Alternative Career Paths for Paralegals
You have your paralegal certificate, now what? The paralegal training you received in your paralegal certificate or paralegal degree program may have opened the doors to more career options than one might think.
Are you interested in exploring some alternative paralegal career options? A paralegal certificate combined with your personality traits and other skills can lead you to a rewarding and challenging career path if you are open to looking at alternative paralegal career options.
If you asked me 20 years ago in my first year as a Litigation Paralegal, or even later in my career as a paralegal manager, I would not have envisioned ending up being an entrepreneur in the business of training paralegals. I assumed I would have remained in a paralegal role in a law firm for my entire career. Until I asked myself one day what it was that I liked most about being a paralegal manager. It wasn’t the recruiting, the performance reviews, dealing with HR issues or trying to teach attorneys how to better utilize paralegals. It was the training that I enjoyed the most. Because of all people, I understood what it was like to get that paralegal degree and then be sitting in your office on the first day of work wondering what exactly I was supposed to be doing!
I am always interested to learn what leads one to become a paralegal, and intrigued when I meet former paralegals who have turned their paralegal skills into a career that is outside the box of what someone would expect to do with a paralegal certificate.
It is expected that a paralegal certificate leads to a paralegal position in a law firm, but what if there was an alternative paralegal career option that gave you an even more rewarding career path given your personality and other skills?
Your paralegal career path might not have the “paralegal” title but could use the transferrable skills from your paralegal training and experience to include rewarding careers such as:
- Legal Staffing Recruiter
- Professional Development and Training Manager
- Pro Bono Program Coordinator
- Project Manager for legal support vendor
- Legislative Affairs Director for county government agency
- Business Development/Sales for legal support vendor
- Professional Blogger/Marketer to the legal field
- Library Research Assistant
- Litigation Support Analyst
- Executive Assistant at a venture capital company
- Foreclosure Specialist
- Business Owner of litigation support training programs
- Contracts Administrator
- Clerk or Administrator in the court system
- Investigator or Process Server
- Paralegal Manager
The list of alternative paralegal career options could be unlimited.
Are you a litigation paralegal who enjoys networking and sales conversations? Then maybe a sales position for a legal vendor would be a better fit than managing document review projects as a litigation paralegal in a typical law firm setting.
Are you a corporate paralegal who enjoys the operations and financial side of managing projects and have an undergraduate degree in business management? Then maybe you would be better suited for a VP of Operations or an Office Administrator at a small company that would allow you to combine your education with your paralegal skills.
Are you a litigation paralegal who loves to do legal research and writing more than interacting with clients? Then a job in library would probably get you more research assignments than being a paralegal at a large law firm that already has dozens of associates already doing the research assignments. Another alternative career path might be to work for one of the legal publishing companies or online legal research companies.
I would urge recent paralegal graduates who are having a difficult time finding their first paralegal position to think outside the box and find out if there are alternative paralegal career paths that would utilize the skills you learned in your paralegal certificate program.
As a paralegal, you have developed many skills that other employers are looking for.
One of the skills that most paralegals develop, particularly if you are working in a law firm that bills your time to a client, is the ability to get as much done as possible in the shortest amount of time. This comes from the understanding that a client is paying an hourly rate for everything you do, so you want to be as productive as you can. Stafford added “things like working under strict deadlines and a high level of productivity are ingrained in you as a paralegal. Those work habits stick with you and make you a great asset to your next employer.”
Kristine Wilder, Manager of Records & Information Management for Walt Disney Company agreed “it has been 9 years since I worked as a paralegal, but I continue to use my paralegal skills every day in my position.” Wilder now uses those skills to assist her and her team when they are establishing new information compliance polices for over 195,000 employees across the various business divisions of Walt Disney Company. Wilder now feels like she is charting her own course every day and not limited by views that she can only do a limited type of work or have limited interactions.
When you move outside the law firm and corporate legal department, you also move away from the labels we have all grown accustomed to in the legal industry: paralegal/attorney, attorney/non-attorney or professionals/staff. Wilder added “In my current role, there are no labels or limits to what I can achieve. Without limits, I now enjoy driving initiatives, looking at the big picture of the company and how I can best serve the company without any restrictions that hold me back in my position here.”
When are thinking it might be time to start Act II of your career, consider drafting up a plan to help you evaluate your options and decide which career path you might want to take.
Step One: Spend some time thinking about what it is that you are passionate about.
This does not mean thinking about the new title that you want. It means doing some soul searching on what makes you happy, what you enjoy about your paralegal career and what you do not enjoy. Ahmadieh did exactly that when he was contemplating what he wanted out of his career. He suggests that you “turn off the tv, the radio and all of the other devices – and just think. Think outside the box. Think about what it is that makes you happy, what aspects of your paralegal job you enjoy, which aspects you don’t and where your strengths are.”
Step Two: Do a career assessment.
If you have been working as a paralegal for most of your career, it might be helpful to talk to a career coach or take a career assessment test. It would be worth the investment to learn what areas you excel at and bring you the most joy and satisfaction.
A career coach can help you assess your professional situation with a greater degree of insight, analysis, honesty, and encouragement. A coach can evaluate your work history to help you better define your skills and abilities, and to build your confidence to overcome limitations you have put on yourself. Coaching sessions help you explore your career strengths and interests to develop a strategy and plan for moving in a new direction.
I would recommend choosing a career coach who specializes in the legal industry. For example, Bert Binder is a paralegal career coach who had 20+ years in the paralegal profession before moving into the coaching industry.
Step Three: Know what that new field requires for employment and success in that field.
Some career alternatives might require some additional training or education specific to that industry when you decide to make the career transition from paralegal to another field. Find out what those are before you make any decisions. For example, if you are considering a teaching job, you would have more options available to you if you had a master’s degree. If you were interested in a sales position, you might want to explore some courses on sales techniques. You would also want to talk to as many legal support vendors as possible to learn what it takes to be successful in that position. Make sure you understand the pros and cons of any role you are considering transitioning to.
Finally, whether you just received your paralegal certificate or you’ve been in the profession for a long time, you will definitely want to look at some job search articles that will help. We’ve got a few on our blog that you might want to read: