The role of the paralegal continues to expand. Today, paralegals are responsible for handling everything from research and trial preparation to patent filings and regulatory and eDiscovery projects. This opens up a world of advancement opportunities and career development options for professionals in paralegal jobs.
If you’re a paralegal looking to climb the ladder, here are four pieces of career advice that will help drive your advancement to the next level:
1. Keep learning. If you want to push your paralegal career to new heights, education is key. Today, most law firms and corporate legal departments seek paralegals with a four-year degree and a certificate of completion from an American Bar Association-approved paralegal education program. Even those paralegals who’ve achieved this level of schooling can enhance their credentials with continuing education courses CLE), seminars and paralegal training programs.
If this career advice prompts you to return to school, focus on expanding your expertise in hot practice areas, such as litigation, compliance, healthcare, or eDiscovery. Having specialized knowledge in these areas will help enhance your paralegal career advancement opportunities. Be sure to ask your employer whether they offer financial assistance for legal education; many firms do, in order to help employees further their education and expand their skill set.
2. Ask for challenging assignments. One of the quickest ways to advance your paralegal career is to successfully tackle complex assignments. However, your supervisor isn’t going to hand over challenging projects unless he or she thinks you have relevant expertise. This is where continuing education comes into play. If you’ve recently completed a training course or have been studying up on a particular practice area, let your supervisor know, and mention you feel you’re ready to take on tougher, more specialized assignments.
3. Get technical. According to Robert Half Legal’s current Salary Guide, employers are seeking paralegals with expert technical skills, including advanced knowledge of Microsoft Office and experience in billing software, litigation support programs and case management software (such as Summation, Relativity, TrialDirector and Time Matters). If you haven’t yet mastered these programs, consider signing up for a technical training class or online course. Once you’ve learned a new program, let your boss know. It could open the door to more challenging paralegal assignments and even promotional opportunities.
4. Specialize in a hot practice area. These days, legal employers are increasingly seeking paralegals with expertise in a specialized practice area. According to a Robert Half Legal survey, 66 percent of lawyers said knowledge of a specific practice area is the attribute that makes paralegals most marketable.
What are the most in-demand practice areas right now? When asked which practice areas will offer the greatest number of job opportunities at their law firm or company in the next two years, 38 percent of survey respondents answered litigation, 19 percent said general business/commercial law, six percent answered healthcare, and six percent said intellectual property, according to the our Salary Guide.
Indeed, companies and law firms are seeking paralegals with experience in compliance, contract and lease administration, and eDiscovery to support corporate transactions and litigation matters. Paralegals with specialized knowledge in these areas are not only extremely attractive to employers right now, they’re also earning higher salaries and often receiving multiple job offers.
These days, there are countless career advancement opportunities for educated, experienced and driven paralegals. For those who continually expand their knowledge about new technologies and hot practice areas, the sky is the limit.