June 11, 2020

The Effects of the COVID-19 Pandemic on Paralegal Employment and Education

Sally Dahlquist, J.D., Paralegal Program Director, Inver Hills Community College, Minnesota and Alicia L. Shelton, Esq., Zuckerman Spaeder LLP

While it may be too soon to gauge the full impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on the paralegal profession, paralegal services can assist attorney in delivering efficient and cost-effective legal services to their clients.[1] In many states, paralegals are deemed an essential service provider and continue to work in-office for firms and government agencies that have remained open.  In some instances, paralegals and support staff maintain in-office workstations for others who are working remotely.[2] For paralegals who are now working remotely, the types of services needed are continuing to evolve, as discussed in more detail below.

Although many other law offices have closed their physical doors due to COVID-19, legal recruiters report that they are beginning to see new opportunities in states like Georgia and North Carolina, which have begun reopening. Legal recruiters also report that there are expanding opportunities in the virtual job market.[3] Even in this uncertain time, what has become clear is that the scope of paralegal work is changing with the growing need to provide remote legal services.

VIRTUAL PARALEGAL SERVICES

Attorneys and legal recruiters report the need for paralegals to virtually triage, organize, and manage cases, and to know the ever-changing state and federal court e-filing and hearing requirements. For example, several states, like New Jersey, are facing a rush to expand electronic filing options in light of the COVID-19 pandemic.[4] Additionally, the types of services that paralegals can provide remotely, such as notary services, are continuing to expand. For example, on May 15, 2020, Massachusetts joined more than 40 states that now allow remote notarization of documents.[5] Legal offices and staffing agencies want paralegals to fill jobs remotely or live, full-time, part-time, by contract for one day or one assignment. IT paralegal skills are currently in high demand to address needs related to data security and the increased pressures of electronic case management and e-discovery.[6]  Even the American Bar Association sees the Virtual or V-Paralegal as the super star of the law firm.

Attorneys look to paralegals to be quick on their remote fingertips to deliver technology solutions accurately and efficiently while attorneys focus on the novel and complex legal issues arising from practicing law during a pandemic.[7] Legal reporters have already noted a shift in the types of litigation being filed in light of the current extreme economic, medical, and financial pressures of the 2020 COVID-19 pandemic.[8] Paralegals are being called on to meet this need in a variety of ways. They are helping file emergency orders, reviewing employment and contract policies, and working alongside attorneys to determine COVID-19 implications on their legal cases according to legal professionals interviewed for this blog.

On the horizon, paralegal positions are expected to emerge in a variety of areas, including: bankruptcy, mortgage foreclosure, business failures, contract and medical compliance issues, unemployment claims, family law matters, housing and eviction, debtor-creditor cases, and criminal, civil and social justice issues.[9] Legal recruiters interviewed for this blog post confirm that litigation is ramping up for when the courts open. They anticipate that medical malpractice, worker’s comp, labor and employment areas will really boom; trust and estates, family law, finance law should also grow.

"Experienced paralegals [able to] navigate the new virtual landscape are well-positioned to be effective liaisons for attorneys, clients, and court."

"Experienced paralegals [able to] navigate the new virtual landscape are well-positioned to be effective liaisons for attorneys, clients, and court."

PARALEGAL PRO BONO SUPPORT

Paralegals and students are also rising to the challenge in the current pandemic to provide much needed community support. More than 300 law students, paralegals, and student paralegals are offering to provide remote research, drafting, and other support to attorneys working on pro-bono coronavirus-related matters.[10] In addition, pleas for paralegal volunteers to offer Pro Bono Legal Services are appearing in every state and through the ABA Center for Pro Bono. More information can also be found in the National Center for State Courts Resource Guide.

Examples:  Minnesota    Texas    Illinois    Los Angeles   Cleveland  

In light of the recent tragic and horrible events in Minneapolis and other communities across the United States, ABA President Judy Perry Martinez delivered a message on May 29, 2020 to the legal community encouraging “efforts to develop and implement solutions” to rebuild public trust and “faith that our justice system is fair, and our laws are applied equitably.” Attorneys, paralegals and other legal professionals can assist in rebuilding devastated communities and help people of color and diverse backgrounds. A detailed list of pro bono volunteer opportunities can be found here.

LIMITED LICENSED PARALEGAL

There is also a wave across the country for the state court systems to address the unmet civil and criminal needs of its citizens, which could result in a shift in the market for limited licensed paralegals. A study conducted in October 2019 by the National Federation of Paralegal Association shows a growing surge of recent licensing of paralegal professionals to address the states’ clogged court systems of unrepresented litigants.[11] Paralegals are needed to serve our citizens’ legal demands during this medical, economic and social justice tsunami.[12]

PARALEGAL EDUCATION

Education of paralegals remains essential in today’s changing legal services market; resources are available to find paralegal educational programs across the country.[13] Many of these programs are adjusting their curriculums to meet the future needs of their students in light of COVID-19. At the same time, organizations like the American Association for Paralegal Education “AAfPE” are actively bringing paralegal educators together to share ideas and help each other to deliver top-quality practical paralegal education.[14] Additionally, national paralegal associations, including NALA, NALS, NFPA, the ABA, and some state bar and paralegal associations, provide additional educational opportunities by offering free paralegal student memberships and/or access to continuing legal education seminars.

WHAT NEXT?

National news and legal information outlets have begun reporting salary cuts, lay-offs, furloughs, and reduction of summer associate programs at law firms, corporations, and government offices. In particular, according to sources consulted for this blog, entry-level paralegal jobs for new graduates in larger firms and companies may also be declining.  Nonetheless, there are opportunities.  For example, experienced paralegals with the ability to navigate the new virtual landscape are well-positioned to be effective liaisons for attorneys, clients, and the court. Additionally, increased COVID-19 legal work by solo practitioners, small law offices, non-profit/volunteer organizations, and legal/paralegal association networks during the changing legal services market may provide job opportunities for entry-level paralegals.[15] Indeed, experienced and tech savvy paralegals alike may help better position legal service providers as they tighten their economic belts.

