Being a successful leader involves more than just being bossy. In this episode of The Paralegal Voice, host Carl Morrison talks to Lisa Vessels about the characteristics that make a paralegal a strong leader. From volunteering with the Girl Scouts to effectively communicating with subordinates, they discuss Lisa’s experience becoming an effective leader. Additionally, Lisa gives her tips and tricks to improve leadership skills through understanding people’s personality type. Stay tuned until the end for Listener’s Voice, Carl’s recurring segment featuring audio questions or comments from a listener. To send in your own question, email Carl at [email protected].
Lisa Vessels lives in Miami, Florida, and is employed by Duane Morris LLP as manager of the rules-based docketing software program utilized by her firm’s U.S. offices.
Special thanks to our sponsors NALA, Thomson Reuters Firm Central, and ServeNow.
The Paralegal Voice
Paralegal Leadership Skills
Carl Morrison: Hello everyone. Welcome to The Paralegal Voice, here on Legal Talk Network. I am Carl Morrison, a certified paralegal, a paralegal educator, devoted to law, and your host of The Paralegal Voice.
My guest today is Lisa Vessels. Before we get started we want to say thank you to our sponsors.
NALA is a professional association for paralegals providing continuing education, voluntary certification and professional development programs. NALA has been a sponsor of The Paralegal Voice since our very first show.
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So Lisa, thank you very much for being our guest on today’s show. Tell our listeners a little bit about yourself.
Lisa Vessels: Hi, Carl I am a manager for the docketing function at Duane Morris LLP, that’s a nationwide firm that’s based out of Philadelphia. I myself am based in Miami but I do travel a lot for my job and I am also very involved with not only my local association, Paralegal Professional Association but I am currently on the board of National Federation of Paralegal Associations or NFPA as we call it.
I am currently the board advisor which means I am the immediate Past President and I have served in other board positions the Vice-President of Positions and Issues which oversees regulation and various other issues that paralegal touch on. I have held similar positions in my local and statewide alliance as well.
Carl Morrison: Great. Welcome Lisa, we are glad to have you here today. I know that you and I have some history together and I am really excited about this show.
The goal of The Paralegal Voice is to discuss a wide range of topics important to the paralegal industry and share with you leading trends, significant developments and resources you will find helpful in your career and everyday job.
My guests will be engaging in informational with a little bit of fun thrown in there. Our topic today is the importance of paralegals developing their Leadership Skills.
So Lisa, before we get into our main topic I understand that you are at NFPA’s joint conference in beautiful Lexington, Kentucky. So you got to tell me how are things going at the conference?
Lisa Vessels: Well today I am enjoying that beautiful springtime weather in Lexington, Kentucky. I just got in and the conference actually starts tomorrow.
Carl Morrison: Oh okay.
Lisa Vessels: So I toured at Bourbon Distillery today.
Carl Morrison: So you have not really started the big fun yet, right?
Lisa Vessels: That’s right.
Carl Morrison: So tell me what is NFPA’s Joint Conference all about?
Lisa Vessels: Well, it’s three conferences rolled into one weekend, hence the name, it’s not about cannabis sorry. One day focuses on paralegal regulation. Another on paralegal certification, specifically NFPA’s paralegal certification exams, and the third day is on leadership skills.
Carl Morrison: Right.
Lisa Vessels: So an NFPA Board member and what we call coordinator, sort of a committee chair develops a program around each topic and we have speakers from all over the nation to share their ideas and skills and it’s a great networking event. I went to my first in 2007 in Dallas Texas and have been going every year since. I love it.
Carl Morrison: That’s great. Well it’s funny that you mentioned about leadership skills because of course that’s what our topic is about today. So tell our listeners first what are you most passionate about when it comes to your profession as a paralegal; is it regulation, is it certification, is it leadership, is it all three? What are you truly passionate about?
Lisa Vessels: I would say it’s regulation and certification are my two biggest passions with regard to paralegals and professionals. If I had to pick one it would probably be regulation as you know I was heavily involved with the Paralegal Regulation Movement in Florida. So that was probably the big reason why I didn’t get involved nationally until things sort of quieted down on the statewide front.
Carl Morrison: Got you, got you. So you have been heavily involved in the profession for some time now, is that correct?
Lisa Vessels: Yes, yes. I pursued a formal education and paralegal studies later in life I would say and it wasn’t until after I had completed my bachelor’s degree in paralegal studies that I became involved with my local association, South Florida Paralegal Association, but I have jumped in and have been involved ever since.
