The Game Changer for Paralegals

IStock_000013170478XSmall[1]Anyone continuing their legal education encounters opened doors to new adventures and opportunities that are closed to those without the same benefits.

The value of continuing legal education increases every year. Without a college degree, including a degree from two-year program, the prospects of finding a high-quality job with excellent earnings is difficult at best. Without a certificate in this marketplace, the prospects of finding a great job decrease even further.  The level of education for the average paralegal in the United States is increasing, making it essential to complete additional education beyond a paralegal certificate.

Back in the "old days" which can mean going back a mere six or seven years, a paralegal with a degree and certificate who demonstrated solid paralegal work experience, could pretty much be assured that she would find a job should the need arise.  Paralegals without either a degree nor certificate but who demonstrated years of experience, generally did not have to worry about going back to school in order to get a decent job.  With the advent of this current recession, all of that changed significantly.

Nowadays, even if you have a stellar resume, it's tough to get a job.  I hear from paralegals all over the country who tell me of the difficulties they are having.  One paralegal in Los Angeles is living in a motel and fighting the foreclosure of her house; another high-profile paralegal in the midwest who is considered an icon in trademarks, was laid off from her in-house position in June and has not found a position; and yet still another, with 26 years of experience has been laid off and out of work for a year.

These and other paralegals are missing one strong component for a productive and short job search: nothing in their resume indicates recent updating of paralegal skills.  Nothing.  While it is true that they are mid-level and senior paralegals, job duties listed on a resume do not always indicate the paralegal has made the effort to keep his skills fresh and up-to-date.  Simply the fact that you are working does not indicate that you have taken on new challenges nor increased your knowledge every year through a planned approach to stay current.

With the high level of education for the average paralegal today, law firms can be selective in who they hire. This means, more often than not, paralegals with a college degree are hired before those without a degree. This increases the value of continuing legal education.

Most people have heard of law firms closing overnight and layoffs without prior notice. This is another reason why it is essential to remain current in job skills, along with pursuing education in the latest trends and techniques related to the paralegal field. Waiting until a firm closes its doors or passes out layoff notices, may lead to long term unemployment.

According to a news release by the Bureau of Labor Statistics (Number of Jobs Held – A Longitudinal Study, June 27, 2008) the average person changes jobs 10.8 times during the ages of 18 and 42. These numbers indicate employment stability is unsteady at best for everyone, including those with college degrees and paralegal certificates.  Here is another reason why the value of continuing education remains a positive career step for paralegals.

However, the success of any paralegal is based strictly on personal performance, determination, and responsibility. Everyone in the workplace today needs continuing education because education is a valuable asset which should never be taken lightly. Obtaining additional education opens doors which remain firmly closed for those with less education.

These facts lead to the question – "Is there real value in continuing education?" The answer, Yes!

You have options when pursuing continuing legal education.  Here are five of many:

When people hear continuing education, they often immediately think of college. However, pursuing a bachelor, master's, or other degree is not always the answer. Consider a certificate program or a single course designed to improve paralegal skills. For example, completing an eDiscovery course increases your value to an existing or potential employer.  Planning for continuing legal education is essential to success, along with selecting the right courses.

When employees go back to school, they offer more expertise and value to their law firm or in-house legal department. This is why many employers help with the cost of continuing legal education. Some employers even offer courses on-site, because they understand the value of continuing education. Before beginning any continuing education program, check with your firm's human resources office to find out what support is available.  You might be pleasantly surprised.

Look to Your Community

Community colleges, paralegal programs and associations often offer low cost paralegal education courses. These courses generally focus on specific skills – anything from using a particular computer program to going to trial. Practice specialty courses are offered that often a paralegal can use to move upward on an often invisible career ladder.

Remember Scholarships.

When the economy is on a downturn, many continuing legal education courses and paralegal programs actually increase. This is because people want to position themselves for better jobs when the recession begins to loosen its grip.  Some CLE courses offer scholarships to attract students or tuition assistance programs designed to support paralegals who have been laid off from their jobs.

Two  good examples are the Paralegal Knowledge Institute and the Organization of Legal Professionals (OLP).  (Disclosure:  I am involved with both entities. I cite these two organizations as these are the ones in which I have the most knowledge.)  In the past year, OLP has given approximately 40 scholarships to paralegals who have been laid-off long term.  Paralegal Knowledge Institute has also given a significant number of scholarships.

Beating the Cost of Textbooks

Textbooks, particularly those in the legal field,  increase the cost of continuing education. Pursuing online approaches to purchasing texts or materials cuts the cost.  You may also find used texts.  You can also check the book out from a law library or even borrow one from a former student.  Ask the instructor for referrals.

Earn Extra Money for Continuing Education

If eligible financial aid is not enough to pay for classes or you cannot find scholarships, consider earning extra money in a side job to use exclusively for continuing education. Options range from getting a part-time job, starting a home-based business, or taking on freelance work. For example babysitting, dog walking, starting a website to earn money, or even renting out a spare room.  It's not as difficult as you may think.  For more information on how to become a freelance paralegal, check out the National Association of Freelance Legal Professionals (www.naflp.com)

Making Connections

There are a many options for people who perceive continuing legal education as too costly during a recession. Taking steps to improve your employment and financial future is important to overcome the impact of a recession. The benefits of continuing paralegal education for all paralegals are tremendous to improve and protect your situation and beat a recession and difficult and challenging marketplace.

Courses, webinars and seminars you should check out:

The Paralegal Knowledge Institute offers webinars, annual subscriptions for your entire paralegal department for one flat tuition, seminars and other educational opportunities including:
eDiscovery Basics: A Short Course (starts tomorrow – sign up today and get the discount)
eDiscovery and Record Keeping
Paralegal's Role at Trial
Bankruptcy
Litigation Support 101A
Trial Presentation for Paralegals
Three C's of Legal Writing
and over 100 webinars per year.

OLP offers courses in:
eDiscovery 101A
Advanced eDiscovery
Trial Presentation
International eDiscovery
Identification, Preservation & Collection
and over 100 webinars per year.  You do not need to be a member of OLP to take its courses.  However, membership that gives you over 100 webinars free per year is only $95.00 per person. You can't beat that anywhere.

Happy learning!

3 Replies to “The Game Changer for Paralegals”

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