According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, you can expect a 15% increase in paralegal and legal assistant jobs between 2016 and 2026. This means increased competition to attract and retain your staff.
Recruiting paralegals, legal assistants, and other legal support staff is not an easy task, so it is not a surprise that many law firms struggle to hire the right support employees.
To improve your legal staff recruiting, you must first understand what the unique challenges are for recruiting in the legal industry, so you can understand the attributes your candidates need.
You already know what technical skills and knowledge your candidates need, but that alone will not get you the RIGHT employees. Below are the most common challenges for hiring the right legal support staff.
Many legal assistants and paralegals support more than one attorney, which means constantly changing directives and priorities. They also deal with a wide variety to clients, all with unique demands, personalities, and expectations. Adaptabilitiy is essential to successfully accomodate the ever changing demands, priorities, and personalities paralegals and legal assistants face daily.
Most legal assistants and paralegals support cases for coworkers when their peers are out of the office, tied up with a conflicting deadline, or assigned too large of a caseload for one person to realistically manage. This means your legal assistants and paralegals need to communicate, collaborate, and share common goals to maximize their value to your firm. This can only be achieved by teamwork and the absolute, sincere understanding that a mentality of “that’s not my job” is unacceptable.
Literal thick skin is not required, but the metaphorical thick skin is. Attorneys and clients are often emotionally charged while preparing and during their cases. This can sometimes make them difficult to deal with. Great paralegals and legal assistants understand the challenges their attorneys and clients face and know how to keep their cool under pressure and not take things too personally.
Ability to Wear Multiple Hats
This is a more common challenge in smaller firms where the legal support employees may also have responsibility for receptionist duties, office management, payroll or HR support, and other duties needed by the attorney(s). Being able to juggle multiple tasks effectively is essential for these employees. A “recipe” employee will not work well in such an environment because they need too much detail and direction. A proactive employee with excellent judgment, confidence, and a varied professional background is a better fit for these types of support positions.
Let’s face it, virtually every law firm is deadline driven. This often adds to the stressful environment, especially if your legal assistant or paralegal is not a good time manager. Being able to react to every day fires, while managing ongoing cases with strict deadlines, is not an easy task. The best legal support staff have excellent time management skills, thrive under pressure, and are not easily flustered.
Prioritization and Proactiveness
There are a ton of decisions that must be made every day by legal staff. Good legal support employees will be able to work independently and prioritize their work. Let’s face it, most attorneys don’t have time to create detailed directions for every task and unexpected activity. While your staff needs some training, hiring employees who know how to prioritize their tasks, quickly learn how their attorneys operate, and can anticipate upcoming needs will be more likely to succeed than employees who don’t possess these traits.
Documentation and Writing
The amount of writing and documentation required of most paralegals and legal assistants is almost unbelievable. Attorneys don’t have time to review every single item entered in the case management system and every word sent in an email, file, etc. Having a legal assistant or paralegal with great writing skills, good grammar, and excellent documentation skills is a no brainer!
Paralegals and legal assistants may frequently interact with clients, opposing counsel, courthouse staff, internal staff, adjusters, clerks, etc. The expression “you can catch more flies with honey than vinegar” is so true for legal staff. Plus, often times the legal assistant or paralegal is the first, or primary, point of contact with many of your associates. How they treat your business associates significantly impacts your reputation as an attorney and a law firm.
So now that you know why hiring paralegals and legal assistants is such a challenge, you can create a recruiting strategy to ensure you are evaluating candidates for all of the attributes needed to be successful.
To summarize, hire the right employees, value those employees, and constantly monitor your recruiting strategy to keep your firm competitive. You can train an employee to use a software, but you can’t train them to have good judgment! So don’t make hiring decisions based on experience and skills only. Your support team needs to have the right aptitude, personality, and culture fit to be a GREAT hire!