Paralegal Job: Between a Secretary and a Specialist

Paralegals perform both administrative and legal duties. However, recognition does not often come for these super assistants.

In 2016, the British website Lawyer 2B conducted a survey of paralegals to better understand their situation. Although 67% of them rated their experience as “positive”, their role was not always clear to the lawyers they work for.

The survey reports grievances related to the profession’s challenges: “A deficit of legal duties and a great deal of administrative work”; “Only performing manual administrative tasks”; “A full day to organize the agenda and client meetings and fill in paperwork”; “Buying Kit Kats for a partner” (!)…

“If you are not proactive and do not demonstrate your skills to the lawyer you work for, yes, there is a risk that your role will be relegated to administrative tasks,” admits Mylène, a paralegal for 2 years in a firm that specializes in commercial and corporate law.

The situation may especially happen when a lawyer is working alone, in family law for example. “There are few paralegals in this field,” Mylène continues, “and the lawyers don’t always know our skills well. We have to prove our worth and earn their trust.”

In firms operating in the corporate and commercial sector, however, the profession is recognized and supervised. Mylène, in her job, estimates her duties to be 80% legal and technical, including writing procedures, researching jurisprudence, preparing documents and communicating with clients. The other 20% of her tasks include administrative work, which can include laying out documents, checking information, billing and managing appointments.

“It’s a ratio that suits me well,” the paralegal says. “It lets the tasks be varied and escape the routine of law.”

A demanding job nonetheless

When she was at school, Mylène remembers that there was a certain “fear” of law firms cultivated. “We were invited to head towards notary’s firms or government, and were told that the large firms are obsessed with performance, that they burn out their paralegals by demanding that they are available at all times, including evenings and weekends.”

Is that true? “It’s true that there are large law firms that are like factories. It’s mass production work. A lot of unpaid overtime is required. However, when turning to smaller firms you can find an employer with better values, who values the work-family balance and who helps employees get ahead in their career.”

This is what Mylène has found, in a firm with twenty employees.

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