CIPA Meetings: Important to Your Career Growth

If you do not attend CIPA meetings, why not?

Some members have cited logistical reasons – location, date, time – for not attending meetings, which is a common reason cited by members in all kinds of associations.  Although CIPA has attempted to make its meetings as convenient as possible for its members by alternating locations between Peoria and Bloomington and scheduling meetings for after work hours, it is an unfortunate fact that meetings cannot always be convenient for all of its members.

But what about the oft-cited excuses that “the topic is not interesting to me” or “the CLE topic is not related to what I do?”  I hope that you will consider the following counterpoints.

Excuse: The CLE topic is not related to my area of law.
Answer: Many areas of law interrelate.

Why would an attorney or paralegal want to spend their time and/or money to attend a bar or paralegal association meeting offering CLE credit for a presentation on a subject of law in which they do not practice? I discovered first hand that even though two areas of law do not have anything to do with each other on their face, they absolutely can correlate.

I work at a small family law firm and I am fortunate to work for attorneys who value continuing legal education for the staff.  The attorneys paid for my fellow legal assistants and me to attend a local bar association luncheon that offered CLE for an environmental law presentation about the liability attributed to landowners with property containing toxic waste. How could a such a presentation possibly relate to family law? On the surface, the two areas of law have nothing to do with each other. However, in the midst of the presentation my coworker realized that the topic was directly related to one of our divorce cases involving the distribution of a parcel of land that contained an environmental hazard. Just because the topic of a CLE presentation does not appear to be related to your current job does not mean that you will not learn useful information that is applicable to your work – or the work you may do at a future job.

Excuse: I am not interested in that CLE topic/speaker/theme.
Answer: Professional growth and development is important to paralegals AND their bosses.

Being a paralegal can be simply a job that you like (or do not like) but nothing much more than a means to earn a paycheck. Alternately, being a paralegal can be a career that you love and look forward to growing and developing.

When it comes to your career, you can only get out of it what you are willing to put into it.  The law changes all the time and it is important to keep up with new rules, statutes and case law. Attending CIPA meetings and CLE events is indicative to future employers that you are someone who is interested in learning and advancing in your chosen profession.

Case in point: As a paralegal student, I had joined Central Illinois Paralegal Association, ABA, and another paralegal association. I was called for an interview for an intern position with a local major employer.  I was well prepared for this interview, and felt that I knocked my interview out of the park – except for one question. One of the attorneys interviewing me noted that I was a member of CIPA, and I beamed “Yes, I am.” Then he asked, “Are you an active member? Do you attend meetings?” I could only answer honestly that I was not active nor had I attended any meetings, which demonstrated to my interviewers that I was not as serious about a career as a paralegal as I wanted to appear.

For attorneys and paralegal managers, note that paying for your paralegals and legal assistants to attend CLE classes and events demonstrates that you have a vested interest in your employees.  Let’s face it – having an intelligent paralegal who wants to learn about the law and is interested in developing his or her career is good for your bottom line, and not just in billable hours.  If your office seems to be a revolving door for legal staff, it is not only expensive to hire and train new employees frequently, but there is a loss of revenue in the down time while the position remains unfilled, as well as a loss of revenue caused by the time it takes for a new employee to get up to speed.  A willingness to pay a competitive wage is not always enough to retain an excellent paralegal. Offering benefits such as providing CLE opportunities for your paralegals, and paying for their membership in a paralegal association can assist you in retaining high quality employees by demonstrating to them that you have a stake in their professional growth.

Excuse: I do not need to earn CLE credits; attending meetings/seminars is not that important to me.
Answer: Networking is important to everyone.

CIPA meetings and seminars are about far more than just the CLE.  They are an important opportunity to network and meet paralegals who work in other offices, in other areas of law, and in other towns.  What is the big deal about networking with other paralegals? There are many benefits to building a network of paralegals with whom you can interact face to face on a regular basis, including client referrals, procedural input, general advice, and job referrals. If your office has a position opening, you may meet a wonderful candidate at a meeting. Conversely, if you have been laid off, are unhappy with your current job, or are a recent graduate of a paralegal program, your network of fellow CIPA members are likely to be “in the know” with regard to unadvertised job openings. It is no secret that a large number of paralegal positions are advertised by word-of-mouth rather than in the newspaper or online.  It is important to develop professional relationships before you need a favor because people are much more willing to put in a good word for you if they know you personally, as opposed to having just met you. Networking face to face is beneficial to everyone, whether you are looking for a job or seeking a qualified candidate.

If you have not attended a CIPA meeting recently, please check out our calendar for future meetings and make it a point to join us. We love getting feedback from our members. If you have ideas for speakers and locations, please contact CIPA at cipa@ciparalegal.org.

By: Nichole Byers
Paralegal, Ogar & Miller