Carl Morrison: That’s great. That’s absolutely great. I love to talk with paralegals that are also equally as passionate in our profession as you are, so this is great. So tell me what other community organizations do you participate in outside of the legal industry?
Lisa Vessels: Oh well I would say since I have been on the NFPA Board I have limited my outside participation to just one and that’s a girl scout. I was heavily involved with my daughter when she was growing up, as a leader, a troop leader etcetera and at the time I had obtained training — sort of a trainer certification with the Girl Scouts to deliver training for adult leaders. And since my daughter has aged out a Girl Scout, I continued to do that as a volunteer and I really enjoy that participation with not only the leaders but the girls too.
Carl Morrison: That’s great. It’s important I think to be active in other associations as well that are outside the legal industry, but I would like to get your take, do you think it’s beneficial for paralegal to be active and engaged in other leadership roles, other associations that are not legal in nature?
Lisa Vessels: Absolutely. Certainly you have to know where your limits are and I had to give up certain things with taking leadership positions in other associations. I used to be more heavily involved with my children’s PTA, the local homeowners association that kind of thing, and you have to pick and choose what you are going to pursue or — you can’t do everything well, but I do believe it is important because we get a little wrapped up in the legal world, there’s so many aspects of it, that there’s so many different pieces you can get involved with, that if you don’t broaden and move outside that box and I hate that phrase thinking outside the box, but there I just about set up myself. But I do believe that it is important to broaden that mindset so that you can — have a fresh take on things.
Carl Morrison: Yeah, exactly right. How has your participation in NFPA helped you when it comes to developing and fine-tuning your leadership skills and not only just in NFPA, but Girl Scouts, PTA, things of that nature, how has your participation helped you develop and fine-tune those leadership skills?
Lisa Vessels: Well I think I have found different pieces with each group you get involved with, but I think that the biggest help has been to understand how you can work across other personalities and develop or learn other ways to interact or participate in group activities and ideas developing plans around projects and that type of thing.
So leadership skills specifically can be something that’s difficult to cultivate — you are working with lots of different personalities and I have to learn how to navigate those waters.
Carl Morrison: Exactly right, and you were mentioning a second ago about the benefits of being active and engaged in other associations and organizations, but you have to ensure that you don’t burn your candle at both ends, that you don’t overextend yourself. Paralegals in general, we tend to be overachievers and we have a tendency to want to try to do more than what we really should, I am speaking by experience and you have to weigh those — you have to go okay, well I am taking on a heavier leadership role in this organization, I can’t really do equal work in these other groups. So okay, I am going to shift my gears and work heavily in this and then, yeah go and do others and other things. But yeah, it’s important to ensure that you have that healthy what I call work-life balance working in an association and living your life to its fullest.
So I will tell you from a leader serving on the National Board of NALS for almost five years now and serving at different leadership roles in other organizations, I like to read books on leadership and you probably have done the same thing.
My favorite book is Lincoln On Leadership by Donald Phillips. I don’t know if you’ve read that book. I love the book in the way of learning more about what was really Abraham Lincoln’s leadership style. And what I was really impressed with was, the one thing Lincoln did was to basically and this is — it’s kind of a funny although it was probably not funny to this particular General, but he basically fired General John Fremont in September of 1861 for failing to get out of the office and circulate among the troops.
So Lincoln, he has quoted in the book is saying that General Fremont does not know what’s going on in the very matter that he is dealing with. He is — in that little ivory tower basically. And so, my point to you and to the listeners is as a leader do you think it’s important that you keep in close contact with the subordinates that you work with in your association? And if so, why do you think that is, what’s your take on that?
Lisa Vessels: Absolutely, I actually grew through. I’m a huge advocate of face-to-face interaction. I know that a lot of times we can get caught up in e-mail conversation and when you know someone more intimately, it’s easier to understand the tone or inflection what is that they tend to use in their e-mail communication.
But sometimes, you just have to pick up the phone, and have a conversation and you cannot see that perhaps they’re misinterpreting what you’re saying, right, calls are good, video chats are better, but nothing beats a face-to-face interaction.
We just can’t substitute that piece where you can see their facial expressions, you can see their body language, as someone who frequently teaches others, I, in my job now I deliver the training for the people who are using the docketing software, and I go to all the different aspects, et cetera.
So I can see when I’m delivering the training face-to-face, I can see the deer in the headlights look, I can see the blank stare, the wrinkled forehead, it’s much easier to see where the sticking point is, where — when I deliver training remotely or on the phone, I have no idea so they put me on there and they’re texting their friend on the phone.
And so, it’s hard. Yeah, there is no comparison with regard to a personal interaction and I think it’s really key with regard to board interaction as well.
