The Bureau of Labor and Statistics lists the San Francisco Bay Area as the top-paying metropolitan area in the nation for paralegals, but it is also one of the most competitive job markets in the nation, a spot where legal support talent sometimes exceeds available opportunities.
An above-average salary is always welcome news, but it frequently comes with a price: employers willing to pay those higher salaries expect more from potential hires; i.e., qualifications and job demands. These factors present a paralegal with an existential crisis: How can I enhance my marketability and set myself apart from other paralegals in a competitive job market and still maintain my sanity?
1. Homework: It’s the Law
Education is essential for improving marketability. It is also a codified requirement, as set forth in Business and Professions Code §6450(d):
“Every two years, commencing January 1, 2007, any person that is working as a paralegal shall be required to certify completion of four hours of mandatory continuing legal education in Legal Ethics and four hours of mandatory continuing legal education in either general law or in an area of specialized law.”
The Bar Association of San Francisco offers Paralegal Section members live seminars and webinars ranging from understanding family law disclosure forms to developing time management skills.
Taking courses beyond required CLEs, in and out of your field, will keep you current with work trends, and you may also discover a new area of interest. Your employer may also view your participation in professional development as a sign of an employee worthy of increased consideration for future opportunities.
2. It’s Not Only What You Know but Who You Know
The concept of “networking” might bring back awkward memories of junior high dances, but attending events presents excellent chances to connect with others in similar roles, get tips or referrals for career opportunities before they are advertised, and provide feedback on procedures. If large groups intimidate you, explore less formal “brown bag” gatherings in your field of law. If such a group does not exist, consider forming one.
3. Know Your “Audience”
To get a broader career perspective and determine your marketability in the current hiring market, reflect on your achievements, goals, and aspirations:
- What software programs are firms using, and am I proficient in them?
- What salaries/benefits are they offering?
- What type of firm do I want to work for?
- Does the firm culture appeal to me?
- What is the work/life balance? Is there room for growth?
- How will I benefit from this firm?”
- How can I fine-tune my legal support skills to be an asset to my firm?
- Where can I learn more about trends and/or programs?
4. “You” Time
In the end, YOU are the most important component in maintaining marketability. Taking personal time away from work is an important element to maintaining your sanity while assessing professional goals. You will return with a renewed sense of purpose and self. Your attorney will notice and appreciate it, thus forming a harmonious and beneficial working relationship. That is an invaluable marketable quality.
About the author:
Javier Morelos is Client Liaison and Senior Paralegal at Hersh FamilyLaw Practice, P.C., and Secretary of the Executive Committee of BASF’s Paralegal Section. Please contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org. For more information about paralegal events, visit www.sfbar.org/cle/sections_paralegal.aspx.