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September 17, 2019

Hybrid Legal Professionals: An Exciting Opportunity for Law Firms and Legal Pros

One of the overarching themes on The Docket this year has been the evolution of the legal field and what it means for law firms and legal professionals. Whether it’s the way technology is changing e-discovery, emerging employment models, or growth in certain practice areas, recent trends indicate that the previously slow-to-change legal industry is now moving quite fast. Gone are the days of drawn out discovery processes and decentralized case information as the new legal model is focused on increasing operational efficiency. Another way in which the industry has become more streamlined is the rise of the hybrid legal professional. Let’s look at the different options for hybrid roles and how they provide value for legal pros, law firms, and clients alike.

Hybrid Paralegals

This role combines the traditional function of a paralegal (to support lawyers by conducting research, drafting documents, preparing cases) with the administrative duties of a legal secretary (corresponding with clients, setting up calendars, filing documents). For paralegals, transitioning to a hybrid role gives them an expanded skillset that can increase their marketability (especially when it comes to tech-related skills). For legal secretaries, taking on a hybrid paralegal role can provide a stepping stone into other paralegal/legal support work (and with it, a higher salary). It should be noted that going from admin professional to paralegal can be challenging, as employers are often looking for paralegal-specific experience when hiring. Making the transition within the same firm offers a better chance for success, so legal secretaries looking to break into paralegal work should tell their manager about their career aspirations. Most firms require paralegals to have a four-year degree and a certificate of completion from an ABA-approved education program (although Missouri does not currently require paralegals to hold a certificate).

Hybrid Attorneys

Lawyers who have an additional skillset that can be combined with their legal knowledge are starting to carve their own path with highly specialized roles. For example, attorneys with a background in programming/information technology/data science have become valuable assets for corporations and law firms because they can act as a link between IT departments and less tech-inclined legal pros.

As clients continue to push for maximum value and efficiency, many law firms have introduced the role of legal project manager to be filled by attorneys with project management experience. These hybrid legal pros help firms give clients an accurate expectation about the scope and parameters of a matter upfront, and then evaluate and analyze how it was handled after the fact. Highly experienced attorneys with cross-disciplinary knowledge have been entering the C-suite in emerging executive roles such as Chief Innovation Officer, Chief Data Architect, and Chief Knowledge Officer. In fact, more than 80% of Am Law 200 firms have invested in one or more of these positions. “Right now, we’re seeing the top 25 percent of law firms and legal organizations are really making investments in multidisciplinary approaches to legal services,” Jennifer Schwartz, Cowen Group senior director of market research, told Bloomberg Law.

Future Hybrid Roles

As lean, flexible legal models become more prevalent, there has been an increase in both the supply and demand for legal support jobs such as paralegals, mediators, secretaries, trial consultants, and e-discovery professionals. Some of these legal pros desire to work with more substantive, intricate issues but don’t want to take on the financial burden and significant time investment of earning a law degree, which has caused speculation about what other aspects of an attorney’s work could be carried out by a non-attorney professional.

A few years ago, the Washington State Bar Association introduced its Limited License Legal Technician (LLLT) program for legal pros who wish “to advise and assist people going through divorce, child custody, and other family law matters.” Unlike paralegals, LLLTs don’t require any supervision, which means that they can provide access to quality legal counsel for families who cannot afford an attorney. The program will be expanding into additional practice areas soon, and states such as California, Oregon, and New York are expected to follow suit.

Tips for Recruiting Hybrid Legal Pros

Law firms looking to hire for a hybrid legal role should first establish a clear vision of 1) what the position entails and its unique function within the organization, 2) the experience and qualifications that an ideal candidate would possess, and 3) the day-to-day duties of the position. Next, they should assemble a realistic snapshot of market demands for the same or similar positions in order to offer a competitive rate. Doing this research will also give them an idea of how they can market and position their hybrid role(s) to stand out from job openings at other firms.

Firms offering career development or continued education options that could benefit a hybrid legal professional should highlight that feature to candidates. Investing time and money into advancing their careers shows commitment to their long-term success. Law firms that are interested in the idea of hybrid legal positions but want to test it out before making a full-time hire can use a staffing agency to hire a temporary employee. That way, they can determine what works and what needs to be adjusted before making a decision.

Tips for Transitioning to a Hybrid Legal Role

Legal professionals looking to expand their skillset, marketability, and earning potential by taking on a hybrid role should first assess their abilities and past experience to determine which path might be the best fit. Keep in mind that soft skills such as time management, teamwork, and flexibility are just as important as technical skills, and can set great hybrid candidates apart from the rest.

Obtaining specialty certifications, accreditations, or other professional endorsements is another great way to strengthen a resume. The formatting, content, and language used in a resume can speak volumes about a candidate's communication skills, which are of chief importance in these multifaceted roles. It’s also wise to leverage the power of networking when looking for hybrid positions, as other legal pros can identify skillset gaps and make professional introductions. Even better, a staffing firm can actively promote and seek out work for unique candidates whose backgrounds don't fit into a standard job description.

Whether you’re a legal professional looking to transition to a hybrid position or a law firm looking to recruit for one of these roles, JurisTemps can help. We are an industry leader finding jobs for legal professionals at every stage of their career, as well as helping law firms recruit and hire the talent they need to grow. View our current job openings or contact us today – we look forward to assisting you!

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