Let’s start with the best news first: According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the job outlook for paralegals is excellent, with an expected growth rate near 33% through 2018. Compared to other professions, the leap in the paralegal field is dramatic. Court reporters should also have excellent job prospects; the number of jobs in court reporting is expected to increase by 25%. The legal secretary outlook is positive although does not look to be fairing as well as the aforementioned jobs. The expected growth rate of legal secretarial jobs nationwide is projected to be around 18%. As for attorneys, the Bureau is estimating around a 12% increase in attorney positions through 2018.
Why the disparity in job growth for attorneys and that of paralegals? The paralegal profession is expected to grow so much because of contributing economic factors. First, more law firms are hiring paralegals to do some of the necessary legal procedures such as research and paper work. This frees up attorneys for court appearances and for developing client-attorney
relationships. Second, having experienced a tough go of it the past couple of years, firms are leaning to paralegals because they can do much of the work of both attorneys and legal secretaries, in addition to their own duties, saving both the client and the firm money.
While the paralegal job market looks great, competition to work in the paralegal field will likely become tighter. With more competition, the best way to make yourself marketable as a paralegal is to get all the training you can. In years past, paralegals were trained on the job. There was no real professional training to prepare someone for a paralegal career. With
many paralegals now retiring, the lawyers and firms for whom they’ve been working the last several years want replacements that are trained and able to hit the ground running.
In this difficult economic time, demand for some legal services, such as trusts and estate work, wills, and real estate transactions has declined. Corporations are often hesitant to begin certain types of litigation when lower sales and profits give rise to belt tightening. As a result, many fulltime legal employees working with offices negatively affected by the recession have been
downsized or have been given reduced hours. On the flip side, more corporations and individuals have had to face problems that require legal assistance, such as bankruptcy, foreclosure, and divorce. In addition to new jobs created by employment growth, more jobs will open as people leave the occupation. There will continue to be a demand for paralegals that specialize in areas such as bankruptcy, medical malpractice, product liability, and even real
estate as that market continues to heal. Community legal service programs, which provide assistance to the poor, elderly, minorities, and middleincome families, will employ additional paralegals to minimize expenses and serve the most possible people. Job opportunities also are expected in government agencies, consumer organizations, and the courts.
As the economy improves, some projected growth in the employment of legal secretaries is expected. Traditional secretarial duties, however, such as typing, filing, photocopying, and bookkeeping are now often being done by admin assistants or by the attorneys themselves. Newer attorneys are increasingly doing their own word processing and handling much of
their own correspondence. In many law offices, paralegals are assuming some tasks formerly done by legal secretaries. This new “hybrid” position usually requires a paralegal willing to do administrative tasks, or a legal secretary with some paralegal experience.
No worries, the job of legal secretary is not going away any time soon; many secretarial duties are personal and interactive. Duties such as planning conferences, working with clients, and scheduling require strong communication skills. Because technology cannot substitute for these personal skills, secretaries will continue to play a key role in most firms. Additionally, organizational restructuring will continue to offer legal secretaries additional and changing responsibilities. With paralegals assuming many of the responsibilities historically given to secretaries, firms will continue to replace the traditional arrangement of one secretary per attorney with secretaries who support several attorneys, groups, or firm infrastructure. This means that legal secretaries will probably begin to assume some new and added responsibilities.
Approximately 26 percent of attorneys are currently practicing either as partners in law firms or in solo practices. Most salaried lawyers hold positions in government, law firms, corporations, or nonprofit organizations. Competition for florida law jobs should continue to be extreme because of the large annual number of law school graduates. Graduates with excellent academic records from top tier law schools will see the best job opportunities. As has been the case, many recent graduates may have to accept positions outside of their field of interest or for which they feel overqualified. As a result of competition for attorney positions, lawyers are often finding work in less traditional areas for which legal training is an asset, but not a requirement.
As the door to employment begins to swing open a bit wider in 2010, many firms and corporations will gently ease back into hiring mode by bringing on temporary staff until they are comfortable that the economy is indeed turning around. Attorneys, paralegals, legal secretaries, and other legal staff who have been unable to find permanent positions are finding that temporary staffing offers them an opportunity to maintain and enhance current skills, while at the same time providing income and networking opportunities. On occasion temporary positions do convert to permanent positions, so you should always give a temp job the same commitment as you would a permanent job.