Recently the Florida Bar Association put out a news article which claims that law firms are hiring fewer paralegals. I see two reasons for this: First there are a lot of recent law school graduates out there looking for a job and while being a paralegal was probably not at the top of their list, it is still better than being on the unemployment line or "pounding the pavement" looking for a job. Law firms now have the luxury of hiring a first year lawyer to do paralegal work at paralegal rates, which makes the client happy as the law firm can also get the lawyer working as a paralegal to do lawyer work. This seems to work for the law firm, not so much for the paralegal professional or the first year law student. Second, because the states still have not all come to an agreement on paralegal certification and/or registration for paralegals, it has become difficult for a firm to figure out what it is that a paralegal is capable of doing. Because currently any one can claim to be a paralegal, an employer has a really difficult time distinguishing from those that can actually handle the job and those that do not.
The solution: Well, as far as the first issue, it should be resolved as soon as the economy gets better and the job market opens up. Once the first year law student, working as a paralegal is able to get a lawyer job, he/she will be gone to the next opportunity. The second issue depends on the paralegal profession and the States.
I have spoken with some paralegals that are against certification and/or registration. One of the reasons, they tell me, is that once paralegals are forced to be certified their billable rates will go up. Probably true. There will be schooling and certification or registration fees to pay. My question is... is this a good enough reason to avoid registration all together?
Our profession is supposed to be one of the fastest growing professions in the 21st century. As paralegals we need to ensure that the above fact remains true. There is nothing we can do about the economy. However, we can ensure that the services we provide are par excellence. We should aim for certification or at the very least registration so as to give our employers the comfort that we are what we claim to be. How can any law firm argue with the fact that a good paralegal can and will perform at a lower cost than a first year law student. Once a law firm is confident that their paralegals are able to perform the job and that it is more cost efficient to hire a paralegal to perform a paralegal's job, the profession will again be one of the fastest growing in the 21st century.