To increase staff efficiencies, many law firms and corporate legal departments are combining the paralegal and legal secretary roles. The advent of COVID-19 has made legal employers even more aware of a need for to improve the efficient use of staff resources.
Traditionally, paralegals have supported attorneys in their casework, while legal secretaries have handled a range of administrative responsibilities. A hybrid paralegal/legal secretary switches between these roles to perform whatever tasks are required. This means that a single person can support attorneys throughout a case, streamlining the process and reducing overall costs.
What qualities should you focus on when hiring a hybrid paralegal/legal secretary?
Paralegal and legal secretary are both challenging positions, and to be successful in a hybrid role, candidates need experience in both roles. When hiring, look especially for:
- Ability to multitask in a demanding environment
- Proficiency with legal databases, eDiscovery, litigation support software, case management systems and other tech tools
- Staying current with legislation and compliance issues at the state and federal levels
- Experience compiling case-relevant materials from a variety of sources
- Ability to monitor a heavy caseload and work independently
- Experience in managing schedules, organizing documents and setting up meetings
- Proficiency in MS Office and tools like Slack, social media and videoconference apps, such as Zoom and MS Teams
Candidates can have stellar track records and still fall short as hybrid professionals if they lack solid interpersonal skills. Conversely, candidates with less work experience but outstanding soft skills could be just what your firm needs. Focus on candidates with strengths in areas such as:
- Time management: Candidates will have to divide their time between two varied workflows.
- Teamwork: Legal professionals in hybrid positions interact with everyone in the firm, from interns to partners. They need to excel at coordination and collaboration.
- Attention to detail: This is an essential quality for a hybrid position where the individual is responsible for so much of the case lifecycle.
Tips for hiring a hybrid paralegal
- Offer a competitive package: Even during times of rising unemployment, the best candidates are still in demand and you want to retain them when the economy improves. Research current salaries and the perks that are most attractive to candidates.
- Assign a realistic workload: Hybrids can bring efficiency to your organization, but that doesn’t mean that the hybrid employee can or should do the work of two people. Make sure they have realistic productivity goals.
- Clarify the nature of the positions: Hybrid roles can sometimes cause confusion, especially among the rest of the team. Brief your team on how the new position fits into the organizational structure.
- Offer upskilling and support: Some candidates might be more adept in one area than another. If they have the right blend of soft skills, you could invest in helping them develop the missing technical skills.
Paralegals and legal secretaries can be vital to a legal team, but it takes a talented person to wear both hats. Focus on the right skills when recruiting and be sure to give your new hire the support they need to succeed.
Jamy J. Sullivan is executive director of Robert Half Legal, a premier legal staffing service specializing in the placement of attorneys, paralegals, legal administrators and other legal professionals with law firms and corporate legal departments. Based in Menlo Park, Calif., Robert Half Legal has offices in major North American and global markets and offers a full suite of legal staffing and consulting solutions.