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Turning A Temp Paralegal Job into a Full-Time Paralegal Job

published January 10, 2013

By CEO and Founder - BCG Attorney Search left
Published By
( 55 votes, average: 4.4 out of 5)
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TEMPORARY STAFFING/AGENCIES

Some observers have expressed amazement at the skyrocketing growth of the temporary staffing industry. But given the fact that short-term staffing can be long on benefits for both employers and employees, experts believe the surge should really come as no surprise.


The soaring growth in temporary staffing has spurred dynamic changes in the temporary staffing industry. According to an article in The Los Angeles Times, temporary help services reached unprecedented levels in 1997. Receipts grew 15.4 percent to $50.3 billion; employment expressed as average daily employment rose 9.7 percent to 2,535,220 temporary employees. For example, growth in the temporary help and staffing services industry in 1997 was attributable to several factors:

Tight labor market: When business activity increases, there is greater demand for employees, both full-time and temporary, eventually leading to worker and skills shortages.

Changing worker attitudes: Rapid changes in the economy are changing the way workers view employment. They increasingly believe that traditional long-term job security with a single company is less certain and that employment security lies in having the right skills and knowing where to get those skills.

Expansion of staffing services beyond traditional temporary help: Staffing firms provide a far broader range of services than in the past.

In prior years, most legal staffing agencies were owned and operated by small business owners. In the past few years, increased consolidation and restructuring as well as enhanced sophistication have been among the changes. Big companies have grown much bigger, and several of the largest now post annual sales of more than $5 billion in clerical, medical, and light industrial arenas. The legal staffing component of these companies make up a very small part of revenues. These smaller divisions now place contract attorneys, paralegals, litigation support personnel, and administrative staff, including legal secretaries.

Meanwhile, "boutique" companies continue to enter the market. The barriers to entry are very low, so as one staffing company is gobbled up by a larger company, another one springs up to take its place. These businesses' basic assets are working capital.

With more temporary staffing companies vying to place workers, and unemployment at all-time lows (at this writing), competition among the companies has been ratcheted upward. Intense competition for dependable workers has meant even more good news for temps, some of whom now enjoy job benefits similar to those earned by full-time workers. Many staffing companies also offer referral bonuses paid to temps who refer other potential temporary workers to the company. The companies need to offer wages and benefits in line with those offered by other companies in order to remain competitive.

In these uncertain economic times, employers have taken the position that hiring temporary employees helps businesses get through peak demand periods without adding permanent staff and also permits them to try out prospective employees before awarding them permanent jobs. Temporary employees find much to like as well. Flexible staffing lets them tailor their jobs to their lifestyles and allows them to try jobs in different law firms and companies before committing to any one employer.

Like anything else, there's an upside and a downside to working as a temporary employee. The upside is that it gives you an opportunity to review several law firms in order to evaluate certain aspects of a firm or in- house legal department, such as size, culture, work environment, location, practice specialty, and philosophy to determine whether that firm or legal department is right for you. The downside, if you are seeking a full-time position, is that if you work as a temp, it is often difficult to land a permanent position. The theory (right or wrong) is that you might not be able to stay long-term with an employer. Unfortunately, there's no real definition of what constitutes too long.

Opportunities abound for everyone with any type of paralegal skill. For people who are just entering or reentering the workforce, a temporary position can be a bridge to permanent employment. Some statistics show that three-quarters of former temporary employees go on to permanent jobs. It's also an appealing option for those who don't want to move into permanent jobs, at least not immediately, such as retirees and college students on summer breaks. An older person can get back into the workforce and take a position for shorter period. And younger people without a lot of skills can learn necessary skills to earn them a permanent position.

Temporary help agencies are not necessarily employment agencies. Some do not have permanent placement opportunities. Temporary workers are employees of a temporary help company and are recruited, sometimes trained, assigned, and paid by the temporary agency. This agency pays all payroll and social security taxes for its temporary employees, as well as any other benefits, such as medical coverage and, in some cases, vacation pay and 401 (k) plans.

A Georgia State University study states that individuals who take transitional jobs "may be better off in the long run because a transitional job will relieve enough financial pressure to give them the bargaining power to hold out for higher wages and a better job." Bear in mind, however, that this report was prepared for the general workplace and not the legal arena.

