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What do Paralegals do? The Growing Trend of Non-Traditional Applications of a Paralegal Degree

Posted by Center for Advanced Legal Studies [CALS]

May 9, 2017 2:20:00 PM


It is an exciting time to begin a career as a paralegal. In recent decades, the paralegal profession has continued to grow and expand into new, nontraditional fields. As we discussed previously in our blog, the rate of paralegal employment is expected to grow 8% from 2014-2024.1Business Meeting.png

The emergence of new industries and increasing efficiency in the legal industry has led to a higher demand for paralegal services.2 This trend is not new. The National Federation of Paralegal Associations expressed that this job growth is occurring in nontraditional environments, outside of traditional law firms. As we have reported before, tech companies such as Amazon are calling paralegal and legal assistants a “high demand field” and including tuition reimbursement for paralegal programs.
 
According to NFPA, “Due to the explosive growth over the past three decades and the substantial increase and expansion in roles and responsibilities, the paralegal profession has further refined its position within the legal community.”3 A paralegal career provides a variety of work opportunities applicable to individual strengths, work interests, and personal preferences. Further, NFPA expanded its definition of a paralegal to include this growth of responsibilities and job roles as:4
A Paralegal is a person, qualified through education, training or work experience to perform substantive legal work that requires knowledge of legal concepts and is customarily, but not exclusively, performed by a lawyer. This person may be retained or employed by a lawyer, law office, governmental agency or other entity or may be authorized by administrative, statutory or court authority to perform this work. Substantive shall mean work requiring recognition, evaluation, organization, analysis, and communication of relevant facts and legal concepts.
There has been a shift in the way companies approach legal business; a large variety of corporations and business have moved towards in-house legal teams5, opening up a myriad of new work environments to paralegals. These industries directly hire paralegals in a diversity of settings such as: finance, insurance, consulting, technical and marketing firms, as well as healthcare and pharmaceutical companies to name a few. Below are examples of emerging, nontraditional industries:
 
Technology & E-Discovery: Electronic discovery or ‘e-discovery’ is simply the discovery of records and documents kept in electronic form6. It is a new industry, and uses technology to manage electronic data, and ensure its compliance with federal rules7. These skills are in high demand; it can be a lucrative career path as it is one of the fastest growing specialties in the legal industry8.
 
Healthcare, Biotechnology, & Pharmaceutical: The demand for this expertise in the legal field is growing due to recent changes in healthcare laws, and regulations affecting healthcare, pharmaceutical and biotech sectors9

Federal, State, & Local Government: The combined sectors of local, state, and federal government (excluding education and hospitals) in 2014 represented 15% of paralegal employment.10 Paralegals in this sector might work for zoning commissions, courts, the military, Prosecutor’s offices, Department of Transportation, or the Social Security Administration.

Freelancing/Virtual/Contract Work: As part of a general trend, paralegals might act as freelancers to provide services on a contract basis, which may provide a flexible work opportunity for telecommuting.
Due to the diversification of the field, a paralegal entering the workforce today has more choice in their work environment. Therefore, a paralegal can tailor their career to include their experience from a prior industry, or adapt job preferences to consider factors such as family, schedule, flexibility, and location.

A quick, nationwide search with the keyword, “paralegal” on May 7, 2017 on Careercast.com, a major job search site, reveals a multitude of diverse opportunities and yields top, recognizable employers such as Booz Allen Hamilton, Walt Disney Studios, American Express, PNC, NBC, and Prudential, to name a few.

This is also a unique time to begin a career in the paralegal industry because there are dynamic changes occurring influencing the legal industry as a whole. In 2010, the Dean of the Harvard Law School said when she referred to the changes in the legal industry as a result of economic and historical forces:
“Although historians will surely devote much ink—or bytes—to the financial crisis, I believe that this time will be known as an inflection point in world history because of huge revolutions under way in the world—changes that make this an electrifying time to be in the legal profession. Consider the information technology revolution; the biomedical revolution, including genetic breakthroughs, biotechnology and nanotechnology; globalization affecting economic exchanges of legal and professional services; and the worldwide spread of biological and computer viruses, cultural trends and more. . .”