For a lot of people that aren’t — don’t work with each other everyday, they maybe come together monthly or quarterly and a lot of things can be going on personally, professionally, just I have no idea. So it is key, I think.
Carl Morrison: And I agree with you 100%. First and foremost, if you can meet face-to-face, again you can see the deer in the headlight look, the furrowed brow, the things of that nature that you can respond quicker and easier to the situation at hand instead of you get an e-mail and now the person has read your e-mail and has totally added tone and inflection to the email that you did not intend, and it’s better to do it when you can see it face-to-face.
And from the board concept, it didn’t matter whether it’s your local chapter or a national board. If you meet, and you have individuals across a vast geographic expanse, sometimes it’s good. If you can’t do it face-to-face on whatever regular schedule you have to use technology to your benefit.
Use Zoom, use Google Hangouts, everybody can see each other and seeing the reactions that they’re giving and to me, it’s a better dialogue that happens when you can interact one-to-one or one-to-five or however many people are in the room, even virtually even better than just talking on the phone.
Because it’s the same concept with a phone, you don’t know if the person has put you on mute and is watching TV, that type of thing.
So I think it’s really important and I agree with what Donald Phillips said in the book to ensure that get out and interact as a leader, it’s important, because if you stay up in your ivory tower, then the individual or individuals that you’re working with, your subordinates, it’s not the same relationship.
So let’s take a short commercial break, and when we come back we’ll continue our discussion about the importance of paralegals developing their leadership skills.
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Carl Morrison: Welcome back to The Paralegal Voice. I’m Carl Morrison. My guest today is Lisa Vessels, and Lisa and I have been having great conversation about leadership skills and developing them through your association activities that you are doing.
So Lisa, before the commercial break, we were talking about keeping in close contact with your subordinates at all times. So why don’t you tell our listeners some tips, and tricks, and thoughts you have on how you keep in that constant contact with those you work with and lead in your association?
Lisa Vessels: Well as a Board Advisor now, I have a smaller role with subordinates, that’s a very limited role, and I am asked more with the board members and giving them feedback with regard to procedures or have possible ways to approach various issues.
I try to be as detailed as possible when I’m communicating via e-mail, and when I’m reading back something I’m sending out, I try to look at it from the way that I would see it if I had no background information, am I explaining this well or am I giving them information.
When I work more with committee members, committee chairs, I would try to connect over shorter periods of time, rather than say here is your project, this is your deadline, and check in with them in the deadline and find out we’re here, we’re not here. I try to say break this up into pieces, maybe a third of the way through we should be trying to be about at the C mark, and halfway through, we’re going to be at the N mark, something like that, thinking in terms of an alphabet.
Because sometimes, if you let things go for too long whatever the stumbling block may have been now it snowballed into something bigger and as the project just imploded a bit. So it’s a much harder to get back on track waiting for long periods of time.
So as someone with a subordinate, that’s I think my go-to idea for helping application of communication.
Carl Morrison: Right, because as leaders, it’s important for us to really project manage and if you think about it, it’s the same concept in what we do in our daily work, our life of ensuring that we’re meeting court deadlines that we are finalizing production of documents in a timely fashion, things of that nature. We live by the calendar and so we’re not doing in a silo, we’re working with the legal secretary, we’re working with the associate attorney, we’re working with the partner, we’re working with the vendor, understanding and making sure that all those individuals know whether they’re supposed to be at.
It’s important as a leader to know where your committee, your board things of that nature are at and reaching the goals and benchmarks as individuals. So how did you develop and strengthen your leadership skills through association work and do you think it’s important to constantly improve those skills?
Lisa Vessels: Absolutely. I think it’s important to constantly improve those skills. I mean technology changes, process changes, what really has been tried and true before has now morphed into something very different and if you have the mindset that we’ve always done it this way before, you’re going to commit the same mistakes or over and over again.
I think a postmortem is always a good tool to use no matter what — whether it’s for an event or perhaps a particular project or it’s always helpful to find out not only from the people that were attending or the recipients of your services, but also from the people behind the scenes, what could we do well, what could we do better next time. Constantly evaluating how the process is working and making changes to apply those skills that you improved upon.
Carl Morrison: Exactly. Exactly right.
Lisa Vessels: Sometimes an anonymous call for feedback can also be helpful. People might not want to provide feedback in a group setting. They would feel more comfortable getting it in a third-party sort of an anonymous way and it gets good, that the topic out on the table, you really need to discuss the good subject as well as the tough ones.
