By: Angela Masciulli, CP (Guest Blogger)
It took almost forty years, but the paralegal’s role in law firms is solidified. Paralegals have proved to be an invaluable resource for a law firm’s profitability, efficiency, and client service. Today, paralegals are making similar strides in the corporate world as in-house paralegals.
In an age of increased corporate scrutiny and accountability, businesses are hiring more paralegals to help stay above the legal fray – and on a budget. We are utilized to help manage everything from business licenses, transactions (contracts), employment law issues, intellectual property matters, compliance with federal and state laws, and of course litigation. If you think you might one day want to leave the familiarity of a law firm, I hope I can make it a less scary prospect, and give you some tools for success.
No two paralegal jobs are the same, but there are some general similarities among in-house positions. In-house paralegals typically do not have a billable-hour requirement. Some companies do have paralegals track their time and maybe even “bill” or account for their time to other departments, but it is rare. It is also likely to have a more set schedule with little or no overtime. In-house paralegals typically have more autonomy, variety, and responsibility in their legal roles. For this reason, most corporate legal departments hire experienced paralegals who have had a wide-range of experience and training.
An in-house paralegal’s day can be very unpredictable too. We do not have the deadlines for motions, hearings, depositions, and trial. Most often local counsel admitted in the jurisdiction of a pending legal matter handles those duties. Instead, in-house legal departments deal with whatever issue rear’s its head that day. It can make your day exciting, adds variety to your workload, and you are always gaining knowledge for your box of “legal tools.”
My years of legal experience in law firms was client focused. I learned to be polite, responsive, and helpful to all clients, and never lost sight of the importance of deadlines. Who was my client now that I found myself working for a company that may have been my client at a firm? After all, I think that paralegals are most successful when they have a client/customer service mentality. I quickly realized that I have many “clients.” My boss is a client. I want to be indispensable to him, take care of those things that I was hired to manage, and also learn to evaluate legal matters and the level of response required. Each attorney or government agency that sends my department a subpoena is a client too. I am usually the first ambassador for the company that they communicate with, so I am quick to be helpful, knowledgeable, and leave a lasting good impression. As I mentioned earlier, we engage local counsel to handle matters in the jurisdiction where they are admitted to practice. They need me to provide them with as much information as quickly as possible to meet court deadlines, and provide their legal opinion. So, a good relationship with local counsel that trusts me increases the likelihood of the company’s success.
Utilizing my client skills within the company is important too. Other departments and operations often have the wrong impression of what a legal department does, and are generally scared and confused by all things legal. An employee can be very nervous when served with a subpoena for a deposition, so I try to help them relax and understand the process. Sometimes legal holds are necessary to preserve all information that may be relative to a legal matter. If I can help employees better understand a hold, then a higher quality of information is maintained for the company. Operations in other states and employees located all over the country help me to respond to requests for information – usually records custodians. A good rapport with them goes a long way in helping me to do my job successfully. Most importantly, the company, my employer, is my client. I was hired to have its best interest in mind at all times and use my legal knowledge, judgment, and skills to that end.
When working for any company, it also important to become familiar with it’s corporate structure and those who run it. Learn the ins and outs of the business your company does to understand the bigger picture. As with any place you work, also contribute and show that not only are you competent, but that you can work well with all of the company’s other divisions.
In-house paralegal positions are challenging, offer variety, and many opportunities to learn. At the same time, you generally do not have billable hours and have a set work schedule. It has made me love being a paralegal even more and given the opportunity, I think you should try it too!
Angela Masciulli, CP, received her degree in Political Science from DePaul University in 1994. She was recently accepted to George Washington University’s Masters in Paralegal Studies Program. She is an in-house litigation paralegal for Title Resource Group/Realogy in Mt. Laurel, NJ. She’s a former adjunct instructor in Legal Research and former paralegal textbook reviewer for McGraw Hill Publishing. As a military spouse, she has had the opportunity to gain more than ten years experience in several jurisdictions, areas of law, and legal settings.
Have you ever considered working as an in-house paralegal? Perhaps you worked as one in the past? To all of the corporate paralegals out there: What do you like or dislike about working in-house? Is there anything else our readers should know about the in-house experience? We’d love to hear your thoughts.
Onward and upward, TPS readers! We’ll see you on Wednesday with another exciting article from Connie Podesta on a very relatable topic. Until then, good luck guarding the President…we mean your attorney(s). Now go forth, and dominate your corner of the legal kingdom!