Why is the turnover rate so high for paralegals? There are a number of answers, including toxic culture in law firms, career burnout, and a desire to move up. Burnout and other stresses may make paralegals feel like there is nowhere to go, but that’s not at all true. The law firm isn’t the only place for a paralegal to work and thrive in their career. There are many non-law firm employers who welcome the paralegal as an employee and provides a working environment that’s less stressful than that of the law firm.
Why Do Paralegals Leave the Profession?
One of the top reasons for paralegals leaving the field is the result of a toxic work environment. The field of law is a high-pressure environment that can quickly wear down a paralegal. Cases are frequently won or lost on a technicality, and a paralegal can unwittingly introduce an error that causes a loss. It is the role of the attorney to oversee the work that is done by the paralegal, but attorneys also make mistakes by not paying attention. However, the paralegal frequently takes the blame, not the attorney, and burns out the willingness of a paralegal to perform, much less work in the field of law.
It goes without saying that a paralegal needs to make sure their work is correct and free from error prior to handing it to the attorney, but a paralegal is not a lawyer and may not always pick up on a defect in the document. That doesn’t stop the attorney from blaming the paralegal, though, and causes paralegals to get fed up and find employment in less-stressful fields. The average turnover of paralegals depends on the law firm. Suffice to say, a law firm with a lot of paralegal turnover is a law firm with internal problems.
Another issue that generates turnover is the fact one paralegal can work for multiple lawyers. When more than one lawyer makes demands of a paralegal to “get jobs done”, the pressure mounts on the paralegal. Even the best paralegals can only do so much to keep up with an unreasonable workload. If nothing is done to make it easier on the paralegal in terms of spreading out work, the paralegal winds up taking on an unfair amount of work for less pay than a lawyer receives. Some paralegals decide to return to school and earn an advanced law degree or go for their juris doctorate in order to work as a lawyer themselves and leave the stress of the paralegal field behind.
Can You Go to Law School With a Paralegal Degree?
You can’t go directly to law school with a paralegal degree, but you can return to school and earn an undergraduate degree in legal studies, then apply for law school. A paralegal going to law school has an advantage in that they’ve worked in law firms, are familiar with the practice of law and can use that knowledge to help them achieve high grades. Having high grades frequently results in better employment opportunities as the more prestigious law firms prefer to hire students who were at the top of their class.
In the event a paralegal wants to stay employed in the legal field, but doesn’t want to become a lawyer, they can earn their bachelor’s of legal studies and work in more advanced paralegal roles. The more education a paralegal has, the more appealing they are to attorneys who need someone to perform specialized functions that someone with an associate’s in paralegal studies may not be capable of doing. Paralegals who gain education and experience in advanced legal studies tend to not work in the general paralegal pool and deal with less stress as a result.
What Kind of Paralegal Career Advancement is Possible?
Paralegal career advancement comes in many forms. A paralegal that decides to stay in their role can advance to the role of senior paralegal over time and gain seniority or a paralegal manager title. Many law firms reward their paralegals with bonuses for good work performed throughout the year and makes it worth putting up with the stress. The most traditional paralegal career advancement is to, as previously mentioned, earn a bachelor’s in legal studies, then get a juris doctorate to work as a lawyer. For paralegals who want to transition out of the legal industry and into other roles that utilize their skill set, there are plenty of career options available to them.
Paralegals can transition into a variety of jobs that require the legal training and expertise that a paralegal learns in school and during their employment. Legal and corporate libraries hire paralegals for their ability to research and find works that are relevant to a topic at hand. Title research companies utilize the skills of paralegals to research property titles and make sure they are free from encumbrances. Foreclosure departments at financial institutions need paralegals to generate and process the paperwork involved in foreclosing on a property. Paralegals who have work experience can teach classes at a local college or university. And last, but not least, another option is to become a mediator and help two opposing parties resolve an outstanding problem.