The latest trend in hiring for law firms and in-house legal departments? Hybrid paralegals—these positions bring the greatest value and are in demand. As clients seek legal services at lower costs, the need for multifaceted support staff grows. According to a new survey from staffing firm Robert Half Legal, two thirds of lawyers (66 percent) say blended or hybrid paralegal and legal secretary positions have become more relevant in the last two years.
In the past, there was a clear distinction between the type of legal work assigned to paralegals and the traditional clerical tasks that were assigned to legal secretaries. As client needs evolve and firms focus on greater efficiencies, the hybrid legal support position—that combines administrative tasks with paralegal duties—has become more common. The demand for these roles remain high with law firms and corporations alike.
The three top practice areas for the hybrid legal support professional in South Florida are:
- Litigation (commercial, insurance defense, personal injury) This area continues to be the healthiest practice area nationally and paralegals continue to be in demand for managing discovery, trial preparation and trial attendance.
- Real Estate (residential and commercial) Real estate paralegals are responsible for preparation and processing of residential and commercial transactions from inception to closing. Other duties include reviewing title and surveys, preparing closing checklists, and reviewing contracts and leases.
- Corporate (entity formation, contracts, contract management) South Florida has small legal departments compared to other major cities in the country. Businesses oftentimes have one general counsel and one paralegal or a small legal department and the paralegal has to be extremely versatile in handling a range of job duties including administrative duties (coordinating travel and calendar management), and substantive paralegal work.
As job prospects and salaries increase, employers are competing for tech-savvy and versatile legal assistants. Paralegals with a bachelor’s degree, technical proficiency and three-plus years of experience in a high-demand specialty are in short supply.
According to a survey by Robert Half Legal, when it comes to landing these hybrid jobs, a certificate of completion from a paralegal education program approved by the American Bar Association (cited by 46 percent of lawyers) and a college degree (cited by 42 percent of lawyers) were the most common requirements.
Hiring managers can expect to see a spike within the paralegal job market. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the hybrid job market is expected to grow by 15 percent between 2016 and 2026—a rate more than twice the projected growth of all occupations.
Finding the right candidate for a specific role can be difficult. Many law firms and legal departments that are hiring have specific requirements for skill sets and experience levels. When evaluating applicants, employers must move quickly to avoid losing top candidates to another firm. To assess a paralegal’s potential for success within their organizations, hiring managers are placing more weight on technology and advanced degrees.
Organizations are also using flexible staffing approaches, like hiring paralegals in hybrid roles and employing temporary or project staff to access in-demand expertise. For legal hiring managers looking to hire hybrid paralegals, it’s best to:
- Set expectations. Be very clear in the job description and interview process as to what the job duties are. This will assist in retention.
- Focus on soft skills. A successful hybrid candidate is flexible with changing job duties and assignments.
Candidates can highlight their practice area expertise and strengths to get noticed by hiring managers. Here are some other ways paralegals can enhance their marketability:
- Fill in gaps in your resume by identifying skills, capabilities and expertise that allow you to capitalize on growing career opportunities.
- Tailor your resume for each job application. Customize your resume and cover letter to reflect the goals and parameters of the open position. Highlight your skills, technology and expertise that align with terms used in the job description.
- Leverage professional development. Continue to enhance your skills and knowledge through continuing legal education and paralegal certification programs, and career development workshops. Become a Florida Registered Paralegal with the Florida Bar and at minimum receive an associate degree in paralegal studies from an approved paralegal program by the American Bar Association. Pursuing these will increase credibility in the industry.
- Evaluate emerging technologies and stay current with business, economic, legal trends and the changing nature of paralegal jobs.
- Tap others’ expertise. Mentors and other colleagues can make professional introductions and provide possible legal job leads.
- Get out and network. Learn from your peers. Become a member of the South Florida Paralegal Association or other networking associations. It’s important to mingle with other members of the paralegal community to stay on top of latest trends in the industry.
Debra Frank Montero is regional vice president of Robert Half Legal, the premier provider of experienced project and full-time professionals for law firms and corporate legal departments in South Florida.