Posted in Career Advice, Employment Trends, Job Duties, Paralegal, Paralegal Zone

Paralegal Profession: The Good, The Bad and The Ugly

By Sheena Foley, PHP

The paralegal profession can be highly stressful and fast paced. The entire court system operates on strict deadlines and schedules that are mandatory in order for legal disputes to reach timely resolution. It is therefore no surprise that paralegals must possess the ability to control their time and work loads. This legal “calendar climate” is only one of many triggers that lead to a paralegal’s high level of career related stress.

Being a paralegal is not for everyone and it is certainly not for those who may be sensitive or unable to receive constructive criticism. Depending on the type of law firm a paralegal works for, there are many contributing factors with the potential to create a stressful work environment.

I have compiled a list of some of the most common contributing factors that often deter entry-level legal assistants or add stress upon experienced paralegals. I am not the type of person to only have complaints without solutions; so, I hope my list either encourages an “on-edge” legal assistant to keep pushing or educates an experienced paralegal to seek resolution to their work stress.

1. Job Titles and Job Duties

The paralegal title is used very loosely in the legal industry. While one attorney may hire a paralegal to handle both pre-litigation and litigation work, another may hire a legal secretary to handle the pre-litigation work and a paralegal to handle litigation. Often times, the title or position a paralegal/legal assistant applies for may not match their actual assigned daily job duties.  Given this flexible sphere of legal titles and duties, a paralegal trained in litigation, pre-litigation and appeal may feel a way about receiving a legal secretary title.

Solution:             Be clear with your employer about your job-title requirements and concerns. Be clear about your capabilities and provide clear facts and reasoning behind your request for a change to your duties or title.

2. Resume Fluffers Beware

A common mistake entry-level paralegals make is the “resume fluff.” Some people have a tendency to over-embellish their strengths on their resume to unsuspecting employers. However, in the legal industry, a hiring attorney can spot you coming from a mile away! If you have never drafted discovery or you have never drafted a legal pleading but your resume says you have trial experience, you will be found out sooner than later. This is not a “fake-it-til-you-make-it” industry. Either you have the juice or you don’t. Pretending to have experience will usually lead to a stressful work environment.

Solution:             Highlight the experience you do have without providing falsehoods to a potential employer. If you are a fast learner, quick study and are eager to learn, express this in your cover letter.  Many firms prefer entry-level paralegals that are trainable as opposed to seasoned paralegals who may be set in their ways.

3. Lack of Upward Mobility

Depending on the size of the law firm and structure of legal staff job roles, a paralegal normally has very little upward growth within a law firm. Outside of moving to firm operations, HR, marketing or becoming an attorney, there is very little growth available to most paralegals.

Solution:             The legal universe consists of a plethora of different industries and specialty areas. There is contract work available for paralegals who may want to perform work outside of their everyday, mundane duties. The career possibilities are endless! Never limit yourself.

4. Tenure and Lack of Recognition

A paralegal’s work is never recognized because our only purpose is to assist the attorney. You could draft an excellent petition for damages but it would go unnoticed because we cannot practice law; so the attorney obviously receives the praise. Therefore, if a paralegal’s work is never recognized or commended within a firm, newer staff members may not be aware or have the appropriate respect level for your work or tenure.

Solution:             When it comes to not receiving recognition for your work; that just comes with the paralegal territory. Our recognition and accolades are dependent upon the level of success reached by the attorneys we work for, period. If that is a deal breaker for you, this is not the industry for you. It is your employer’s responsibility to educate all staff of both successes and failures. This is what promotes your recognition within the legal community as well as your tenure within the firm. If you work for a firm that does not operate in this fashion… you have some decisions to make.

Bottom line, the paralegal profession is not for the weak-at-heart. We face extreme deadlines, heavy workloads and varying job duties. We work long hours and oftentimes find ourselves in difficult situations requiring free-style problem solving capabilities. This life is not for everyone.

