The Blog Formerly Known As Practical Paralegalism
I will admit to being a relative “newbie” to Internet networking sites such as LinkedIn and Facebook, but even in the short period I have used them, I am excited about the benefits. My adult daughter urged me to get a Facebook profile, even though I was initially not very keen on the idea. But once I got started, I was hooked. Now when I discuss the advantages of networking sites with friends, I hear some of the same reservations I had myself, such as “I don’t have time for it” or “too many people will have access to confidential information about me.” But these sites, used responsibly, can offer paralegals many benefits, including marketing and career opportunities, as well as an efficient and fun way to maintain and develop professional contacts.
A typical workday for a paralegal is extraordinarily busy, meeting never-ending deadlines, responding to multiple clients’ needs and preparing countless documents. Working at this demanding pace sometimes does not offer us many opportunities to get to know other paralegals outside of the workplace, except for the occasional break in the routine to attend continuing legal education seminars or professional association meetings. Even at seminars and meetings, our opportunities to connect with other paralegals may be limited to where we are seated at lunch. But I usually leave those lunches thinking how great it is to connect with other paralegals who understand both the rewards and stresses of working in the legal field. Suddenly, I do not feel like I am working alone on an island (covered with piles of paper and telephones ringing non-stop).
But what used to happen when I got back to the office after a seminar or meeting? I found it hard to stay in touch with my new friends. I forget names easily. I would suddenly recall talking to someone in a highly specialized area who might be able to answer a question or who I would like to refer a case to, and realize that I had lost her card (or never asked for it). I was back on my island, too busy to maintain or seek new professional relationships which could offer support, educational opportunities and career development. Paralegal listservs helped, but it was difficult to put faces with names or develop relationships with people outside of the listservs who had similar interests or goals.
LinkedIn (http://www.linkedin.com/), a professional networking site, and Facebook (http://www.facebook.com/), a social networking site, are two of the most frequently used Internet sites. Membership is free. Using them changed my relative professional isolation. Suddenly, my solitary island was full of like-minded legal professionals from all over the country who broadened my horizons considerably. I now had many contacts who could answer questions about marketing, law office technology and legal issues. I gained several new mentors who have given me great advice regarding my professional goals. I joined new groups for legal professionals and met people I would never have had the opportunity to meet in person. Best of all, many of the people I meet in professional situations have profiles on these sites, and by adding each other as contacts or friends, my ability to recall names and stay in touch with people has improved immeasurably. I have been able to expand professional relationships and social friendships with people I might otherwise never have heard from again. I even had several memorable evenings watching the presidential debates and the election night returns via Facebook with friends from all over the country.
Internet networking sites can be used to:
- Market yourself, your business, your product and your professional associations
- Maintain existing professional contacts
- Meet new professional contacts and join new professional groups
- Obtain professional advice and participate in discussion boards
- Develop and maintain social relationships with people you meet professionally
- Stay up-to-date with the latest developments in your areas of interest
- Let other professionals know that you are available for referrals, consultations, projects and even employment
Internet networking sites such as LinkedIn and Facebook can benefit paralegals in many ways, but like any other resource, they have to be used carefully and responsibly. Do not use these sites to exchange privileged information or to engage in confidential communications with clients, witnesses and experts. Be mindful that information included in a profile may be viewed by other professionals and that they are forming an impression of you from your Internet profile, the same as they would if they met you in person. The same rules for face-to-face professional conduct apply to Internet communications. But professional networking is always beneficial to our careers, and these Internet sites offer us the ability to expand our professional horizons and make and maintain new contacts that can help make our profession even more rewarding