Any paralegal worth their weight in gold has developed their computer, organizational, analytical, and writing competencies. While these are all necessary to keep a job they will not ensure a successful paralegal career. The paralegal that is satisfied to work a paralegal job will find that the work needed to develop the skills to successfully navigate through law office politics is not worth the effort and will remain complacent and mediocre. On the other hand the paralegal that understands that promotion and advancement oftentimes has more to do with understanding how to sniff out who has the cheese within an organization than it does with working tirelessly to spit out a brief in the shortest amount of time will persevere through this process. This step in navigating law office politics is critical and requires more than a surface level study of an organization’s hierarchical structure. Studying an organizational chart is necessary but cannot be relied upon to sniff out who has the power to influence and make decisions within an organization. The process is definitely not for the faint of heart but the satisfaction of reaching the desired outcome will far outweigh the sacrifice in time and ego that went into getting there.
In Spencer Johnson, M.D.’s book “Who Moved My Cheese” two mice go through a maze in order to find the coveted cheese that they so desperately desire to obtain. One of them becomes frustrated during the process of going through the maze while the other makes adjustments to navigate successfully. Although, this book is about successfully dealing with change it is an excellent example of how to navigate within a legal organization for a paralegal. Because of the gender and racial makeup within the paralegal profession developing this competency can transform a career that seems to have reached the glass ceiling to one that uses the the ceiling as the roof to stand on to reach the stars.
Since all legal organizations are different the person within the organization who has the cheese will be different but sniffing them out will require the same competency. Caveat Emptor. If your motives for sniffing out the person with the cheese go beyond a desire to successfully work within your organization and is of a more sinister nature you may find that once you have sniffed them out you do not accomplish the goal you were looking for when you started the process. That being said following are five tips on how to determine who has the cheese in your organization:
1) Study your company’s hierarchal structure. Even if it is not written all organizations have one.
2) Listen to who the senior people in your department or organization mention when discussing important decisions that need to be made.
3) Talk to people who have been in your organization the longest to gain insight into any silent decision makers. Silent decision makers are people that do not have an official title but have tremendous influence on the person or people who make the decisions.
4) Determine the commonalities of the last few people who were promoted within your organization or who have a similar position to yours. Do they belong to the same professional organization, have the same credentials, etc. as any other leader(s), manager(s), and senior staff in your organization?
5) Talk with your supervisor to determine how they make promotion and/or advancement decisions and take note if they constantly refer to someone else’s authority.
Sniffing out the person who has the influence and authority within an organization is not just about getting ahead but is also about learning the different nuances, likes, and dislikes of that person in order to know how to successfully work within the organization. A paralegal that does not know how to handle office politics will discover the hard way that their career aspirations are limited and may even be derailed from reaching their fullest potential.