Paralegals: What To Do When Your Law Firm Dissolves

On Friday, you left the office pretty confident that on Monday the normal routine would ebb and flow.  Nothing "out of the ordinary" was expected.  In fact, you'd relegated yourself to the fact that your career as a paralegal/legal assistant/legal secretary was sometimes boring but, hey, it paid okay, you had health benefits, and even enjoyed work free weekends - most of the time.

But what if you get the message that the law firm is dissolving, whether from bad management, a death of an attorney, or a breakup of an attorney group?  There are many reasons a law firm might dissolve.  And you can get caught unprepared to make your next move. 

What can you do when your firm is closing up shop? 

Protect yourself

 Always understand that a law firm could self-destruct in what seems like a "nano-second" because of poor business practices, a death, or financial troubles.

How do you protect yourself?  Three areas come to mind:

Diversify your knowledge

Do you currently work as a personal injury legal assistant?  Insurance defense perhaps? Study another area of law - perhaps estate planning, bankruptcy or real estate.  I've worked in the medical malpractice, estate planning, administrative law, eminent domain, environmental, franchise and attorney discipline fields and I am very "employable" as a result.

If you've just begun your legal career, open yourself up to other job opportunities that might come your way within your law firm.  Let's say that your department handles all of the estate planning documents within the law firm.  If there are litigators in your firm, let it be known that you would be glad to help out when needed.  Believe me, when a trial is looming, organizational skills are needed.  This will allow you to enter into a field to (1) see if you like this type of work; and (2) build more of a "team spirit" within the firm.

Volunteer to summarize a deposition.  If you've never done one before, simply ask one of the more seasoned legal assistants or paralegals if they could point you in the right direction.  Usually, there will be deposition summaries on the computer for you to review.

To Certify or Not to Certify

I did not become certified through the National Association of Legal Assistants, however, it may be that in your part of the country the Certified Legal Assistant ("CLA") designation is regarded very highly.  In that case, obtain your certification.  It can only help you.  Because I have years of hands-on experience, I simply took an online course to obtain my certificate through the University of Southern Colorado at Pueblo.  What impresses those who have hired me either fulltime or as a contract paralegal/legal assistant is that I can immediately sit down at the desk and begin my work - no real training necessary.

Network, Network, Network

1. Join your local legal assistant, legal secretary or paralegal organization.  Attend the meetings regularly.  Volunteer for committees.  The friends you make could be real lifesavers when you find yourself without a job unexpectedly.

2. Is there a legal administrators website in your city which lists available jobs?  If so, watch the website regularly, especially when new jobs are added.

3. Become familiar with the owner(s) of the placement agencies in town.  We have one in the city I live in which is owned by an attorney, catering to the legal community solely.

So, prepare yourself for the unexpected.  Be wise.  The legal job market is very competitive. Consider these questions: 
How will you compete?  
What do you have to place on the negotiating table?  

And always understand your strengths and weaknesses and seek to improve yourself constantly.

1 comment:

Deborah Lowe said...

Hi Jenny,

I think this article is so timely! I really enjoyed reading it. I am writing to seek permission to reprint this article in our local paralegal association newsletter. I think our membership will enjoy this article also.

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