In Ontario, the paralegal profession is very attractive to students who are naturally interested in the law, motivated to help others—and perhaps have dreams of launching their own legal practice.
But other than the drive to make a difference, and an interest in our legal system, what else should students consider before choosing this training path? What other attributes, characteristics, and skills will they need to actually be successful as paralegals?
In this post, we look at some of the most important hard and soft skills it takes to excel in this field. If you're considering paralegal training, these are the traits you should be interested in building—and in some cases, the traits you should already possess.
1. Strong reader, analytical thinker & investigative researcher
Much of your success as a paralegal will hinge on your ability to digest and remember highly detailed, often complex, information. It starts in paralegal training, where students must learn a wide range of laws, legal procedures, regulations, and frameworks, including:
- statutes and by-laws
- torts and contracts
- provincial offences
- criminal summary conviction procedures
- consumer protection law
- the litigation process
- tribunal practice and procedure
- alternative dispute resolution
- landlord/tenant law
Once in practice, paralegals must use their reading, research, and analytical skills to track down records and analyze case information. There is a fair bit of "detective" work required, which typically means spending hours poring over documents, formulating arguments, and scouring data banks for information. Successful paralegals enjoy this process, and are good at it.
2. Extremely Well Organized, but also Flexible
Effective paralegals are master multi-taskers. They can organize and prioritize tasks, and juggle several cases at once, without losing track of important details and deadlines. In part, this "juggling act" is made possible by a very structured approach to file management. Paralegals must be good at cataloguing, categorizing, and organizing information for easy retrieval.
Many successful paralegals are consummate "list makers", continuously noting down and re-organizing tasks and goals. However, despite the emphasis on control and planning ahead, good paralegals are also able to shift gears when circumstances change. They are flexible, adaptable, and quick-thinking—which helps them to work well under pressure.
3. Polished Written & Spoken Communication
In order to be persuasive, legal language must be precise and thorough. Paralegals must possess well-developed spoken and written language skills for effectively drafting pleadings, documents, briefs—and for communicating with clients, court officials, colleagues, etc.
Flawless grammar, spelling, structure (and of course, factual accuracy) are essential for promoting a professional and trustworthy image, winning cases, and attracting new clients.
Successful paralegals leverage technology for virtually every aspect of their work. They are comfortable using spreadsheets, databases, e-filing systems, presentation software—and are savvy online researchers.
Paralegals who own their own practice are also familiar with website management and online promotional tools, such as social media and digital advertising. While recent paralegal college grads may not feel entirely comfortable in all of these areas, the most successful will make learning new tech skills a top priority.
5. Entrepreneurial Spirit
Paralegals in Ontario enjoy a greater scope of practice than their peers in other parts of Canada. After paralegal training, many professionals choose to start their own practice, perhaps specializing in a particular area of law.
However, paralegals face a considerable amount of competition in the Ontario marketplace, and must work hard to stand out, build a solid reputation, and attract new clients. Those with an "entrepreneurial spirit" are best poised to launch and sustain a thriving independent practice. This skillset includes:
- strong networking skills
- being a self-starter and an independent thinker
- being persistent, resilient, and hardworking
- quick to learn business skills (such as financial planning, bookkeeping, marketing, etc.)
6. Social/Emotional Intelligence (a genuine "people person")
Fundamentally, paralegal work is about helping people—often when they're at their most stressed and worried. So it's intuitive that some degree of social/emotional intelligence is a huge asset for professionals in this field.
Well-developed "people skills" help paralegals put anxious clients at ease, listen closely to catch key details, demonstrate genuine compassion, and most importantly, foster trust.
Socially intelligent paralegals also tend to be good at networking and marketing their own practice. They know how to "read a room" and can easily make connections with new people. And from a business standpoint, social intelligence is essential for ensuring clients feel properly attended to, earning quality referrals, and really putting down roots in the community where you practice.
This list could easily go on, as paralegal work draws on such a rich reservoir of both "hard" and "soft" skills. Think we missed something vital? Add it to the comments list below! Understanding the qualities needed to succeed (and be happy) in a career is crucial when making decisions about training, and choosing the right professional path.
Interested in learning more about starting your own successful paralegal career? Considering paralegal training options in the Ottawa area?
Take a look at the Paralegal Training offered by Herzing College in Ottawa. Click below for a complete list of courses, career options, and details about the diploma—or to chat live with a friendly advisor. We're here to help!