses and workshops that can boost your tech savviness. 

3. Get your supervisor’s help 

Chances are, your employer is eager to help you develop capabilities to make you a more specialized and valuable legal professional. Talk to your boss to see if you could be assigned to a few projects outside your current area. This may not be possible in a boutique firm, but legal professionals in large law firms might be able to assist with a case in another department. Another possibility is to shadow someone with the specialized skills you seek. Employers appreciate workers who are enthusiastic about professional growth and often work with them to keep them happy in their job. 

4. Seek out a mentor 

Having an experienced guide who offers advice on setting and achieving goals can be a great way to get to the next level of your legal career. If your firm doesn’t have a formal program, find a mentor on your own. Remember, this person doesn’t have to work for your employer. In fact, someone from the outside may be able to offer more objective counsel than an in-house colleague. 

Understanding the specialized expertise employers seek can greatly improve your odds of moving your career forward. Take advantage of resources associated with your current legal job in addition to seeking your own growth opportunities to build the expertise you need for your next professional challenge.