Posted in Career Advice, Employment Trends, Legal Technology, Paralegal, Paralegal Zone

Paralegals becoming obsolete? Not a chance!

by: Sheena Foley, PHP

With all the technological advancements in the legal field nowadays, it is no wonder that there exists a growing fear among paralegals and legal assistants. A fear that we will someday be replaced by a computer or some automated process meant to perform some of the mundane job duties currently handled by trained paralegals. Per Marc Davis, a blogger for ABAJournal.com, while the demand for entry level paralegals is declining, the need for trained paralegals is on the rise! Check out the following article by Marc Davis titled, “Technology has not replaced need for paralegals.”

Five years ago, it seemed like the paralegal industry was about to become obsolete. A January 2013 Associated Press report claimed that an increasing number of lawyers were using computer software and technology to do the work paralegals once did.

The report hit the paralegal industry like a sucker punch. The market had been red hot—the Bureau of Labor Statistics had previously predicted an 18 percent growth in paralegal jobs through 2020. In 2014, however, the bureau revised its projections, forecasting an 8 percent growth from 2014 to 2024.

The bureau then adjusted that figure to a 15 percent growth from 2016 to 2026—a decrease of 3 percentage points from its original projection.

So was the AP report about lawyers relying more on technology much ado about nothing? Not necessarily. While solo and small-firm lawyers have increasingly turned to technology, they haven’t completely turned their backs on hiring paralegals.

“In the past, with the big firm I was with, I used paralegals to issue subpoenas for documents, to organize them, file them electronically,” says Deborah G. Cole, a Chicago-based solo practitioner who specializes in commercial litigation and employment law and is among the growing number of lawyers who perform the work paralegals typically do. “Now I do it all myself, including documents searches; I know exactly what I’m looking for.”

Cole doesn’t use a secretary or office administrator either. She uses computer software to handle the usual tasks, including case management. “Still, I have a manageable caseload,” she says.

A major benefit of not using a paralegal, Cole points out, is the significant cost savings for solos and small firms. “Depending on the case, by my using software rather than a paralegal, I can save anywhere from $50,000 to $100,000,” she says.

Despite reports of the slow disappearance, “there will always be a need for paralegals,” says solo attorney Megan Zavieh, who has offices in Alpharetta, Georgia, and the San Francisco Bay Area and specializes in defending lawyers who face ethics investigations and state bar prosecution.

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Zavieh performs the work of paralegals, but on occasion she hires one on a per-need basis. The work, facilitated by technology, that she or a paralegal might do includes scheduling, creating tables of contents and documents, and preparing client intake forms and files.

But technology can’t provide the human touch, Zavieh says. “A large part of my job is being a counselor to my clients. I listen, I understand their stress [and] they can vent on to me,” she says.

Attorney Jill Vereb tells a similar story. Although she never wanted to be overwhelmed by paperwork, she declined to hire a paralegal or a secretary. Vereb, who runs a solo family law practice in Sugar Land, Texas, does all the work a paralegal might do.

“I do all the document research,” she says, by way of example. “When I do that myself, I’m less likely to miss something important that might be missed by a paralegal.”

By using a software program that converts PDFs, emails and other documents into searchable versions, she’s able to bypass much of the tedious work of reviewing what she describes as reams and reams of paper. “I enter a search word and it streamlines the process,” she says. “But when I’m superbusy, I may hire a paralegal on a temporary basis.”

By contrast, paralegals are part of attorney Luis Salazar’s legal team. But he doesn’t use as many as he did before. He is head of a small firm in Coral Gables, Florida, specializing in corporate compliance law, bankruptcy law and complex commercial litigation.

“Paralegals can’t appear in court as representatives of a client, but they’re with me in court when I’m litigating a case,” he says. “They’re familiar with the documents I might need and the exhibits. If I ask for something, they snap it up right away and give it to me.”

At one time, Salazar used nine paralegals. Now, however, he’s got just three.

“Maybe demand for entry-level paralegals is declining,” says Amy McCormack, co-president of Chicago-based McCormack Schreiber Legal Search. “But the market for trained paralegals is strong.” 

Davis, Marc. “Technology has not replaced need for paralegals.” http://www.abajournal.com/magazine/article/technology_has_not_replaced_need_for_paralegals. Accessed 30 September 2019.


This article was published in the February 2018 issue of the ABA Journal with the title “Holding Steady: Although more lawyers are performing the work of paralegals, job prospects for trained assistants seem good.”