As courts increase the pace of cases moving through a backlog system, Philadelphia litigation shops are struggling to recruit and retain legal aid staff and paralegals.
But while some law firms in the city poach each other for their specialized skills, others, seeking to lessen their reliance on a transient job market, have shifted their recruiting efforts to recent college graduates to train them in internal.
City law firm leaders said the so-called “big quit” has manifested itself in the legal industry in the form of many paralegals and support professionals leaving their pre-pandemic positions.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts that there will be 43,000 paralegal and legal assistant openings each year on average from 2020 to 2030, resulting in 12% growth over the decade. This is apparently faster than the average for all professions.
Many of these openings are expected to fill gaps created by workers who have either moved into other occupations or left the workforce, including through retirements, according to a career outlook report released earlier this year. .
“There is more need for paralegals and legal secretaries than there has been in a long time,” said Peggy Kruza, director of Kruza Legal Search.
One of the biggest hurdles his company faces in today’s hiring environment is when companies retain support professionals by making counter offers with higher pay. As a result, many companies turn to their “B” candidate of choice when their “A” candidate remains in place, Kruza said.
While the average paralegal has always been someone in their 40s, with many years of experience, Kruza and other industry watchers say that’s starting to change.
“Now we see university graduates filling this position,” Kruza said. Recruiters and industry watchers say that for recent college graduates, a legal support job is better than most clerical jobs on offer because of the intellectually challenging work and higher pay.
Companies like Messa & Associates, a firm specializing in personal injury, have begun to target their recruiting efforts to recent college graduates and train them in-house rather than relying on the shortage of legal support professionals looking for jobs. a job.
“There are candidates out there looking for jobs, but there is a shortage of good, top-quality candidates,” said Joseph Messa, founding partner of Messa & Associates. Messa noted that there is increased competition to hire legal support professionals now that the courts have accelerated the way they move cases through the system after two years of sluggishness.
“One of the things we’ve done is we’ve looked to some degree at some newer graduates, people who are newer to the field, who are bright and aggressive and eager to learn and to spend time at form,” continued Messa. . “It’s just not the typical market. The great resignation is at all levels.
While there may be more of a “learning curve” for this generation of newbies, Messa said, the success rates for who turns out to be a good employee “don’t tend to be very different. than when you hire someone with a living.”
The owner of a local recruitment firm, Maria DeJesse, said she retired from staff placements for the legal sector about four years ago. Since then, DeJesse said she has focused almost exclusively on placing substitute teachers.
The reason DeJesse left the law firm investment industry? Temporary change of job in search of a higher salary.
“I felt like the support staff I was seeing were the same support staff over and over again,” she said in an interview. “They were jumping from job to job. The support staff called every six months. They were looking for a better paying job.
For specialized areas of legal practice such as catastrophic personal injury and patent litigation, the challenges of finding sufficiently competent support staff familiar with their particular area of interest is an old story, spurred on by new conditions. of the current job market.
Matt Casey, founding partner of personal injury firm Ross Feller Casey, said that even before the COVID-19 pandemic began to disrupt the job market, it was not easy to find the right people to work. thrive in the rapidly changing environment that accompanies these roles.
“Candidates with the skills to do this job well are rare, but they’re out there and we have great people working for us,” Casey said. “It has always been a unique job and a challenge to be successfully completed due to the particular challenges of working on catastrophic injury cases.”