The study further reported that taking a transitional job doesn't lessen a worker's chances for full-time employment and lengthens the search by just 5 weeks. Incidentally, according to an American Staffing Association (ASA) profile, of the temporary workers who were offered full-time positions as a result of temporary assignments, 38 percent turned down the offers because they enjoyed the benefits of temporary work.

In addition to those new or newly returned to the workforce, a number of others look favorably upon temporary work from a lifestyle perspective. This group is predominantly made up of people who seek optimum flexibility in their work lives. Actors, homemakers, students, teachers, writers, moms and dads needing flexible schedules make up this group. And there's a growing core of full-time temp workers who simply like to change their jobs from time to time.

Some legal assistants enjoy working temporarily and have no desire to seek any other kind of employment. In fact, you could say that there are actually permanent temporaries. Assignments are classified as short-term or long-term and can last anywhere from one day (usually, though, at least a week) to a year. If you are considering temporary work, be sure you have the right characteristics. You must be
 
  • Able to hit the ground running, that is, take direction well the first time, assess the situation, and understand what must be done
  • Available to work on short notice and be easy to contact
  • Able to act independently yet unafraid to speak up and ask the right questions
  • Flexible about location, times, acceptance of different personalities, and nature of assignments
  • Adventurous
  • Not too shy and enjoy being the "new kid on the block" all the time
  • Respectful of different cultures
  • Open to supervision
  • Craving flexibility and variety
  • Able to face some downtime between jobs, if necessary.

WHEN SHOULD YOU CONSIDER TEMPING?

You should consider a temporary position if you are
 
  • Recently laid-off or downsized and need work immediately
  • Interested in improving your skills before landing a full-time position
  • Really looking to work project by project
  • Unable to give a full commitment due to family matters, a personal project, travel plans, or school
  • Looking to enter the field and need some experience behind you
  • Retired from another career and don't need a full-time job
  • Recently moved to a new location and want to get your bearings first
  • Open to "let's get acquainted before either of us makes a commitment to each other" and looking to gain insight and exposure into a future employer
  • One who just prefers it.

How and Where to Begin

Find a good agency that has a solid background in placing temporary paralegals. Tap into your network to find the "buzz" on the company. How long has the company been in business? What kind of clients do they have? What are typical assignments? What are the backgrounds of the recruiters? Is this an agency that places primarily secretaries or clerical help? Do they know what your needs are? What about benefits? Is there access to group health insurance? Are wages competitive?

Know the Temp Lingo

Contract: Generally a term for temp attorneys or IT professionals. They typically work on a project of several months' duration, such as taking a case through trial.

Temp-to-perm or direct hire: This is a position that starts out as temporary with the possibility of becoming a permanent or full-time position. The company for whom the temporary is working converts the temporary employee to a full-time employee through a conversion fee paid to the temp agency by the employer or with no fee, depending on the market or the length of time the temporary has been on the job. Steve Berchem, of ASA, says the term is applicable when an employer converts a temporary employee to a full-time employee, either through prearrangement (they want to try the candidate out first) or after the fact (they like the temp employee and want to hire the employee full-time). This is becoming a more widely used way of hiring paralegals and support staff professionals.

Temporary: Typically used to describe nontechnical employees who work for a period of short or indefinite duration in office-clerical, light industrial, or accounting positions.

Career Temporary: Those who find the flexibility of working with a staffing service to be a preferable means of working.

Interview Tips from ASA

Interviewing with a temporary help service? This is a perfect time to explore your fringe benefits in detail, according to ASA.

The Association recommends that you ask the following questions:
 
  1. Does the company offer paid vacations? If so, do hours accumulate from year to year?
  2. Does the company fill both part- and full-time positions? If you are using temporary help as a bridge to full-time employment, ask about this. Some temporary help companies specialize in filling full-time openings, others do not. Also, ask about their policy regarding acceptance of a full-time position.
  3. Is there a medical and hospitalization plan? What are the benefits?
  4. Does the company have seniority bonuses?
  5. Do you get a bonus for referring other workers?
  6. How often are you paid? And are you paid locally, or are checks mailed from another city? (This may affect the ready cashing of paychecks.)
  7. Is the temporary help/staffing service a member of ASA? Membership shows that the company has agreed to conform to the highest ethical standards in the industry and is up-to-date on all the latest developments and trends.

