In the second part of our four-part series, we’re going to discuss a few ways in which the attorney can create a learning environment for the paralegal within the firm.
When paralegals have the right training, lawyers become more trusting in their judgment and are likely to delegate more work to them. The more paralegals can learn, the more valuable they can be (within the limits of their position), and the more their time is worth.
To maximize the paralegal’s value, we suggest creating a “culture of learning” within the firm.
What is a “culture of learning”? This is an environment created within the law firm that encourages the paralegal to learn more about the field of law in which they work. Providing paralegals with ongoing training helps them to understand the field of law and improves their productivity in the types of tasks they are being asked to undertake.
Throughout the training process, it’s crucial to encourage paralegals to ask questions about anything that they don’t understand. Attorneys have to overcome the fact that their paralegals are often intimidated by them and terrified of displaying their ignorance. This intimidation can lead to situations in which a paralegal neglects to ask a critical question of the attorney, either because the paralegal perceives the question as too difficult or unimportant. Unfortunately, the paralegal’s reticence has often been the cause of many misunderstandings, which can be frustrating for both parties. Encouraging paralegals to ask questions, no matter how uninformed they seem, shows that you are taking an interest in their training, reduces the number of miscommunications in your office and motivates the paralegal to learn with confidence.
In addition to training the paralegal on different aspects of the law, it is also important to train him or her on critical thinking skills. For instance, when a paralegal comes to the attorney for direction on a case, file or client, the attorney’s response is usually a quick answer without much explanation. Instead of supplying the paralegal with the answer immediately, ask the paralegal for a couple of solutions to the problem. We like to call this a “just-in-time” training opportunity. If the solution that the paralegal provides is correct, the attorney can take the time to reinforce their response with additional information. If the solution is wrong, the attorney can take the time to explain why. This extra time and attention given to the paralegal will equip him or her with the information needed to perform as a more efficient member of the team.
It’s important to know that a “culture of learning” doesn’t necessarily mean “classroom environment”. A “lunch-n-learn”, for example, is a great alternative to the typical training session. This is an in-office, lunch meeting between the attorney and team members wherein the firm sends out for food, and the session is held in the firm’s conference room.
Creating a comfortable learning environment for paralegals increases their value as a member of the legal team. As paralegals acquire more knowledge about the field in which they work, they’ll be able to apply that information to their daily tasks, thereby improving their productivity and elevating the attorney’s level of trust. The attorney will feel secure in delegating more tasks to the paralegal, knowing that they have equipped the paralegal with the information and skills to get the job done right.
In the next section, we’re going to discuss proper delegation techniques for the attorney, and how those techniques can increase the paralegal’s value within the firm.