I recently had the chance to talk with Pamela Starr, “Virtual Paralegal Extraordinaire”, who owns a virtual paralegal service called StarrParalegals, providing support to attorneys. She also offers a program called Sessions with a Starr, where she provides Career Mitigation© guidance to professionals affected by a changing economy. Here are some ideas she shared with me about the challenges of the current paralegal job market.
What do you see as the biggest challenge to paralegals in today’s job market?
There are so many! For one thing, more than 50 years after ‘paralegal’ became recognized as a profession, we still find ourselves explaining our role to attorneys and struggling to convince the industry that we are skilled professionals providing a valuable, quantifiable service. But probably the biggest challenge is the competition for jobs. The industry is still trying to recover from the economic downturn of 2008, and it continues to be an “employers’ market”. In addition to unemployed and under-employed, experienced paralegals, there are still new paralegals entering the market. In fact, some firms actively seek either unemployed, newly-minted, or (horrors!), disbarred attorneys to work as paralegals, causing unprecedented competition for jobs, not only among paralegals, but also with attorneys. I’ve even seen ads that stated, upfront, that they would only consider someone with a law degree for their paralegal position!
What can a paralegal do to meet these challenges?
Since the job environment has changed, we must develop new ways to deal with it. In my Sessions with a Starr program, I teach paralegals (and other displaced professionals) how to spin their skills differently and think outside of the traditional paralegal “box”. One suggestion I have for both transitioning paralegals and newbies is to remember that big law firms and corporate legal departments are not the only players in the game; look at working for the courts, with solos and “boutique” practices, or in legal for other industries.
In this market, full-time jobs may not be available, but, if you’re creative, you could work part-time for several different attorneys. Look for independent solos sharing office space and offer to work 10 hours per week for each one.
Don’t forget to consider job opportunities that use ‘paralegal’ skills, but may not be advertised as a paralegal position. For example, legal research, attention to detail, organization skills can be applied to just about any position that has a strong research component. Draw outside the lines!
For a paralegal who wants more independence, what options are available?
That all depends on the level of independence you want and the reason you want that independence. Are you looking for more flexibility in your schedule? If you already have a job, try talking with your boss about a flex-schedule – if you’re a really early riser and (s)he tends to leave early, maybe you could work 7 to 3 instead of 9 to 5; or ask about working 4 10-hour days a week. You never know unless you ask. Do you want greater responsibility in your position? Ask for more responsibility.
Now, if you want a change or you need to supplement your job search, you might consider working as a freelance or contract paralegal. Mind you, working freelance/contract or even virtual isn’t for everyone. You can perform almost any paralegal task online these days, which means you don’t necessarily need to live within a reasonable driving distance from a potential employer/client. For me, well, most of my clients are in California and my ‘office’ is in Georgia; most of my clients and I only know each other through profile photos, calls, email, texts, and the occasional Skype.
There are major considerations before making the leap to self-employment. It isn’t something I recommend for a newbie. If you think you want to go this route, get a mentor who has already established a successful business, write a business plan, and talk to a lawyer and CPA about what you’ll need to set up a proper business. As an independent, you need to be even more professional – it’s your name on the door after all.
Legal professionals interested in learning about a proven business model for owning their own divorce planning and facilitation business are invited to contact us about the Divorce With Dignity Network. We can show you how to set up and run your business to provide you with a good income while helping people achieve a peaceful divorce in a holistic and supportive way. Give us a call today!