What does 2015 hold for the legal profession?
Ten years ago, the Board of Paralegal Certification accepted the first application for paralegal certification in North Carolina. As of 2014, there are 4,169 North Carolina State Bar certified paralegals. Certification is a trend that continues in popularity. Here are some reasons why certification isn’t going away:
Credibility. Lawyers value education, and the certification program provides that validation. The certification process involves completion of a rigorous three-hour, 150-question multiple-choice exam. Applicants are tested in the following areas of practice: civil litigation, commercial law, criminal law, ethics, family law, legal research, real property, and wills, trusts and estate administration; as well as in communication, organization, documentation, analysis and research skills.
Continuing Education. Lawyers are familiar with the concept of continuing legal education (CLE); they are required by the North Carolina State Bar to complete 12 hours of CLE each year. In order to maintain their certification, paralegals must earn six hours of continuing paralegal education (CPE) credits, including one hour of ethics, each year. What better way to stay up on what’s new in your field?
Career opportunities. There are some law firms and corporate legal departments that require a certificate from a paralegal program or certification. While you may enjoy your current position, having career options is important, particularly those that may come with higher salaries and more challenges.
Washington is the first state to issue licenses to non-lawyers to provide legal advice and assistance to clients in certain areas of law without the supervision of a lawyer. The exam to become a limited license legal technician (LLLT) becomes available this spring.
There are some other areas where non-lawyers can offer their services directly to the public; Social Security administration is an example. With the advent of a do-it-yourself-consumer population, rising costs of legal services and online legal services such as LegalZoom, a more favorable option may be the prospect of having an individual who is trained, holds a limited license with a qualifying exam and educational requirements to maintain the licensure. Read more in the ABA Journal article dated January 1, 2015 by Robert Ambrogi, “Washington state moves around UPL, using legal technicians to help close the justice gap.”
Think like an entrepreneur
Interested in being your own boss? Maybe you want to offer contract services to lawyers. Perhaps you are interested in starting a related legal business – court reporting, document management, legal technology or consulting.
Successful entrepreneurs don’t think like other people. They think far down the road, they see opportunity where others see challenge, they make things happen and they keep moving forward even when they fail. How can you be more entrepreneurial? There are several traits ascribed to entrepreneurs – passion, vision, self-belief, flexibility and rule-breaking – traits that don’t always come naturally. Practice exhibiting some of these traits.
Study like an entrepreneur. Get out of your legal box and read “Fast Company” or any number of good blogs: Quora, Copy Blogger (Brian Clark, who describes himself as a recovering attorney), Church of the Customer, Entrepreneur Daily Dose or WiseBread. Subscribe to the Startup podcast (http://gimletmedia.com/show/startup/), described as “a series about what happens when someone who knows nothing about business starts one.”
Read theSkimm blog http://blog.theskimm.com/ , a tale of two twenty-something women, former NBC news producers, who have started a successful daily e-mail newsletter with the motto “We read so you can skim.”
Legal marketing isn’t a fad. In North Carolina, we continue to see growth in the number of members of the Legal Marketing Association. Our membership numbers have doubled in 24 months and there seems to be no slowdown in 2015. More firms are hiring their first marketing professional than ever before. If your firm isn’t ready to hire marketing staff, consider attending meetings hosted by the Raleigh/Triad Chapter of the Legal Marketing Association to learn more about marketing, industry trends and hot topics. Law firms of every size are having conversations about content management, email marketing, reputation management and client relationship management tools. Don’t be left behind.
Improve your practice management knowledge
There are many excellent law practice management blogs. Here are some included in the ABA Top 100 blawgs list: Divorce Discourse, Attorney at Work, 3 Geeks and a Law Blog, Lawyerist, Adam Smith Esq., The Mad Clientist, and The Legal Watercooler. I would also include Lawyer’s Mutual’s blog, A Byte of Prevention.
Technology as a requirement was a trend years ago, but I’m going to include technology on my list because so many law firms refuse to get on board. Perhaps you can become your firm’s technology guru. Start by reading more about how to use technology. Subscribe to technology newsletters and blogs. Among the ABA Top 100 blogs – Electronic Discovery Law, iPhoneJD, The Droid Lawyer, Law Technology Today, Technologist, and Technology & Marketing Law Blog.
In prior articles, I’ve talked about the need for a good law firm website. That’s old news. The trend is that mobile friendly sites are important. Your clients are looking for you on their smart phones and tablets. There are plenty of reports and statistics to back up this claim, trust me. We all use the computers that fit into our pockets to solve our problems; finding your law firm will be no different.
You read the news, so you know no companies are safe. Learn what risks are associated with law firms and what security measures you need to be taking. Lawyers Mutual is writing about this on their blog “A Byte of Prevention” and in their newsletter “Put into Practice.” We’ll also be holding a cyber-conference in November. Stay tuned.
Paralegals are constantly faced with an overload of information and are often balancing multiple job responsibilities. Being more knowledgeable about one or more of these trends will help you move forward in 2015 with purpose.
Camille Stell is the vice president of client services for Lawyers Mutual. Continue this conversation by contacting Camille at [email protected] or (800) 662-8843.