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Why the Demand for Corporate Paralegals Is Growing

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A new association is rising up to represent a growing number of paralegals who populate the halls of Corporate America. Corporations must have counsel, and small companies may have an attorney on retainer. In this situation, the paralegal deals with the company as a client and bills time. As companies grow, they continue this relationship with an attorney or switch to a larger law firm that can provide a full array of services. There may be a team of paralegals and attorneys that handle the XYZ corporation's legal matters: employment law matters, intellectual property matters, contract and vendor matters, and corporate matters.

Eventually the company sees a real need to hire an attorney to work with both the officers and executives and deal with outside counsel. Sometimes the in-house counsel office remains small-the attorney has a secretary and maybe a paralegal. The meetings (small matters of representation and corporate activities) stay in-house, and then larger litigated or complex matters go to the outside counsel. This is the point where many companies are, in terms of their legal support. The inside attorney, a full-time employee of the corporation, and sometimes a vice president handle all legal matters and then determine what goes outside.


Corporate counsel legal assistants

It really does not matter what service the company performs or product it makes: you, as a paralegal, could be working for a company in any state that has hired an attorney who is full-time, in-house corporate counsel. As these positions become more and more numerous, the quality of paralegal work in this area increasingly attains its own identity. Corporate law, employment law, intellectual property, and other matters increasingly fall to in-house support. A paralegal who works for an interstate gas company says she loves the job because of the "predictable variety and the travel." She says, "I travel just enough to keep things interesting, but not so much that it gets tedious. Corporate counsel paralegals are a growing army out there; and with a national association (the American Corporate Legal Assistants Association), the use of paralegals in this area will grow even more and benefit from the identity that the association creates.

Why is paralegal work in the corporate world growing?

More and more accountants and executives in corporate America are concluding that they can hire attorneys and paralegals as employees. From a career point of view, a paralegal has an opportunity to be a corporate employee, getting benefits and the chance to be promoted within the corporation. The trend toward larger in-house counsel staffs (bringing in greater numbers of legal support to handle large litigation matters) means that the paralegal will become even more viable. That viability will increase because the billing system of the firm is not in force. If a paralegal can do a job and is trained for it, the paralegal will probably be given the responsibility, in view of the fact that the paralegal will still be supervised by in-house counsel. There will not be an economic incentive to give the work to the attorney.

A few specific growth areas are also contributing to the growth of paralegal employment within corporations.

Growth in Insurance

A large and successful national insurance company is building an addition onto one of their regional headquarters. Why? Their litigation department will be housed there. Insurance companies across the country are concluding that instead of "farming out" their litigation matters to large firms, they can hire a firm, make them full-time employees, and keep them busy. The insurance company would no longer scrutinize large bills with hourly fees; it cuts paychecks to attorneys and paralegals who are their own employees.

In addition, trained paralegals are applying for and getting positions with titles like "policy service representative," for which they are being trained for several months. One paralegal exclaimed to me, "I am having to learn about the insurance laws for seven different states in our region. And after that, I have to be ready to train our agents concerning their policies in all these different states!" Insurance is a field that promises great growth for people trained as paralegals. The paralegal status will continue to benefit them all the way through the promotions in their career as insurance professionals.

Corporations That Provide Legal Services

As computerized litigation support grows more complex, many firms have gone into the business of serving government agencies and large corporations with special expertise. The Environmental Protection Agency, for example, hires subcontracting companies to assist them in the determination of "potentially responsible parties." Consulting agencies serve the "potentially responsible parties," which are usually large companies.

Paralegals who work in these companies work with database management systems and employ experience gained in practices like research and real estate. There is also a strong technical/scientific component to the work involved. People with science majors and experience that do not at first appear to be transferrable to the legal world could have backgrounds that fit in with fields like "environmental." From toxic waste disposal, to chemical analysis, to the measurement of "ambient air particles," the broad term "environmental" encompasses many technical and scientific disciplines.

Government

Paralegals work in federal agencies, state agencies, and municipal and county offices. They work for judges and court administrators throughout the state court systems. A paralegal in an office of a state attorney general says, "We have paralegals working throughout the offices of the state attorney general. Since we are the legal counsel for the state, we have our hands on numerous projects continually. From consumer fraud to working with the corrections system, paralegals are there providing the necessary support."

Paralegals work as investigators for subcontractors who are paid by federal agencies. Are they federal employees? Not really. And that is the reason that there is work at every level of government. Working for the government worker means that sometimes you are an employee of a subcontractor of an agency. So, under the broad category of "government" we must also include again, "corporations."

Trends in Paralegal Employment Areas

Increased regulation by federal, state, and local agencies, the corresponding need for compliance and legal responses to these regulations, the continued rise of litigation as a remedy to conflict, consumerism, activism, and social evolution are all leading to increased legal activity. These trends tend to benefit the paralegal. The legal profession will continue to grow in different ways and attorneys will always have work to do. The questions lie in how firms will fare and how legal services will be delivered to the consumer. And yet with all of these developments, there remains a basic vital truth: the trained and skilled paralegal has a future inside law firms, corporations, government, and other diverse settings. You, as a flexible and imaginative job hunter, have a much bigger world out there than you might imagine. The person who only looks under "L" (for Legal Assistant) and "P" (for Paralegal) is missing a host of "legal positions" out there for which they would be qualified to apply, if they only knew they were named "contract specialist" or "vendor administrator" or "policy service representative."


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