- Martha L. Minow, Dean of the Harvard Law School, January 201011

This new paradigm poses many new opportunities for learning & growth, including paving nontraditional paths to success. Beginning this new career will provide an interesting and rewarding journey for the future.

Further Investigation & Resources:

For further exploration, check out the details of our paralegal education programs and list of courses , as many of our classes provide a specific focus on particular fields such as Real Estate, Oil & Gas, Immigration and Corporate & Business Law to name a few.

In addition, check out the NFPA’s guide referenced in this article, Paralegal Responsibilities (PDF), in its entirety for ideas about what specific roles paralegals play in diverse industries. If you want a more in depth-look, the book “Life Outside the Law Firm: Non-Traditional Careers for Paralegals” by Karen Treffinger, provides interviews of paralegals working outside of law firms with a chart of salary ranges, benefits, and job descriptions.

For more details on our paralegal education programs and class start dates, visit paralegal.edu.

by Miriam Clifford
https://www.linkedin.com/in/miriamclifford
https://miriamclifford.contently.com/


1 Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2016-17 Edition, Paralegals and Legal Assistants, on the Internet at http://www.bls.gov/ooh/legal/paralegals-and-legal-assistants.htm (visited May 5,2017).
2 National Federation of Paralegal Associations. Paralegal Responsibilities. 2006-11, on the internet at https://www.paralegals.org/files/Paralegal_Responsibilities.pdf (visited May 5,1017).
3 National Federation of Paralegal Associations. Paralegal Responsibilities. 2006-11, on the internet at https://www.paralegals.org/files/Paralegal_Responsibilities.pdf (visited May 5,1017).
4 National Federation of Paralegal Associations. Definition of a Paralegal. on the internet at https://www.paralegals.org/i4a/pages/index.cfm?pageid=3315
5 Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2016-17 Edition, Paralegals and Legal Assistants,
on the Internet at http://www.bls.gov/ooh/legal/paralegals-and-legal-assistants.htm (visited May 5,2017).
6 Merriam-Webster Dictionary Online on the internet at https://www.merriam-webster.com/legal/e%E2%80%93discovery (visited May 5,2017).
7 American Bar Association, Law Practice Today, The Monthly Webzine of the ABA Law Practice Management Section, “Breaking Into E-Discovery”. Kane, S.A., January 2012. On the internet at http://www.americanbar.org/content/dam/aba/publications/law_practice_today/breaking-into-e-discovery.authcheckdam.pdf (visited May 5,2017).
8 American Bar Association, Law Practice Today, The Monthly Webzine of the ABA Law Practice Management Section, “Breaking Into E-Discovery”. Kane, S.A., January 2012. On the internet at http://www.americanbar.org/content/dam/aba/publications/law_practice_today/breaking-into-e-discovery.authcheckdam.pdf (visited May 5,2017).
9 Robert Half, Legal. Dynamic Changes in Healthcare: A Silver Lining for Legal Professions? Posted by Robert Half Legal on Tuesday, August 26, 2014 online at https://www.roberthalf.com/legal/blog/dynamic-changes-in-healthcare-a-silver-lining-for-legal-professionals. (Visited on May 6, 2017)
10 Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2016-17 Edition, Paralegals and Legal Assistants,
on the Internet at http://www.bls.gov/ooh/legal/paralegals-and-legal-assistants.htm (visited May 5,2017).
11 Q&A: Points of Inflection: A Conversation with a New Dean, HARV. L. BULL., Winter 2010, at 14, 14 (Q&A with Dean Martha Minow). Accessed at https://today.law.harvard.edu/feature/points-of-inflection-a-conversation-with-a-new-dean/ on May 5, 2017.

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