Carl Morrison: And that is exactly right, that’s really important. I’ll add this additional tip to what you’re talking to kind of piggyback on. You have to learn the personality types that you’re working with from a leader standpoint. So you may have someone that is very aggressive and very demanding, it’s not the right word but very direct.
And then you have those that take a little bit more of a true follower mindset and they may be a little more shy to not just openly make a critique or make a comment, they’re more willing to do it outside. So you have to learn those different personality types and know okay, well this person I’m going to have to connect with him after or try to engage them at the time. Say you’re doing a board meeting. Try to extract a little bit and get them to respond. I deal with students all the time, I have very direct students that have no question and answering a question and then I have those students that sit there and I know they know the answer, but they’re shy. They are a little more reserved, they are a little more conservative and so I do things to elicit them to have to respond to the kind of step outside, here we’re going to say that phrase, outside of the box, and get a little more comfortable of coming out of that that shell.
So let me ask you also how do you apply those leadership skills and make that transition of those leadership skills that you’ve developed in your organization and association into like your work life, your home life, how do you do that, how do you make that and how do you apply really is the question, how do you apply those to your work and home life?
Lisa Vessels: Well I think home life can be interesting to apply these types of ideas to. I found it particularly helpful when my children were transitioning into their teen years, right.
Carl Morrison: Right.
Lisa Vessels: But you also see yourself in your children, so you can recognize things that you may have learned that you’ve done, learn from so to apply the ideas, a feedback idea to the home life. It’s important to incorporate the collaborative mindset once your children are getting older. I mean my daughter never let me pick out her clothes for her from the time she was at school and old enough to put her own clothes on but when your kids are young, we can check out their outfits and yeah, I think they are learning, you can have those discussions and have to learn how to process a team collaboration and different personalities, just as you were saying.
They are evolving as people as well and so are you, you started out as a young couple and had different ideas and things evolved over time. So you need to learn and grow with that to continue to make a long-term partnership.
Carl Morrison: And it’s the same with a law firm working in a corporate setting, working in whatever your case might be as a paralegal, it’s the same concept. You have to learn the different personality types that you’re working with if you’re in a leader type of role in your work life.
And so you can apply those skills that are easily transferable. I mean when I lived in Tulsa Oklahoma, I was heavily active in my church and the skills that I had developed working with association, it was easy transition and took on some leadership roles in the church.
And so you learn to — you learn them in your association work and vice versa. You learn it in other ways, Girl Scouts, PDA, whatever the case might be and it’s easily transferable into the organization setting.
Do you think some individuals have leadership skills that are inherent, they are “the born leader” or do you think all leaders are made, not born and how do you determine what your leadership style is?
Lisa Vessels: Well I think, there are certainly people that are more adaptable to a leadership style, not all leaders are the same, there’s all types of leadership styles as well. And I think certain people can have a leadership style that work with a certain team very well.
And that same leader may not work as well with another group of different types of personalities. So I think that can be subjective and it really can be a collaborative team that work well under a certain type of leader. I think leaders also absolutely need to delegate responsibilities but also not always letting — if someone drops the ball, either finding someone else to be the team player, to pick that ball up or pick up the ball themselves and finish the project.
And that’s not only an easy skill to find the right balance, even though you don’t want to micromanage.
Carl Morrison: Right.
Lisa Vessels: But, you also need to make sure things are staying on track. So it’s a delicate balance. I think there is definitely — certain people that are more adaptable to that than others, but I think everyone has the ability to be a leader and it really depends on the team that they’re working with as well.
Carl Morrison: Exactly, right. If I was a new paralegal just getting out and I want to get active in the association I’ve just recently joined, I’m like hey, I want to do some sort of leadership role. What would you say are two quick tips and tricks that you would recommend, just a couple of quick tips?
Lisa Vessels: I would say first of all, don’t jump in as your first project as the treasurer or something. Work on a committee, start as a helper, part of the smaller piece of a bigger pie and understand what your strengths are, what do you bring to the table, certainly understand what are the openings that the local association has, but don’t try to just fill a hole where one exists, an opening where one exists if you know absolutely that’s not a strength for you.
Because you set yourself up for I think disappointment that you don’t feel you do well, so I think it’s helpful to try and apply where you feel you have strengths to start and branch out from there.
Carl Morrison: And I have an additional tip to piggyback on that from the leaders’ aspect when a new paralegal or new individual comes on to and wants to take on a role is to find their niche what they enjoy and match that to a particular project, start small with them but more importantly is to nurture. The new being the new kid on the block as they come into their own.
