By Bailey Anne Dermanci
How do you decide to move forward with a career plan in the middle of a pandemic?
In the face of an uncertain future, how do you make plans as a professional? What does career planning look like? What’s a safe career to pursue when jobs are disappearing?
These may be questions that you’ve found yourself pondering since March 2020. As you look ahead to your future and career, where do you see yourself? So many of us are working from home, trying to stay safe from coronavirus. That isn’t an option for everyone, but it is frequently open to paralegals.
Ariane Walton, a paralegal at an Austin-area real estate law office and graduate of the Paralegal Certificate Program offered by the Center for Professional Education (CPE), was able to work from home with minimal time in the office even before COVID. “By choice I typically go into the office but did transition to working from home in March and April and have been back in the office since May. Fifty percent of our staff work remotely but have always done so.”
Walton’s firm found that they could handle most business remotely, while modifying procedures to ensure that any in-person interactions are done safely. “Our business is up substantially from last year. We limit in-person client interactions whenever possible and follow strict cleaning/sanitizing practices.”
As the president-elect of the Capital Area Paralegal Association (CAPA), Walton also has insight into the broader experiences of paralegals in the Austin area. “Most paralegals I know are working successfully from home (after an adjustment period) or on a rotating basis going into their offices.”
Austin-area attorney Cheryl Powell, who focuses on family law, echoes Walton’s experience. The two paralegals in her office were given the option to work from home or work in the office. And she’s aware of other firms that have offered the same choice to their paralegals, so they can work however it makes the most sense for them and their families.
“In today’s trying times,” Powell says, “it is important for firms and employers to be flexible to meet the needs of their employees. Whether it is [to] allow them to work from home, an alternate work schedule, or implement safety precautions while working in the office, it is incumbent [upon us] that we show grace and flexibility.”
How is coronavirus impacting Austin’s paralegal job options?
A lot has changed in Austin over the course of the pandemic, with shutdowns across the area and job losses in many industries. As you can see in the chart below, paralegal job postings in Q2 and Q3 of 2020 have slowed in response to COVID, but Austin’s paralegal sector is still on track to show impressive growth compared to recent years, with hundreds of jobs posted in Austin even during the pandemic.
The legal field is vast, however, and not all branches of the field will weather the changes wrought by coronavirus in the same way. “Firms that handle personal injury, bankruptcy, insurance matters, employment law, medical law [or] represent corporations are staying stable, are still moving along and are still hiring,” said Brittany Posadas, MBA, TBLS-BCP, who is a paralegal in the Austin, an instructor in CPE’s Paralegal Certificate Program and the immediate past president of CAPA. The law firm where she works, a full-service firm equipped to handle cases applicable to many areas of the law, has actually hired two paralegals post-shutdown.
“[A]reas like real estate law, tax law, intellectual property and family law appear to be hurting because they’re just not … activities people are concerned with right now,” Posadas continued. According to Posadas, some members of CAPA and colleagues who work at firms which deal with these areas of the law are worried about being furloughed because the clientele appears to be declining. “[P]eople don’t have extra money to pay an attorney to fight over the division of assets in a divorce right now, for example.”
Uncertain, But Hopeful
The pandemic continues to wreak havoc on employment in Austin and across the country. But with professionals in the legal field experiencing the flexibility of working from home and understanding that paralegals can still be effective in these uncertain times, it’s clear a paralegal career is still worth pursuing, perhaps now more than ever. The expertise and skills a paralegal can bring to a firm continue to be a valued and important part of serving clients.
Bailey Anne Dermanci is a senior marketing coordinator. She holds a bachelor’s degree in English Language and Literature from Washington University in St. Louis.
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