Two of the greatest attributes most paralegals possess are dedication and loyalty to the profession. Many come to this field as career changers, having had successful jobs in totally unrelated fields. Making the decision to leave your current position is a tough one that cannot be made lightly. It can be a joyous decision or one fraught with pain and anxiety. Changing jobs is one of the most stressful activities a professional can undertake. Stress surveys rank it almost equally with a death in the family.
Often you felt trapped in your present position because you may think that no one else will hire you, the market is crummy or that your work experience is so unique that your career choices are limited.
Let's shatter that myth at the outset. Once you understand that you have choices and you can leave, you are no longer a victim of your situation. You are then free to stay or move on.
Many paralegals inadvertently underestimate their skills and abilities. The way you talk about your skills many not convey the strength of your capabilities well enough to the interviewer or "consumer" who is in the position to "buy" what you're "selling." If you are one of these paralegals, you may often encounter resistance from potential employers when you seek to make a substantial career change because you can't convince her that you are the right person for the job. This leads to discouragement, frustration and the mistaken belief that you had better stay right where you are.
The reality is that as a highly skilled professional, you have valuable skills to sell, both inside and outside the legal profession. Once you understand your own strengths and their value, you will be able to sell yourself virtually anywhere.
In the career seminars that I've conducted, participants have cited the following reasons for wanting to leave not only their jobs but at times, the field itself:
- Salary cap
- No respect from attorneys
- Unrealistic billing requirements
- Unclear directions
- No feedback
- No recognition
- Lack of career path
- Too much travel
- Routine and repetitious work
- No decision-making authority
These same participants also cited the positive aspects of working the legal field and, interestingly,there were some clear-cut contradictions. Those positive aspects included:
- Intelligent co-workers
- Pleasant working environment
- Acceptable salaries and bonuses
- Challenging assignments
- Stress-less travel
- The "buck doesn't stop here" attitude
- Respect from colleagues and supervisors
- High energy work
Taking charge of any career is difficult, and this is particularly true for paralegals. Trying to zoom up a career ladder that has yet to be fully defined – in a role that is still trying to define itself – is like taking aim at an invisible target. You may think you've hit it but no one can really be sure. When you attempt to make any kind of change in such a fluid field, it can appear that your options are limited. The reality is that because this is a relatively new field, you have the power to shape, mold and make your career work for you.