So definitely it’s important to guide those individuals accordingly. So it looks like I’m running out of time, I could talk all day on this particular topic but real quick, I always have a fun question for my guests, so you’re not any different. So you can’t get away from me, I got to ask this question, tell the listeners, what’s your favorite vacation spot?
Lisa Vessels: That is a tough one, it really is. I have different places that I like for different things and I would say that place I’d like to go for food fun is San Francisco.
Carl Morrison: Yeah.
Lisa Vessels: I would say I definitely would like any place in a forest or mountains for otherwise active fun vacation time.
Carl Morrison: Great. I’m an ocean person so it’s got to be a body of water I got to getting to.
Lisa Vessels: Living in Miami, I can see all the bodies of water, I don’t want to.
Carl Morrison: Well Lisa, this has been great, great conversation; great time and that’s all we really have in the way of time for today’s podcast. But I want to tell our listeners to be sure and tune in to next month’s episode and of course, we’re getting ready for Cinco de Mayo, Memorial Day, and my favorite time of year, this summer fun.
So catch me at a pool in the future and Lisa, tell you, most importantly have a great time at the NFPA’s Joint Conference this weekend. I wish you guys the best, and I hope you have a lot of fun.
Lisa Vessels: Well, thank you so much Carl. It’s been very enjoyable to participate in this podcast, The Paralegal Voice. And I wish you all the best and enjoy the summer.
Carl Morrison: If any of our listeners want to reach out to you directly, Lisa, how would they do that?
Lisa Vessels: The best way to reach me Carl is to e-mail me at HYPERLINK “mailto:[email protected]”[email protected].
Carl Morrison: Perfect. Lisa, again thank you so much for taking the time to be my guest today, I have really enjoyed it and I hope you have enjoyed it too.
Lisa Vessels: I have, I have. Thank you so much for asking me to join you today, I have enjoyed it a lot. Thank you.
Carl Morrison: Great, great. Thank you so much. We are going to take a short break to hear a message from our sponsor and when we come back, we’ll hear some paralegal tips and announcements and events coming up. Stay tuned.
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Carl Morrison: Welcome back. The following are some upcoming paralegal and paralegal related conferences that of course you want to make note of and of course, more importantly attend. I should be attending all of them, so catch me at one of the upcoming conferences.
The first one is NALA, the Paralegal Association is hosting their 2018 conference and Expo, July 11-13 in St. Louis Missouri at the Hilton St. Louis at the ballpark located in the center of downtown. I love St. Louis, I’ve been there many a times, it’s humid in July, so it will be a little warm, but NALA’s featured speakers they bring an abundance of educational information to help you learn and develop your professional skills.
So I will be there conducting interviews at that time for the July recording of The Paralegal Voice podcast, so be sure and come and say hi to me.
NALS, the Association for Legal Professionals is hosting their 67th Annual Education and Networking Conference, September 20-22 in Phoenix, Arizona at the Phoenix Marriott Mesa. Of course, it’s going to be fun and they have a lot of great unique education and networking opportunities for legal professionals that will be presented.
So definitely be sure put that on your calendar and attend. Again, I will be there and here’s a little hint, I will be there sporting formal attire on Friday night for the NALS Foundation Gala prom themed event.
So definitely go to the website, check it out.
NFPA will be hosting their 2018 Annual Convention and Policy Meeting in Seattle, Washington at the Hilton Seattle Airport Hotel and Conference Center.
Come with me as we travel the yellow brick road and head to the Emerald City Seattle, Washington. It’s going to be a great meeting and you don’t want to miss out on this wonderful conference.
And as a reminder we have our segment of the show called the Listener’s Voice and this is an opportunity for you as a listener to send me an email with any of your questions, career celebrations, et cetera. I will read through them and I will select one to be read on air, and if there’s a particular topic you want me specifically to address and talk about in this segment, let me know.
So be sure and send me your e-mail and make your voice, the Listener’s Voice known. Send your email to me at HYPERLINK “mailto:[email protected]”[email protected].
That’s all the time we have today for the Paralegal Voice. If you have questions about today’s show, please email them to me at HYPERLINK “mailto:[email protected]”[email protected], and of course stay tuned for more information and upcoming podcasts that apply to you, the paralegal and other legal professionals.
And if you had liked what you have heard, find us and rate us in Apple podcast.
And reminding you that I’m here to enhance your passion and dedication to the paralegal profession and make your paralegal voice heard.
Outro: The views expressed by the participants of this program are their own and do not represent the views of, nor are they endorsed by Legal Talk Network, its officers, directors, employees, agents, representatives, shareholders, or subsidiaries. None of the content should be considered legal advice. As always, consult a lawyer.