Don't forget to ask about your chances for being kept busy. If you feel that you won't be busy enough, register with other companies as backup. In fact, of those workers surveyed by ASA, 37 percent are currently registered with more than one company. In any case, make sure you are completely satisfied with the employment conditions of a temporary help company before registering.

Questions? You can log onto the ASA Web site at http://www.staffingto- day.net and search the membership directory for ASA-affiliated staffing firms in your area. Oftentimes, these firms will have links to their Web sites.

Because of liability issues, many firms refuse to hire temps directly onto their payroll and insist that you go through a temporary staffing organization. However, you might want to approach a few firms of your choice and ask whether they use temporaries. If the answer is yes, find out how they hire temporaries: directly onto their payroll or from an agency? If the firm uses agencies, find out which ones and sign up. Be sure to let your recruiter know you've done your homework and how you arrived at their agency. Most likely they will be pleased and should make an extra effort to place you at those firms as long as you meet the hiring requirements.

Don't expect to be an independent contractor, however. Few firms or agencies will take on independent contractors these days. Most will require an employee status. There is a list of twenty factors from the IRS that determine whether you will be considered an independent contractor.

Most paralegals do not qualify. These factors include working without supervision (questionable if you must work directly under the supervision of an attorney) and having a certificate of compliance that you have workers' compensation insurance-and very few do. Furthermore, you must pay estimated taxes quarterly, which can lead to some very costly problems if you fail even once.

WORKING WITH YOUR TEMPORARY AGENCY

Sign up with a couple of agencies in order to get maximum exposure to the temp market. Not all agencies have the same jobs. Establish a great rapport with your recruiter. Understand that a recruiting job is a high- pressure position that moves quickly. Consequently, your recruiter doesn't always get a chance to talk with you in depth. Be sure you are pleasant each and every time you call and that pleasantness extends to the receptionist, assistant, and other recruiters in the agencies who are trying to help you. They all talk to each other, and nothing is worse when recruiters stop taking your call because you're too difficult to deal with.

The most common assignment for temporary paralegals is in litigation. Frequently, law firms will need temporary paralegals for document productions, discovery, trial preparation, and large or complex litigation cases. Paralegals may also be called upon for due diligence projects, real estate closings, mergers and acquisitions, or data entry. On some occasions, you may even travel to other cities to work with the firm's lawyers and paralegals. You could be sent to a fancy office setting or out to a remote warehouse. The most important thing is to be prepared for just about anything!

Check in with your recruiter on a regular basis. Find out what's comfortable for your agency. Some want you to call in every day for availability, while others believe once a week is adequate. And even if you are desperate for a job, don't pressure your recruiter to death. Let them know you have an immediate need, be persistent, but don't expect your dire situation to become their dire situation. Most recruiters are empathetic and more than willing to help you, but as in any job, boundaries have to be set.

Be sure to let your agency know if you find a temporary job where you would like to settle in on a full-time basis. The agency may be able to negotiate a temp-to-perm position for you that would be a win-win for all parties.

Alternative Summary

Harrison is the founder of BCG Attorney Search and several companies in the legal employment space that collectively gets thousands of attorneys jobs each year. Harrison’s writings about attorney careers and placement attract millions of reads each year. Harrison is widely considered the most successful recruiter in the United States and personally places multiple attorneys most weeks. His articles on legal search and placement are read by attorneys, law students and others millions of times per year.

More about Harrison

About LawCrossing

LawCrossing has received tens of thousands of attorneys jobs and has been the leading legal job board in the United States for almost two decades. LawCrossing helps attorneys dramatically improve their careers by locating every legal job opening in the market. Unlike other job sites, LawCrossing consolidates every job in the legal market and posts jobs regardless of whether or not an employer is paying. LawCrossing takes your legal career seriously and understands the legal profession. For more information, please visit www.LawCrossing.com.

published January 10, 2013

By CEO and Founder - BCG Attorney Search left
( 55 votes, average: 4.4 out of 5)
What do you think about this article? Rate it using the stars above and let us know what you think in the comments below.