ADDITIONAL PARALEGAL RESOURCES

To assist legal professionals and the community, the ABA has created a Coronavirus (COVID-19) Task Force as a resource for the delivery of legal services in the pandemic.  The ABA Coronavirus Task Force is identifying the legal needs arising from the pandemic, providing resources to assist in meeting those needs, and helping to connect legal professionals to those in immediate need of assistance.

Groups such as, the ABA Approval Commission and Standing Committee on Paralegal Education, national and state paralegal associations, and paralegal education institutions are providing support specific to the needs of paralegals and paralegal students during the COVID-19 pandemic. As the need for remote legal services is likely to continue beyond the immediate crisis, these organizations are well-positioned to continue to support the evolving needs of the paralegal profession.

Final – June 4, 2020

[1] https://www.bls.gov/ooh/legal/paralegals-and-legal-assistants.htm[2] https://news.bloomberglaw.com/business-and-practice/coronavirus-is-forcing-big-law-out-of-office-what-they-can-learn[3] https://www.law.com/americanlawyer/2020/03/12/what-can-be-learned-from-virtual-firms-as-coronavirus-necessitates-remote-work/?slreturn=20200430091703[4] https://njcourts.gov/pressrel/2020/pr040920a.pdf?c=cPA[5] https://www.nutter.com/trending-newsroom-publications-massachusetts-adopts-remote-notarization-law[6] https://www.bls.gov/ooh/legal/paralegals-and-legal-assistants.htm#tab-6[7] https://www.americanbar.org/groups/paralegals/profession-information/information_for_lawyers_how_paralegals_can_improve_your_practice
[8] https://www.law360.com/articles/1272699/covid-19-s-shadow-spreads-across-federal-court-filings[9] https://www.scorpion.co/law-firms/blog/2020/march/how-does-the-coronavirus-pandemic-impact-bankrup/https://kdvr.com/news/coronavirus/more-people-are-contacting-divorce-attorneys-during-the-pandemic/[10] https://abaforlawstudents.com/2020/03/19/law-students-paralegals-offer-pro-bono-covid-19-legal-support/https://www.law.com/americanlawyer/2020/04/08/a-pro-bono-boom-doctors-inmates-immigrants-get-big-law-help-as-pandemic-worsens/
https://www.chicagotribune.com/coronavirus/ct-coronavirus-legal-aid-volunteer-lawyers-20200511-gvfzuhvzova6jlna7vf5vudmle-story.html[11] https://www.paralegals.org/files/2019-10-31%20Regulation%20by%20State%20-%20TS.pdf[12] https://www.utcourts.gov/legal/lpp/https://www.wsba.org/for-legal-professionals/join-the-legal-profession-in-wa/limited-license-legal-technicians[13] https://www.aafpe.org/find-a-programhttps://www.americanbar.org/groups/paralegals/paralegal-resource-directory/[14] https://www.aafpe.org/resources[15] https://www.2civility.org/how-illinois-lawyers-can-help-those-impacted-by-covid-19/

[i] https://www.bls.gov/ooh/legal/paralegals-and-legal-assistants.htm

[ii] https://news.bloomberglaw.com/business-and-practice/coronavirus-is-forcing-big-law-out-of-office-what-they-can-learn

[iii] https://www.law.com/americanlawyer/2020/03/12/what-can-be-learned-from-virtual-firms-as-coronavirus-necessitates-remote-work/?slreturn=20200430091703

[iv] https://njcourts.gov/pressrel/2020/pr040920a.pdf?c=cPA

[v] https://www.nutter.com/trending-newsroom-publications-massachusetts-adopts-remote-notarization-law

[vi] https://www.bls.gov/ooh/legal/paralegals-and-legal-assistants.htm#tab-6

[vii] https://www.americanbar.org/groups/paralegals/profession-information/information_for_lawyers_how_paralegals_can_improve_your_practice/

[viii] https://www.law360.com/articles/1272699/covid-19-s-shadow-spreads-across-federal-court-filings

[ix] https://www.scorpion.co/law-firms/blog/2020/march/how-does-the-coronavirus-pandemic-impact-bankrup/

https://kdvr.com/news/coronavirus/more-people-are-contacting-divorce-attorneys-during-the-pandemic/

[i] https://www.bls.gov/ooh/legal/paralegals-and-legal-assistants.htm

[ii] https://news.bloomberglaw.com/business-and-practice/coronavirus-is-forcing-big-law-out-of-office-what-they-can-learn

[iii] https://www.law.com/americanlawyer/2020/03/12/what-can-be-learned-from-virtual-firms-as-coronavirus-necessitates-remote-work/?slreturn=20200430091703

[iv] https://njcourts.gov/pressrel/2020/pr040920a.pdf?c=cPA

[v] https://www.nutter.com/trending-newsroom-publications-massachusetts-adopts-remote-notarization-law

[vi] https://www.bls.gov/ooh/legal/paralegals-and-legal-assistants.htm#tab-6

[vii] https://www.americanbar.org/groups/paralegals/profession-information/information_for_lawyers_how_paralegals_can_improve_your_practice/

[viii] https://www.law360.com/articles/1272699/covid-19-s-shadow-spreads-across-federal-court-filings

[ix] https://www.scorpion.co/law-firms/blog/2020/march/how-does-the-coronavirus-pandemic-impact-bankrup/

https://kdvr.com/news/coronavirus/more-people-are-contacting-divorce-attorneys-during-the-pandemic/