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By: Tammy Essing, ACP, PHP

Let’s face it, folks – things in our economic world are not the same as they were 5 years ago, 10 years ago, or even 20 years ago. Unfortunately, it is the era of economic woes. In 2008, the United States suffered one of the largest economic crises in decades with the collapse of the housing and the banking industry. It had a huge impact on everything in our economy, from what we bought to the job market. Law firms were no exception to these setbacks. Many law firms across the country had to make major cut-backs by laying off attorneys and support staff, primarily in the area of litigation. However, the forced mass exodus was not just limited to litigation departments. Even corporations with in-house staff and counsel have had to take another look at their balance sheets, and make adjustments, as well. There were even some law firms that did not even survive the economic collapse.

Since that time, some of those attorneys and support staff that were laid off have been fortunate enough to find other positions; others that have not been so lucky. Some are still looking for work, or have had to take positions with severe pay cuts, and there are some that have decided to make other career choices just to become employed again.

Now in 2013, we have seen some signs of economic improvements. Unfortunately, those signs have not been strong enough, and the economy is still in a fragile state. This was evidenced by another shockwave that rocked the legal world when a very large and well-known U.S. law firm laid off several litigation associates and support staff in 2 of their major city offices at the end of June. Clients are still making those hardline decisions when it comes to legal work, and if they decide to pursue their legal matters, they are doing some heavy-duty shopping. There is a lot of competition out there in the legal field, and clients are in the driver’s seat to find top-rate work for a reasonable amount of money.

So, as a paralegal, how does this affect you, and how do you survive during these hard times of economic woes? Start by taking a self-assessment to examine your career and what you can do to make yourself an increased asset to your employer. This is called “cross-training.”

Have you given any thought to cross-training your paralegal career to expand your horizons by learning other areas of law?  In other words, if you work in litigation, have you done any type of training or taking courses for corporate or real estate work? What about those of you in corporate or bankruptcy? Have you thought about cross-training in real estate or oil and gas? What about cross-training in hot new areas, such as computer skills, consulting work, compliance, e-discovery, legal management, in-house work, or even legal software?

With all of the available CLE courses, college courses, on-line courses, certification courses, there is no better time than the present to start thinking about taking on new challenges and diversifying your skillset. Do your homework. Check out books at the library. Research the internet. Talk to legal recruiters to see what trends they are seeing in the legal field, and what looks to be promising as the next “it” thing for the profession. Become involved in your paralegal associations and network with other paralegals to see what trends they are noticing in the legal career trends.  Attend as many CLE events as you can.  Look at your budget to see what you can invest in for courses or seminars. If your budget falls a little short, ask for assistance by applying for scholarships (if available), or seek assistance from family, if possible. If you are not as technical savvy as you think you should be, look at technical courses or training to have gainful knowledge with technology. Legal technology and software is a hot bed for future trending in the legal field. You can pretty much bet that more and more law firms, corporations, and companies will be relying on those paralegals that can move with technology, and also those paralegals possessing expertise in more than just one area of law or subject matter.

Use this time to stretch and grow, to remain competitive in this tough market. So, get your hands on as much as you can to read, learn and gain knowledge from, and gain a wider field of expertise. Do what you can do to keep yourself from falling being prey to the current economic woes.

Tammy Essing, ACP, PHP is a senior litigation paralegal with over 20 years of litigation experience of a wide-variety of litigated matters in oil and gas, commercial, complex commercial, construction, environmental and tort matters in both, federal and state level courts.  She is advanced certified in trial practice through the National Litigation of Legal Assistants.

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(Don’t end up looking like the darling little girl pictured above…)

Do you have any other ideas on how a paralegal can work to expand upon his or her current skillset and work to secure that coveted career spot in the parking lot of life? Let us know – leave a comment.

We’ve got some great posts planned for you next week, TPSers. Right after you dash on out of those office doors, and make it through an utterly, absolutely, unparalleled, esquire-free, sanity-saving, 100% fab-u-lous weekend respite outside the land of panic, and flowing papyrus! We’ll see you soon, hopefully more refreshed, relaxed, and stress-resilient than ever. Bask in it.

…and do return to the paralegal playground soon.