Setting goals and aiming high

Shannon Jackson

Paralegal in the Montgomery County District Attorney’s Office

When I moved from a clerical position in our office to a paralegal position without formal paralegal education, it was terrifying (yet exhilarating).

The book Surviving and Thriving in the Law Office: What Every Paralegal Should Know by Richard L. Hughes smoothed that transition by providing insight on how common issues are handled in a law office. Hughes is a supervising attorney turned paralegal educator, and the book provides a unique perspective into the daily life of a paralegal. Hughes knows what qualities attorneys prefer in a paralegal, and he knows the capabilities and needs of paralegals too. The book contains a number of reference materials and end-of-chapter exercises, and the author focuses on three main themes throughout: goal-setting, professionalism, and communication, each with several take-aways for readers.

Whether you’re just starting your career or you’re a seasoned professional, Hughes writes that we all ultimately succeed in the same way: by having goals. We fail from our fear of success, from our fear of failure, and from a lack of goal-setting. We all probably have similar goals—to get a raise, to earn a promotion, or to be the best paralegal in the office—but some are more successful than others because their goals are specific, and they are their own goals. When goals are more specific, they are easier to act on. For instance, instead of setting a goal to be the best paralegal in the office, why not set a goal to be president of the local paralegal association within the next five years? Narrowing goals down helps us know when a task is accomplished, and when we feel motivated by specific goals, we are more energized to act upon them.

Hughes addresses professionalism by discussing the connection between career and personal life. As Hughes explains, a person’s career and personal life are inherently entangled. They affect each other. If you aren’t happy at work, it’s hard to be happy at home, and when you’re not happy at home, it’s hard to be happy at work. Your attitude reflects your work, and in order to succeed, you can never forget that you are a professional. Whether you hate your job or love it, you are held to a high standard to produce the best work that you can—you have invested too much to be unhappy and unmotivated. If your job isn’t challenging you, you will get bored easily and lose motivation, and it will ultimately affect your work. Hughes recommends constantly learning new things and taking on new challenges to maintain a high standard of professionalism.

Good communication, Hughes tells us, is the key to success. Good communication creates positive relationships both inside and outside the office, which can strengthen both your professional and personal life. Hughes recommends that you never make assumptions about a person because doing so can impede good communication. The old adage, “Treat others how you want to be treated,” helps in this regard. Not only is it applicable with people you know (clients, coworkers, family, and friends), but it also should be the way we treat everyone. Hughes correctly points out that a smile goes a long way!

I would highly recommend this book to those just starting their paralegal careers, as well as to those obtaining their paralegal certification. It might also be beneficial for attorneys who want to know more about the challenges their paralegals might face.

Surviving and Thriving in the Law Office: What Every Paralegal Should Know By Richard L. Hughes; published by Delmar Cengage Learning, 2004