It’s a whole new world out there for paralegals. If you are not riding the horse in the direction it’s going, you are going to be left behind. Why? Because whether you are seeking a new position, looking to expand in your role at your present job or merely suiting up and showing up (let’s be honest here), staying complacent and ignoring the trends is, well, death to your career.
Here are just a few of the most recent trends of which you need to be aware:
- Hottest, most requested software package for litigation paralegals: Relativity.
Employers can’t get enough litigation paralegals with solid Relativity skills. If you are not familiar with Relativity, get on the band-wagon now. Even if your firm doesn’t use it in-house, you may be required to oversee the vendor of your choice who is using it.
- Most requested skills - Real Estate transactional:
Real estate is heating up. Law firms are seeking the experienced paralegal who can review title reports, surveys, prepare lease summaries, purchase and sale agreements, participate in closings and due diligence. Biggest mistake you can make: Pushing your real estate license. I know you’re proud of it. But, in fact, law firms hate to hear about it. Yes, you did learn about easements, title reports, and escrow accounts in your real estate license course and you’ve sold a lot of houses. But law firms don’t want that skill. Why? It’s not transaction paralegal work. They discount the real estate license and I mean big time. It’s a huge turnoff and doesn’t help in most cases.
- Biggest, newest step-down or step-up? The Paralegal hybrid job called the Paralegal/Legal Assistant:
By combining your paralegal and secretarial skills, the firm saves money. No longer do attorneys need a full-time secretary, so by combining the paralegal with the legal assistant, they think they save money. However, they do lose the billable time the paralegal generates while saving the dollars they put out for the secretary. You must have great typing skills, know the court system and be able to tolerate clerical duties such as meeting and greeting clients, getting coffee, booking travel arrangements, typing correspondence, and answering phones. If you can do that, you might make a very decent salary. Good legal secretaries can earn upper $70’s to lower $80’s in major metropolitan areas. We actually just placed a Real Estate Paralegal/Legal Assistant in Los Angeles for $95,000 plus bonus. Who knew?
- Why the paralegal pool seems smaller: It isn’t, really. Paralegals are moving into other roles with different titles such as Litigation Support or eDiscovery.
Employers are hiring paralegals with excellent technology skills. These paralegals now have titles such as Litigation Support Analyst, Coordinator, or Manager and earning very decent salaries. If you check the backgrounds of highly successful eDiscovery Case Managers and Litigation Support professionals, you probably will find a paralegal background. This is a great area for you to move into. Garner and develop your technology skills. This is where you find the money and upward movement. Salaries can range from $80 - $110,000 or higher, depending upon the level of management duties, sophistication of computer background and region of the country.
- Speak another language? Foreign language skills are in demand:
We’re seeing more requests for bilingual abilities in many practice specialties including Spanish for legal support professionals.
- Want to work in your jammies? Ah, the joy of telecommuting and the virtual law office:
More and more employers are offering positions based on home office or virtual law office that leads to controlled overhead and better work/lifestyle balance. However, be aware that this can be a lonely adventure if you are used to a lively environment and colleagues surrounding you. It takes a certain personality and strict discipline to be able to work from home. Salaries remain comparable to those found in offices.
- You absolutely, positively must have knowledge of eDiscovery:
I can’t tell you how many candidates I talk with who tell me they know nothing about eDiscovery. In fact, they repeat the question with, “Do you mean eFiling?” Come on, folks! eDiscovery has been around for years and years now. You are not going to get anywhere in your career without understanding eDiscovery and the EDRM. Take free webinars from vendors. Get signed up for seminars or webinars but understand eDiscovery. If your firm or in-house legal department “isn’t into it”, it is dying, dying, dying and eventually, you’ll be out of a job. Then what?
- Of course, we all have enhanced communication skills: What I mean is……
Another major trend is a focus on legal writing, communication and marketing. Many employers believe that paralegals today lack necessary oral and written communication skills and are asking for a writing sample from prospective candidates. Be sure that you take continuing legal education classes not only in legal writing but good old fashioned business writing as well.
- It’s all about the Internet and Distance Learning:
Distance learning, also known as e-learning, is one of the fastest-growing segments of continuing legal education. Media and interactive technologies have increased the e-learning possibilities in the academic setting and the workplace. The flexibility of taking classes at any time from any location is now the norm. Distance learning appeals to all employees, and is especially popular with experienced, busy paralegals on limited CLE budgets or those with families.
Online continuing education classes are an excellent way to make yourself more marketable, not only if you are looking to change jobs, but also if you are seeking to advance right where you are now. Be sure to let your employer know that you have taken a class. It’s a great way to get more sophisticated assignments and move up within your firm.
- The way we find a job and present ourselves professionally: You must have a LinkedIn profile.
If you don’t have a LinkedIn profile or haven’t paid any attention to the one you do have, you are shooting yourself in the career foot. Employers today spend 2 seconds reviewing your resume looking for keywords and then look you up on LinkedIn to see a) whether your profile matches the resume; b) whether you are promoting yourself as a paralegal (and not an actor or something else) and c) yes, to view your professional picture. (Don't remind me it's illegal. I know that.)
They also want to see your summary that should indicate a bit of your personality. They are checking to see if you are the modern employee and if you are professionally keeping up with social media. The more you are up-to-date, the more they feel they are getting someone who is savvy enough to work for them. If you are not seeking employment, you still need to be on LinkedIn as quite frankly, it’s the professional thing to do.
Chere Estrin is the CEO of Estrin Legal Staffing (www.estrinlegalstaffing.com). She has written 10 books on legal careers including The Paralegal Career Guide 4th Ed. Her blog, The Estrin Report has been around since 2005. Chere has written hundreds of articles, is a national seminar speaker and has been interviewed by the LA Times, Newsweek, the Chicago Trib, Above the Law and other publications. She is the CEO of the Paralegal Knowledge Institute and President and Co-Founding Member of the Organization of Legal Professionals. She is a co-founding member of the International Practice Management Association, a Los Angeles Paralegal Association Lifetime Achievement Award Recipient, a New York City Paralegal Excellence Award Recipient and an Inc. Magazine Entrepreneur of the Year Finalist. Reach out to her at firstname.lastname@example.org.