The employment outlook for paralegals, legal secretaries, and legal assistants is positive. Right now — according to the Department of Labor — there are almost 280,000 paralegals in the US, but that’s projected to grow by 8% over the next decade. That’s much faster than the expected 5% growth rate in other legal occupations.
It’s hardly surprising, though. Law firms are increasingly turning to paralegals and legal assistants to take on many tasks once taken on by junior attorneys, thereby reducing costs and allowing them to charge lower fees in an increasingly competitive fight for clients.
As demand for paralegals grows competition for each paralegal job opportunity intensifies, though. In fact, according to Robert Half, a recruitment consultancy, legal employers are increasingly looking for paralegal applicants to have a much broader range of skills than might have been the case in the past.
What, though, are the paralegal skills in highest demand? We’ve reviewed hundreds of recent paralegal job advertisements on LinkedIn and come up with a list of the five most requested skills.
#1 Technological competence
There’s now virtually nowhere in the legal industry where you can avoid the need to be at least competent (and ideally hold advanced skills) in a whole range of computer skills. In fact, demand for technology skills was more prevalent than any other single requirement in the job advertisements we reviewed.
The majority of job descriptions we looked at specified a high-level of competence in Microsoft Office and PDF software, such as Adobe Acrobat. Many also specified experience with practice and case management tools, such as Practice Panther, Clio, and Rocket Matter.
Finally, many adverts for litigation paralegals explicitly called for eDiscovery experience. A number sought out paralegals familiar with tools that sort, categorize and label electronically stored information such as Nextpoint, Logikcull, and CloudNine.
Want to check that your tech skills are up-to-date? Check out some of our recent blogs:
- 7 Microsoft Word hacks every legal professional should know
- 7 Adobe Acrobat hacks that will make legal professionals’ lives easier
- 7 Microsoft Outlook quick tricks all legal professionals should know
#2 Litigation skills
In litigation, perhaps more so than any other area of law, today’s paralegals are increasingly asked to take on the sort of tasks that would previously have been undertaken by junior attorneys.
Commonly requested skills included: Experience locating and conducting interviews with witnesses, gathering documents and evidence, preparing trial presentations, and conducting legal research.
Many job descriptions asked that paralegals have specific experience researching cases using tools like WestLaw and LexisNexis, familiarity with discovery tools and procedures, and the confidence required to interact with clients, vendors, experts, witnesses, and courtroom personnel.
#3 Knowledge of procedure and court rules
Right now in California and many other states across the US, the courts are making major changes to their case management systems and moving toward online, electronic filing. This means that rules and procedures are changing rapidly, often at the level of the county court, resulting in a complex patchwork of rules to abide by.
We noticed a large number of job adverts for paralegals requesting extensive knowledge of court filing requirements, understanding of service rules, and experience calendaring litigation proceedings. Certainly, these skills have always been bread and butter for paralegals, but with so many changes underway in the courts, it’s vital to be on top of all the changes if you want to get ahead.
#4 Writing ability
Excellent writing skills are essential to all paralegal and legal assistant positions. Litigation paralegals, for example, are expected to draft correspondence, pleadings, discovery, motions, briefs, legal memorandums, and more. Of course, paralegals are also the go-to proofreaders and editors for attorneys.
Since writing is an integral paralegal function, paralegals who master the art of clear, concise and persuasive written communications will set themselves apart from their peers.
#5 Prioritization / organization
When it comes to making sure that every aspect of a case is prepared, filed, and executed on time, many attorneys would be lost without their paralegal. Lawyers rely on paralegals to bring order to their cases and files.
Document-intensive litigation, for instance, generates vast amounts of documents and data. Therefore, the ability to sort, index, categorize, order, manipulate and organize this information is a fundamental paralegal skill.
With so much being asked of today’s paralegals it can be tough to keep up. Productivity skills — knowing how to prioritize and how to stay on top — are increasingly important. Check out our free 30-page guide to productivity for legal professionals for tips and advice.