How To – Skills Building Session

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01Sep2013

How To – Skills Building Session

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By Alexis Kessler, Baldwin County ALP (Alabama)

We’ve all been there.  You start a new job, maybe your first job in the legal field, and they begin by giving you “basic tasks” until you both feel more comfortable in your skill level. Sounds great, right? Until you begin to realize that your definition of “basic” and their definition of “basic” are two completely opposite things.   So there you are sitting at your new desk with this “basic task” and no clue where to begin. You’re not sure if you should ask someone you work with because you don’t want to look like you don’t know what you are doing and you don’t want to do it wrong. Both give the same impression. Or maybe you’ve been there a long time and this “new job” is actually a promotion based on your proven skill level allowing you to start handling more advanced jobs. Now what do you do?

With this month’s topic, I am going to take a little different approach.  Instead of trying to come up with a list of skills necessary to do our jobs, which could fill an entire library, I decided to use this month’s topic as a springboard into ways that you can learn new skills to stay on top of the requirements for your job. These may be skills that you already use or ones that you may not be accustomed to doing. Having the skills to do your job or knowing the skills required for a particular job is only part of the process. Knowing how to find the answers/training necessary to learn/improve the skills that you may already have/need is essential to your success.

Don’t try to reinvent the wheel.

In our field there are very few times when you will be asked to create a new document or system for doing things. Using a search feature in your firm’s database/electronic filing system is a great first option. Sometimes we forget about all of the internal tools we have available to us. Knowing where to find a blueprint is a very valuable skill.

Google it.

The Internet can be a great asset if you know how to properly utilize it and find legitimate answers that are appropriate for your state.  Many states have online repositories of “form” documents that can help you. One of the most important skills is being able to identify the most efficient way to get the job done.

Black’s Law Dictionary/There’s an app for that.

Black’s law dictionary, if you don’t own a copy buy one, or be tech savvy in finding a website you like that offers a legal dictionary. Better yet, if you have a smart phone, download an app. I’ve got an app for legal and medical jargon just in case I’m sitting in a deposition or helping with a trial and a word gets thrown out there I don’t know. Your boss will be impressed that you never got lost in the words. It’s all about selling your skill level regardless of how long you have been in a particular position.

Know your top legal websites:

These are some of my favorites. Asking what site that the people who work with you use will make you seem proactive and keep you up to date.

Take advantage of legal training courses/seminars.

Besides your local and state meetings, there are normally seminars offered by various means. If a topic or area of law that you deal with is being discussed, ask to attend. Normally they aren’t too expensive and pay dividends for you in the end.  Who knows, your boss may be so impressed with your initiative that he/she agrees to pay for you to take the course. Knowing your firm’s policy on continued legal training is imperative and may surprise you. Some firms may agree to pay for “X” amount of hours each year.

If none of those ideas work, remember you’re a member of an amazing network of people who are always willing to help. Someone in your chapter will know the answer to your question, and, if not, I guarantee they know the exact person who does. When I first started my current job, I was asked to prepare twenty R45’s for one of our files. At this point in my career I had been working in the legal field for five (5) years and I had no idea what that meant. I googled it and then searched for it in our firm’s database and nothing. After thirty very long panicked minutes and not wanting to look clueless, I called one of our members to ask her if she knew the answer. She laughed out loud and when she finally caught her breath and explained to me what it was, I laughed, too. R45 stands for Rule 45 of Alabama’s Civil Procedure dealing with issuing non-party subpoenas. They wanted me to prepare non-party subpoenas. No problem.

Additionally, you’ve got tons of discounted educational opportunities available to you. It could be in the form of a legal training seminar offered by a local chapter, CLE provided at your chapter or state meetings, one of the NALS online learning center chat room sessions (a great way to find experienced mentors in your field who are more than willing to help you) or via the multimedia WebEd sessions available on the NALS website.  You know that there are many amazing benefits of being a member of this organization, but have you ever gone to the NALS “Benefits Page” and seen all of the things available to you through your membership? The list is extensive; don’t forget that it’s there for you when you need it most.

Copyright © 2013 NALS. This article was originally published on NALS website.

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