Legal Support Staff: Which Environment Is Right For Me?

Paralegals, assistants, clerks and other legal support staff can use their skills and training in a variety of different work environments, including different-sized law firms and corporate legal departments. So, what’s best working environment? Ultimately, nobody can answer that question but you.

However, understanding and comparing your options can help you make a more informed decision.

“BigLaw” Firms

In large firms, operations are generally organized into departments, with a different partner overseeing each practice area. Several paralegals and assistants may share one office, taking direction from more experienced paralegals or partners.

The work environment is typically very structured and professional, with strictly-enforced dress codes. Legal support staffers are generally expected to work full-time schedules. In addition, as workloads require, paralegals may be expected to travel and to work overtime.

Responsibilities may include conducting legal research in-firm using an electronic service, preparing and managing case records and handling filings. Because of the size of the firm and the sheer volume of work, there may be multiple support personnel working together on a single matter.

Regional Firms

In a smaller regional or boutique law firm, legal support personnel may be able to gain more in-depth knowledge in a specific practice area than they could in a larger environment.

In addition to handling research and filing functions, paralegals may also act as the firm’s receptionist and scheduler; they may be the only support person on staff. Legal support staff may need to conduct research from a law library if the firm doesn’t have a subscription service.

The work environment and culture, dress code and overtime expectations will depend entirely on the managing attorneys’ preferences. Some smaller firms choose to employ legal support staff on a part-time basis, so there may be opportunities for work-life balance that aren’t always available larger firms.

In-House Legal Departments

Working in the in-house legal department of a corporation offers legal support staff a different experience.

In some corporations, company culture is formal and professional, however dress codes may be more relaxed. Legal support staff may occasionally be asked to travel for business. However, because the department’s client is the corporation itself, such travel will usually be limited. Unlike in a large firm, overtime isn’t usually expected, although it may be required occasionally.

Rather than working closely with a supervising attorney, legal support personnel inside corporations often have more independence and autonomy to complete their work. What that work entails can vary widely, depending on the specific industry and nature of the corporation. Tasks often include preparing reports for clients, senior executives or directors, tracking legislation that affects the company, handling filings, legal research, and interacting with various departments of the corporation.

As a legal support professional, you have many career options available to you. To learn more, and to explore open positions, contact us today or call 800.737.3436.

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