After 25 years of professional experience, including 15 in the same company as a paralegal and director of corporate services, Chantal Émond wanted to tackle new challenges and turned to recruiting to see what things were like on the other side of the fence. Almost three years ago, Chantal founded her own company, Juriglobal inc., specializing in consulting and recruiting for legal services. She discusses her experience in paralegal recruiting.
WHAT TYPE OF REQUESTS DO YOUR CLIENTS HAVE?
Law firms and businesses share the paralegal recruiting market equally between them. The areas that are hiring the most are in corporate law (80% of jobs) and, at the moment, intellectual property.
Bilingual candidates are particularly sought after in the paralegal field. Clients have many criteria. Lawyers generally put a lot of pressure on paralegals; they like working with professionals who are versatile, self-starting, methodical, organized, open and personable. This last point often differentiates between who is hired and who is not.
Most of my corporate clients like candidates to have previous law firm experience. The workload in a law firm is bigger and the pace faster than working for a company. Juggling several files at the same time is excellent training. Starting out one’s career working for a law firm is therefore a very good for a paralegal.
TELL US ABOUT YOUR RECRUITING PROCESS.
It starts out with a call from the person in charge of human resources. We then meet to discuss the need and to define the profile of the person the client wants to hire. I ask about the people with whom the client has worked in the past to get a better idea of his or her expectations.
Once I have gathered this information, I consult my candidate bank, built up throughout my career from my legal network and enriched with my encounters, friends and referrals. In this first search, I select those people whose profile perfectly fits the requirements. Before giving their names to the hiring company, I contact the candidates to find out if they are interested in the job. I often know the candidates and have met them beforehand, so the whole process goes very quickly.
If no one has the required profile, I run an ad in trade journals.
I generally work alone, assisted by a few consultants as the need arises. If there is too much work, they will do the initial telephone interviews.
As opposed to other recruiters in recruiting firms, I don’t do any headhunting, i.e. I don’t seek to hire people who already have a job. I personally know most of the corporate services or human resources directors, and I wouldn’t want to damage their trust in me.
WHAT DO YOU LOOK FOR IN A CANDIDATE’S CV AND COVER LETTER?
The first thing that strikes me is the overall appearance and any spelling mistakes. You can tell what kind of person you’re dealing with in one glance—sloppy or thorough—based on format and layout.
Then I look at education and language skills. I’m also interested in a history of stability in previous jobs. Many people have a tendency to stay a year or two in the same job, then to switch in order to increase their salaries. I prefer candidates with more stability, who have stayed with the same company three or four years.
I suggest a short and relevant description of each experience. Don’t forget to specify dates: they must be clear and logical to facilitate easy perusal and understanding of the career path.
I then read the cover letter to know if the candidate is really ready to face a new challenge. I like letters that concisely summarize what candidate are seeking, why they chose to apply, and their view of the position. Overly long letters that don’t cover the basics should be avoided. Unfortunately, with the advent of e-mail, cover letters are often reduced to a simple accompanying note that the CV is included as an attachment.
During interviews, I comment the CV and cover letter to the candidates, to help them fix their mistakes and put all the chances on their side.
HOW DOES A PARALEGAL RECRUITING INTERVIEW GO?
I ask the candidate to briefly summarize his or her career path, as I look through the CV. I then ask questions to have a better idea on the various jobs and for detailed descriptions of the work carried out.
I try to determine what the person wants to do and conversely, what he or she is not interested in. I ask what would make the difference between accepting my client’s offer over another. At the end, I ask one final question: why he or she is the best candidate for the job.
The interview gives the candidate an opportunity to demonstrate his experience, skills, and communication abilities.
CAN A PARALEGAL BECOME A LAWYER?
Yes, a paralegal can even go as far as the bar. Most stay in the paralegal field, however. Although it’s the same sector of activity, a lawyer’s work is completely different.
A paralegal usually starts out working for a law firm and ends up in a company. Usually, there is more responsibility and the work is more varied for a company. After several years of experience, a paralegal can also become director of corporate services.
WHAT’S NEW IN THE PARALEGAL FIELD?
Intellectual property and trademarks are very hot. Many firms, as well as an increasing number of paralegals, specialize in this.
It is also relevant to note an increase in the average number of paralegals in firms. Before, large firms made do with 5 or 6 paralegals in-house, whereas now there can be as many as 12 to 15 in the corporate law sector.
WHAT IS THE JOB OUTLOOK FOR PARALEGAL WORK?
The market is doing very well! Right now, there is even a shortage of paralegals in corporate law and intellectual property. Most young graduates gravitate toward litigation after finishing their studies, out of comfort—it’s the most covered specialty in their education. The department of education should consider changing the breakdown of paralegal courses to better meet demand for the sought-after specialities.
The increase in demand has led to an increase in paralegal salaries. Professional development is also increasingly common. Firms often allow paralegals to follow courses or attend conferences.
The occupation of paralegal nowadays has more status. Firms sometimes even prefer to hire a paralegal rather than an inexperienced lawyer. Paralegals are not as costly, and their technical expertise is a valuable asset for certain types of jobs.