Attorney Dera Johnsen-Tracy, treasured instructor in the paralegal program at Globe University-Madison West, started teaching for us in the fall of 2009. She stands out for her ability to engage all students in a fun, energetic, positive atmosphere.
As one student in the paralegal program shared, “She knows what she is talking about and makes class interesting. Her stories about her practice really make it seem as if you are right in the office with her. She lets you know up front what is expected from you in the law office as a paralegal.”
Dera shared her advice about the paralegal profession and how students can get ahead. It’s hard, but it can be done. It’s about priorities, discipline and motivation. Here are her seven tips for being a successful paralegal:
- Education is key. When it comes to income, education is very important. If you don’t have education but have a lot of experience as a paralegal, it may not be to your benefit. “You might be able to get a job, but employers know that they don’t have to pay you as much as somebody who has a degree.”
- Take it one goal at a time. Set your ultimate goal, but start with the smaller goals that are achievable. For Dera, who had her first daughter when she was 18, getting her associate degree in legal assisting was her focus. “That allowed me to get my foot into the door,” she said. She went on to obtain her bachelor’s degree and eventually achieved her ultimate goal of obtaining her Juris Doctorate degree from Marquette University Law School.
- Get your foot in the door ASAP. Even if you have to start at the bottom (which is likely), that is okay. Use that job as your stepping stone to your ultimate career goal.
- Show your worth to your employer. By taking on additional projects that your employer doesn’t ask you to do shows your motivation and drive. “I think the difference between somebody who is always going to be more of a secretary and someone who is going to achieve paralegal status is that person will figure out a way to do it themselves instead of simply taking the direction and doing only what they are told. That is a huge difference,” Dera said.
- Work on being detail-oriented. This skill is essential in the type of work a paralegal does. If you are lacking in this skill but driven, Dera’s advice is to practice. “Practice drafting documents while you are in school. Improve your writing and communication abilities. Take advantage of that opportunity while you are in school. Globe University-Madison West has many programs available to help with that. If you like the idea of being a paralegal, but you aren’t very detailed-oriented now, you have to put yourself in a position to get there.”
- Block your time and be firm on your schedule. It’s definitely a challenge but having your priorities set is essential. Dera experienced the challenge balancing her home, work and school life first hand as a young, single mom. “If you have children, bed time is key. They must have a bed time. For my daughter she knew she had to go to bed by 8 p.m. because ‘Mommy has to study.’ You have to be strict on that. The same goes with your significant other. They need to realize that you need time to study and you have to make that a priority.”
- Schedule “me” time. Allow yourself one night a week to go out to just be you and just have fun. “It’s essential because you have to refuel.”
Are you motivated and interested in the paralegal program? Learn more about what it takes to become a paralegal through our website.