A career as paralegal
(also known as a legal assistant) can be a wonderfully fulfilling profession. However, paralegal jobs have their disadvantages. If you are considering a paralegal career, the ten career drawbacks below outline several top challenges of the paralegal profession (to explore the benefits of paralegal work, review these 8 Best Things about Being a Paralegal
1. Lack of Career Path
Paralegals have a limited career path in most organizations. To advance beyond the senior paralegal ranks, you must transition to another role entirely such as management or litigation support
Paralegal jobs can be extremely stressful
. Multiple, short-term deadlines, rising workloads and high-dollar stakes combine to create a pressure-filled work environment. In the words of the blog Paralegal Hell
, "It's not the kind of stress of meeting a deadline or the fact that your boss may have lost his brain at birth. It's the fact that all your work is: (1) urgent and (2) of vital importance. If you screw up the world will certainly end. And that's just the contract for the copy machine in the work room."
Tight deadlines, high workloads and a dwindling workforce combine to create an environment in which long hours, overtime and weekend work are the norm. Paralegals who are employed in law firm environments
frequently work more than 40 hours a week, while those employed in corporate
and government arenas might enjoy more relaxed schedules. While numerous organizations have emerged to help attorneys manage work/life balance issues
, few such resources exist for paralegals.
4. Routine Work
Let's face it, some paralegal work, especially at the entry level, is mindless, tedious and routine. Law firm economics dictate that firms bill the client at the highest possible rate to maximize profits. Therefore, more complex, challenging tasks are often pushed up the staff hierarchy, reserving the juiciest tasks for the highest-ranking staff - senior associates and partners. In small firms
, paralegals wear many hats and frequently perform work that is secretarial
, administrative or clerical in nature.
5. Poor Hiring Climate
Paralegals are facing one of the toughest hiring climates in decades; the legal sector lost 22,220 jobs in one year alone, between May 2009 and May 2010. Paralegals, especially those without a formal paralegal education
and/or paralegal certificate
and several years of experience, are finding it hard to land and keep positions. While the economy is slowly limping back to health, the demand for legal services is predicted to remain flat and jobs are unlikely to return to pre-recession levels in the near future.
6. Lack of Respect
Although largely undeserved, a lack of respect is one of the most common complaints among practicing paralegals. Paralegals routinely deal with demanding partners, jealous associates, competitive co-workers, disrespectful opposing counsel, cranky clients and difficult vendors. While every law firm's culture
is different, long hours, tricky deadlines and high stakes can create a caustic work environment and paralegals sometimes receive more than their fair share of grief.
7. Unauthorized Practice of Law (UPL)A basic tenet of paralegal practice is that paralegals cannot engage in the unauthorized practice of law; all states have enacted statutes which limit the practice of law to licensed attorneys. Although each state defines UPL differently, the practice of law is generally recognized to include: (1) accepting cases from a client; (2) setting fees; (3) rendering legal advice; (4) signing legal documents; and (5) appearing in a representative capacity before a court or other adjudicatory body. Because paralegals must work under the supervision of a lawyer, paralegals roles are limited by UPL. In addition, these laws make it difficult for paralegals to receive credit or recognition outside the firm for their work. For example, if the paralegal writes a winning appellate brief, he cannot sign his name to it or take credit for it.
8. Lack of Challenge
Paralegals are often underutilized because their roles are minimized or misunderstood. To overcome this barrier, paralegals must proactively educate law firm and corporate leaders regarding their substantive capabilities and the ways in which they can contribute to client service and profitability.
To learn more about a career as paralegal, explore this paralegal career profile, these top eight paralegal skills and the role of the litigation paralegal.