The Fringe Benefits of Continuing Legal Education by Shawn Stoner
The Fringe Benefits of Continuing Legal Education
Fringe Benefits are typically defined as employment benefits given in addition to wages or salary, such as health insurance, a pension or a company car. But a fringe benefit can be defined as any additional benefit in any situation. For example, increased energy is a fringe benefit of regular exercise.
In the same way, continuing legal education (CLE) has fringe benefits. The obvious benefits of Continuing Legal Education include earning CLE credits towards certification or learning new skills to help improve job performance. However, there are additional benefits that are not always so evident.
On a daily basis, you see the same attorneys, paralegals and legal assistants in your office. Networking brings you into contact with professionals you would otherwise never meet. Attend CLE dinner meetings of your local paralegal association. I have met sitting judges and the Clerk of Court. These are rare opportunities provided by networking while earning CLE credits.
Networking also introduces you to those who provide services to the legal community–private investigators, process servers, court reporters. They attend CLE functions to network too. You can be a hero to your firm if you are the one who brings in a good private investigator to help win a case. Don’t overlook these contacts.
Future employment opportunities are probably the greatest benefit of networking. Put yourself out there. If you are looking for a job, ask your colleagues if they know any firms that are hiring. You may be privy to job openings before they become public. A firm may prefer to hire someone who is a direct referral rather than advertising the position. Also, recruiters and representatives from staffing agencies attend these meetings and seminars because they know they will meet the best qualified candidates.
I attended a CLE dinner meeting where I met Leslie, a paralegal who owned a legal staffing firm. We stayed in touch and I contacted her a few years later when I wanted to change jobs. She encouraged me to interview with a small personal injury firm. I had no personal injury experience and did not want to work for an “ambulance chaser.” I interviewed anyway and got the job. To my surprise, the position was a perfect fit for me. I worked there four years, gaining experience as a pre-suit and litigation PI paralegal. I also learned insurance defense, which helped me secure my current position with an insurance company.
Personal Friendships and Mentors
Forming friendships is automatic because you already have something in common. You interact with others who have the same goals, values and work ethic. These friends can serve as mentors and encourage you in your professional growth. I met Linda, a paralegal, who taught at a seminar I attended. She impressed me with her knowledge and skills, but more importantly, she was an inspiration. She had taken her career to the next level as a CLE instructor. I wanted to be like her. I felt comfortable approaching her because she had such an open and inviting personality. She provided me with some industry contacts and even e-mailed them on my behalf. Then it was my turn to follow through and put in the work. I presented my first CLE on legal writing and proofreading less than six months after meeting Linda.
Continuing Legal Education takes you outside your comfort zone. Get involved in your local paralegal association as this affords all kinds of opportunities in addition to education. Add these affiliations to your resume, especially if you become a member, committee chair or officer. This shows potential employers that you are interested in professional growth and take your job seriously.
Continuing Legal Education helps you see the bigger picture. My first job was for a solo practitioner. At times I felt I would be stuck there forever. When I started attending CLE functions, I looked to my peers who had more experience and I realized there was something more.
14 years later, I work as a paralegal in an in-house litigation department of a Fortune-500 company. By networking, forming friendships and seeking mentors, I achieved the professional growth I dreamed of. Continuing Legal Education helped me see the potential for what I could become.
SHAWN STONER is a paralegal with the Fort Lauderdale office of Fidelity National Law Group, the in-house litigation division of the Fidelity brand of title insurance companies including Chicago Title Insurance Co., Commonwealth Land Title Insurance Co. and Fidelity National Title Insurance Company. A writer by nature, Ms. Stoner incorporates her writing and proofreading skills in her position at Fidelity. Her responsibilities include drafting complaints, answers, motions, discovery requests and responses, deposition summaries, mediation summaries, proofreading and editing, legal research and investigative research, document production, trial preparation and case management. Ms. Stoner has a B.A. degree in communications from Florida Atlantic University and earned her paralegal certification from NALA in 2003. This is her first article for Linda’s Paralegal Resources.