Paralegal Careers: Making the Move to Legal Operations
This article was written by Memme Onwudiwe, Executive Vice President of Legal and Business Intelligence at Evisort, Carl Morrison, Director of Legal Operations at a multinational gaming and hospitality company, and Lynn Ma, JD Candidate at the University of California Hastings College of the Law, and was first published by the Centre for Legal Innovation. If you missed Part I of this series, you can read it here.
How to Make the Move to Legal Operations
Actively positioning yourself for these opportunities in legal operations means proactively seeking out these roles and probably upskilling. If you’re considering the move, from paralegal to legal operations, bear in mind these three things:
First, what do you do when your company doesn’t have legal operations? Legal operations is not a formalized domain. Legal operations is a relatively new concept to the industry, and therefore has no true standardization in role. This is unlike the paralegal role, which, in the US, has built up ample certifications in the past 25 years. Few institutions offer study in legal operations. In the US, UC Hastings and New York Law School are among the few that offer a “Legal Operations” course for students. Both schools are trailblazing courses to support a function organically grown by necessity. The options are limited throughout legal education and industry levels; therefore, legal operations professionals opt for informal ways to credential themselves but do this from a variety of different education foundations. This can be advantageous for those willing to take initiative in (1) convincing the company that legal operations should exist, and (2) advocating for yourself to transition from a paralegal role to a legal operations one because there is no one path suits all here.
Second, there are pre-existing hierarchies about the role of paralegals. Biases about lawyer versus non-lawyer roles can arise, and paralegals can get pigeonholed into certain functions where they are skilled and educated to do more substantive work. But, the industry shift is increasing demand for technical paralegal skills. Paralegals-- take advantage of this. There is growing demand for your skills despite traditional hierarchies of the legal industry.
Finally, there can be a challenge of translating what paralegals have done in their work and experience to a lawyer in a way that shows they’re ready for running legal operations. There may also be competition from external hires who, although not be more experienced, have already worked in a legal operations department. As such, there is a need to advocate for your capabilities and sell the value of a paralegal’s existing institutional knowledge.
Practically, paralegals need to respond to these challenges by providing practical solutions to pain points in their legal department. Demonstrate how you as a legal operations professional could make the processes more efficient. This might look different depending on the infrastructure of legal operations in the company.
In a larger department, working in a legal operations function might mean working on processes specific to litigation, or that you work on regulatory issues only. A skillset that a paralegal has to have here also includes communication and collaboration skills when managing a case from beginning to end. In a smaller legal department, a person working in a legal operations role might wear a lot more hats. A paralegal looking to transition might need to know everything from managing vendor and outside counsel relations, to project management, or financial and budgetary skills. You’ll need to understand if e.g., if the goal of the company is to consolidate analytics, or the focus on outside counsel management. These questions affect whether a legal operations professional with data science or legal background would be more suitable for the role. It is important to find out what “legal operations” means for your company, and department. Paralegals should be deliberate about pursuing legal operations as a growth opportunity so they don’t miss out.
Legal operations is a growing field with increasing relevance in our technological society. Lawyers— your paralegals have the know-how, relationships, and savvy necessary to fill legal operations roles. Paralegals are perfectly positioned to capitalize on opportunities in legal operations, because they already have overlapping skills needed to succeed in a legal operations role. There is a real opportunity for the legal industry to grow and meet client demand quickly if it provides more pathways for paralegals to transition from private practice to in house and legal operations in the future. In the meanwhile, lawyers should recruit from their paralegal teams when looking to hire for and build legal operations teams. Paralegals are positioned for success in legal operations, and we need to rethink their role in the context of a new era of legal digitization.
To learn more about how Evisort empowers legal operations teams, hear from Legal Ops pioneer Connie Brenton of Netapp.
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