Avoiding Career Blunders

I graduated a few months ago and just received a great job offer, which I've accepted. While I’m excited about beginning my paralegal career, I’m also worried about making mistakes, being new to the job. What sorts of things should I be paying attention to so that I start out on the right foot?

Congratulations on landing the job. Legal hiring is picking up, so, as you set out as a newly minted paralegal, it’s natural to want to do everything in your power to make a great first andlasting impression on your new boss and colleagues. Here are some good habits to develop as you start your legal career.

  1. Pay strict attention to details.

    Accurate and clear written communication is a basic requirement for any professional role, but meticulousness is essential in the legal profession. Messy briefs, memoranda and complaint letters would net you a lower grade during school. But in the "real world," they will harm your reputation and hold back your burgeoning legal career. You don’t want to be reprimanded by a judge or have your case dismissed over bad legal writing. Minimize mistakes by not rushing. Carefully research, draft, check and double-check each document. Make sure names, dates and figures are consistent, the content is organized, and all citations are correct and current.
  2. Be on time.

    Promptness is non-negotiable if you want to grow in your legal career. Punctuality shows respect for your boss, colleagues, clients, other counsel and, potentially, the judge. When you’re consistently late for appointments, meetings or court appearances, others will start to see you as unreliable and immature. To establish yourself as a trustworthy and dependable legal professional, make tardiness a rare exception. Allow for extra travel time so you can show up on time, every time.
  3. No one is an island.

    Get to know your colleagues and earn a reputation as a can-do team player. Take the time to engage coworkers in other departments. Schedule lunch or coffee with a coworker, and attend work functions so you can deepen your relationship with other employees. In-house networking not only will help make your job more enjoyable, it also can help boost your legal career.
  4. Know where to draw the social line.

    At the same time, the law firm is not your home or a social hangout. While you want to be open and friendly with colleagues, you should set some boundaries between work and personal life. Don’t bring your problems to the office. You won’t solve them there and, worse, you could gain notoriety for being melodramatic and unprofessional. Here are some ways to stay above the fray:
    • Remove yourself from gossip by changing the subject or walking away.
    • Tread carefully when it comes to social media.
    • Do socialize at work, but within limits. You don’t want to get a reputation as a time-waster or chatterbox.

A strong network won’t happen overnight. It takes steady work, self-initiative and occasionally venturing outside your comfort zone when the situation calls for it. But robust legal careers are built on quality relationships, so your extra effort to build a first-rate network will likely result in knowing the right people in the right places to help you get to where you want to be.