Locating high-quality candidates with the right combination of skills, experience and knowledge can be difficult in any industry, but recruiting talented paralegals has a few challenges of its own. For one, working as a paralegal typically requires specialized training and expertise in case law, which can be hard to come by outside of higher education. Another issue is that the paralegal profession has expanded over the past few decades and now encompasses a range of different positions, according to AgileLaw. As a result, law firms have had to dedicate additional time and resources to verifying whether potential candidates match their specific labor needs.
While paralegals do not usually participate in court proceedings, the documents they draft and the research they conduct are essential to their employers' legal services. Whether they're investigating the facts of a case, organizing files or helping attorneys prepare for an upcoming trial, paralegals rely on their strong communication and problem solving skills to get the job done. But evaluating these qualifications is no easy task, which is why many law practices prioritize education and real-world experience when recruiting. However, these credentials do not paint a complete picture of an applicant's value, so it's important to incorporate hiring strategies that can help fill in the gaps.
Here are three tips for recruiting your next paralegal:
1) Network with top law schools
Sifting through a stack of resumes takes time and energy, even with the help of automated hiring tools and third-party platforms. But legal firms can significantly reduce their recruitment times by leaning on their industry contacts and building higher education partnerships. According to Data USA, there were approximately 13,472 legal degrees awarded in 2016 alone, making law schools a valuable source of potential applicants. Tapping into alumni networks can help you build a roster of talented candidates who may be interested in working for your practice. At the very least, these connections can make it easier to locate top students who could be a great fit for your law firm after they've graduated.
2) Look for self-starters
Paralegals spend a lot of time working independently on tasks assigned by their supervising attorneys. And while there is always some degree of oversight, many of their responsibilities require a knack for self-governance and time management, according to the Paralegal Alliance. When evaluating job applications, it's important to keep an eye out for any previous roles or professional experiences that may have involved independent work. For example, a candidate with a background in law and a history of entrepreneurship may possess the legal knowledge and work ethic you're looking for.
3) Prioritize attention to detail
Detail-oriented thinking is one of the most important qualities of a successful paralegal, as a majority of their responsibilities involve wading through dense legal jargon and preparing court documents with strict guidelines. For example, missing a statute of limitations deadline can cause a lawsuit to be dismissed prematurely, which may lead to a costly malpractice claim that could damage the reputation of your firm. Since supervising attorneys are held responsible for the work and conduct of their paralegal staff, according to the American Bar Association, it's crucial to onboard candidates with above-average reading and writing competencies. One way to evaluate applicants' comprehension and communication skills is to administer a pre-employment test. This can allow you to weed out candidates who may not suitably align with your expectations and employment needs.
Law firms of all sizes and specialties depend on paralegals to support their attorneys, build their reputations and help clients' navigate the complex legal landscape. And while locating top talent in a competitive labor market may be difficult, there are plenty of useful tips and tricks that can support your recruitment efforts and expand your candidate pool.