Paralegal Growing Pains: The Long Road to the Start Line

walk-upstairs

Paralegal and new SCOPE contributor, Magdalena Chromicz, shares her experiences with making the leap from legal assistant to independent paralegal services provider:

I began the paralegal career path in September 2003. Bright-eyed and bushy-tailed, I thought my enthusiasm alone would propel me into the heights of success as a legal professional.

Enthusiasm got me pretty far – I graduated at the top of my class from Humber’s Bachelor in Paralegal Studies program. I did all the right things: I volunteered for Legal Aid for a while, and I got a job at a law firm as a legal assistant – just temporarily, of course.

On the day of the Law Society of Upper Canada (LSUC) licensing exam in 2008, my nerves prompted me to bring a good luck charm in my pocket. I was young, good intentioned and very, very naive.

Once I became a newly minted LSUC member (I even got the ID CARD!), I remained convinced that someone would notice me and take me up on what I had to offer as a paralegal. I was confused why searching for paralegal jobs time and time again only resulted in finding legal assistant positions. I had a lot to learn.

Here’s Your Diploma — Good Luck!

The paralegal field is very tough to break into. The difficulty appears to lie in the fact that the support systems for recent grads are scarce – graduation day often means you’re on your own without any direction.

I spent close to six years as a legal assistant in a corporate department of one of Canada’s (now global) law firms. Big law can be exciting, and it was thrilling to learn something so very different from what I had learned in school – but the charm of this wore off quickly. As time went by, I realized that this road would never lead me into a paralegal position. My lawyer colleagues, legal assistant and law clerk peers were often confused as to why I was paying LSUC membership fees – I mean, it’s not like I was doing anything with that. At times, I was equally confused.

Full-Steam Ahead

Shortly after leaving my legal assistant position in 2013, a decade after my first steps down this road, I finally made the decision to pursue the paralegal career once again. This time, I was going to go at it on my own – damn the torpedoes.

The growing pains of the paralegal field are reassuring, however. New paralegal students remain bright-eyed and bushy-tailed. More and more offices are cropping up. Women and men of our profession are gathering in bigger numbers. There is strength in this.

It is scary and difficult to make the choice to embark on private practice. I am just beginning the process and have learned a lot already: such a leap of faith means foregoing a stable income; it challenges you with a sharp learning curve, and before you can represent clients, job shadowing and networking are a full-time job.
Will I be successful? Only time will tell.

The encouraging part is this: there is a niche for us. Paralegals truly do bring access to justice to many that would otherwise be unable to reach it. Our work matters. Our field matters. We are our own best resource.

Magdalena Chromicz

Magdalena Chromicz

Find Magdalena at LinkedIn:
www.linkedin.com/in/magdalenachromicz

4 comments

  1. Hello all – this is Magdalena, the author of the above article. An update – I found self-employment as a Paralegal financially unsustainable, and have since begun a career in commercial leasing administration and land development project coordination. The work is much more satisfying, and the legal background I have is very helpful. I wish all my Paralegal colleagues the best of luck in the field. I now know on my own proverbial skin how difficult launching a legal practice truly is.

  2. Tracey Gauley · · Reply

    What a fantastic and candid article.

  3. Jorge Andres · · Reply

    To start on your own today is very difficult, especially if you are a recent graduate.
    In 2000 which is when I finished my Paralegal course the market was very ripe and over time a clientele developed. For new graduates the big challenge is that there are a large number of other Paralegals graduating and the market for new clients is obviously shrinking. Perhaps a good idea would be for a starter to target a certain niche and once you established yourself in that niche the referrals will start coming in.
    As Magdalena well says, income is a problem and is not steady. Independent Paralegals always depend on the next client for income and it is hard to live through the down times without having any money coming in but the demand it goes in waves and in the end, if you persevere you will succeed.
    I wish you the best and if you need assistance you can always rely on your colleagues in this and other forums to help you.

  4. Good article. Coincidentally I just saw a job post that I found most frustrating. The job – with a large firm – required a post-secondary education and a License as Paralegal. It was for a Legal Assistant, it paid horrible wages, and even worse, not one of the responsibilities listed had anything to do with our scope of practice.

    And now I am stuck applying for it because there is not much in the way of other jobs.

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