A growing, lucrative professional market
The paralegal marketplace today offers outstanding opportunities for providers of legal products, technology, training, education and other services. There are now more than 1,300,705 licensed lawyers in the USA according to the American Bar Association. 89% of them are in private practice with medium to small firms (2 to 10 lawyers) that rely heavily on their paralegals to deal with today’s increasing, complex litigation. There are more than 47,500 law firms and over 272,500 paralegals and legal assistants that encompass the national market.
The market for EDiscovery technology alone will grow to over $3.8 billion by 2018 according to research by The Radicati Group, Inc. And billions more will be spent on other legal technology products and services to handle the staggering amount of tasks being generated by today’s document-intensive litigation.
As attorneys struggle to keep up with billable hours, legal research, case strategy, trial preparation, court proceedings, and other critical tasks, they look more and more to their paralegals for help in evaluating the resources needed to handle the workload, save time and function efficiently.
Fastest growing occupation*
Paralegal professionals are an essential part of the legal team and their role is expanding rapidly. According to The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics employment of paralegals and legal assistants is projected to grow 17 percent by 2022, faster than the average for all occupations–reaching a total of 323,300 by then. The Bureau reports that employers are trying to reduce costs and increase the availability of legal services by hiring paralegals to perform tasks once done by lawyers. The demand for paralegals is expected to grow especially in areas such as intellectual property, healthcare, international law, elder issues, foreclosures, bankruptcy, criminal law, and environmental law.
Widespread job demand
Private law firms continue to be the largest employers of paralegals, but other organizations, such as corporate legal departments, insurance companies, real-estate and title insurance firms, and banks are also hiring paralegals. Corporations in particular are expected to increase their in-house legal departments to cut costs. There is already an increased demand for paralegals that specialize in areas such as real estate, bankruptcy, medical malpractice, and product liability. Community legal service programs will also employ additional paralegals to minimize expenses and serve the most people. New job opportunities are expected in Federal, State, and local government agencies, consumer organizations, and the courts.
Relatively stable profession
Paralegal jobs are affected only to a limited extent by the business cycle. During recessions, demand may decline for some discretionary legal services, such as estate planning, drafting wills, real estate transactions and other types of litigation. On the other hand, during recessions, corporations and individuals are more likely to face problems that require additional legal assistance, such as bankruptcies, foreclosures, and divorces. As a result, Paralegals who provide many of the same legal services as lawyers at a lower cost, tend to fare relatively better in difficult economic conditions.
The rapid growth in demand for paralegals makes competition for jobs intense as many people seek to go into this well-paying profession. Those with experience or formal training have the best chance at getting the best positions. Most entrants need to have an associate’s degree in paralegal studies, or a bachelor’s degree in another field plus a certificate in paralegal studies.
There are more than 1,000 colleges, universities, law schools, and proprietary schools offering paralegal education and training programs. Approximately 260 paralegal programs are approved by the American Bar Association (ABA). In addition many national and local paralegal organizations offer voluntary paralegal certifications. These include The American Alliance of Paralegals, Inc., Offering the American Alliance Certified Paralegal (AACP) credential; The National Association of Legal Assistants (NALA) offering a Certified Legal Assistant (CLA) or Certified Paralegal (CP) credential; the National Federation of Paralegal Associations (NFPA) offering the Registered Paralegal (RP) designation; and The National Association of Legal Secretaries (NALS) offering the Professional Paralegal (PP) certification. All these programs require special qualifications to gain certification as well as continuing education credits to sustain certification.
*Source: US Bureau of Labor Statistics, Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2014-15 Edition. http://www.bls.gov/ooh/legal/paralegals-and-legal-assistants.htm