by Charles Volkert, Esq.
Although a growing number of legal professionals prefer to cultivate business relationships online, many people remain overwhelmed by virtual networking. They're either not sure how to use it effectively or consider it just another thing they "should" do.
But it doesn't have to be a puzzle or a burden. You can develop your online professional reputation and help others in the process with some simple practices. Consider these suggestions for making the most of your efforts without consuming too much of your time:
1. Speak up.
It's of little value to have an online presence if you never seem to be "present." Don't be hesitant to share your knowledge or point of view, especially if you're well versed on a particular topic or legal area. For instance, you might post a relevant news article or comment on a legal matter in the news. Try to add value by offering an observation that may not be so obvious to others.
2. Acknowledge others.
Pay attention to what people are saying or working on. You can offer helpful suggestions, send articles of interest or just leave a comment to let members of your network know they're being heard. This may take you only 45 seconds of effort but could have a big impact on the people you want to develop closer professional relationships with.
3. Grow your circle.
Try to add at least one new person to your network a week. Expanding networks are far more effective than stagnant ones. But don't get hung up on the numbers. There are many ways to get more "followers," but those large follower or friend numbers don't necessarily mean you're getting more from your network. Instead, focus on the quality and relevance of the new relationships you're developing.
4. Raise your profile.
Especially if you're trying to establish your expertise in a particular area, consider connecting LinkedIn and Twitter accounts to establish more visibility. Tweet your professional ideas and links into your profile using the hash tag #in.
5. Tend your network.
Dedicate a certain amount of time a week to tending your network. You may want to set goals, such as to join five new LinkedIn groups, follow 10 new people on Twitter each month, or network on Facebook for a set amount of time each day. Investing just a few minutes a day can pay significant returns.
Finally, remember that although online networking can be highly effective in reaching a large number of contacts and boosting your profile, don't allow it to completely replace more traditional approaches. In-person interactions remain essential for developing a personal rapport with others, building trust and ultimately benefiting from the power of networking.
For more pointers on virtual networking and business etiquette, see this Robert Half Legal publication, "Business Etiquette: The New Rules in a Digital Age."
Charles A. Volkert is executive director of Robert Half Legal®,
a legal staffing service specializing in the placement of attorneys, paralegals, legal administrators and other legal professionals with
law firms and corporate legal departments. Based in Menlo Park, Calif., Robert Half Legal has offices in major cities throughout the
United States and Canada.
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Question & Answer
I'm a paralegal at a small law firm and still in the early stages of my career. I'm beginning to explore other job opportunities as well as considering additional training. What skills and training do you think are most essential for paralegals in today's business environment?
You don't mention your current credentials, but the most marketable paralegals generally have a bachelor's degree, four to seven years' experience, a certificate of completion from a paralegal education program approved by the American Bar Association (ABA), and also possess technical aptitude. If you aren't proficient in the latest legal software, this area may be one in which you have the greatest potential to build skills and enhance your marketability.
As law firms and corporate legal departments look for cost-effective ways to enhance the delivery of legal services, organizations are placing a premium on paralegals who possess not only legal knowledge but also have experience with e-discovery, information management and technology-based litigation support. Generally, the more tech-savvy a legal support professional is, especially in the area of litigation, the better his or her prospects are in the current job market. It's especially important for career-oriented professionals to be proficient with case management software, and e-discovery programs, such as Concordance, Summation and Trial Director.
To build technology skills and keep them sharp, consider attending legal technology conferences and seminars. Many professional associations for legal professionals, including the Association of Legal Administrators, offer online learning opportunities and education programs. In addition, e-discovery associations, such as the Association of Certified E-Discovery Specialists , offer webinars and courses to help paralegals and litigation support professionals advance their e-discovery knowledge.
One way paralegals can distinguish themselves and leverage their technology skills is by helping their firms identify the most appropriate tools to handle trial preparation and manage review work. For example, when a firm is conducting e-discovery, paralegals can take on a leadership role in document collection, review and production.
For more information about the evolving role of paralegals, especially in relation to technology, you may want to consult one of our publications in our Future Law Office research series, "Technology Reshapes the Legal Support Profession."
Submit a career-related question to Charles A. Volkert, Esq., executive director of Robert Half Legal, a leading staffing
service specializing in the placement of attorneys, paralegals, legal administrators and other legal
professionals with law firms and corporate legal departments. Charles will answer one question