Some people assume that paralegals are only employed by law firms; however, this is not correct. Paralegals are used in a variety of companies including the in-house legal departments of banks, hospitals, insurance companies and airlines. They also work for various government agencies and offices as well as in local, state and federal courts. Anywhere you find an attorney you are likely to find a paralegal.
When I completed my paralegal degree, the “dream job” in our town was a paralegal position with the corporate legal department of a large insurance company. The paralegals who worked for this company were thought to have the best paralegal jobs in our town and we were all envious. The only way to get one of these coveted paralegal jobs was to wait until one of the paralegals retired (they never quit) and then you had to know someone with a lot of influence within the company. This made me wonder exactly what was so great about being a corporate paralegal. Exactly what was it about their job that was so much better than my job with a local law firm?
Corporate Paralegal Job Description
Corporate paralegals work with attorneys to draft and review employee contracts and employee benefit plans. They also work with the attorney to prepare and review shareholder agreements, corporate contracts and loan documents. Paralegals in corporate offices assist in-house attorneys by researching local, state and federal regulations that affect the corporation and monitoring changes in laws that might affect the company. They also assist with preparing quarterly and annual reports regarding the corporation’s finances and operations. Other duties of corporate paralegals are specific in nature to the corporation they work for and will vary somewhat depending on the company.
Advantages and Disadvantages
A corporate paralegal enjoys many of the same advantages and disadvantages as any other paralegal. Depending on the company, she can work long hours in a very stressful environment or she may work nine to five with every weekend off. Because of the enormous disparity in the corporate world, a paralegal will experience different work environments that are largely dictated by the type of corporation that employs her. For instance, working in the legal department of an insurance company will probably require less weekend hours than working for the legal department of an entertainment corporation because the entertainment industry never stops.
Because corporate legal departments are responsible for everything from employee contracts and benefits packages to regulatory compliance and intellectual property, paralegals who work for a corporate legal department can gain experience in a variety of areas rather than focusing on one particular practice area (i.e. worker’s compensation or bankruptcy). Paralegals working for corporate legal departments often work with individuals and companies from overseas and from various parts of the country. In addition, they may work with government agencies and offices when dealing with compliance issues or government contracts. Because of the variety of people that she may meet through the corporate setting, a corporate paralegal has the opportunity to network in a much larger and diverse arena.
Corporate legal departments often have more resources than small law firms do. Paralegals have access to a larger support staff including messengers, legal secretaries, IT personnel and file clerks. Corporations also have larger budgets than many law firms to allow for continuing education and training classes for its employees. The perks available to the employees of a corporate legal department may include access to in-house gyms, full-service cafeterias and state-of-the-art technology.
The opportunity for advancement in corporate legal departments largely depends on the size of the legal department – - the smaller the department the less likely there are many opportunities for advancement. A disadvantage of corporate legal departments is that many of them operate on the same system of seniority that applies to the rest of the corporation – - advancement is dictated by seniority rather than skill. In other words, your skills may not determine your ability to advance if there is someone who has been there longer than you have.
Job stability used to be one of the advantages of working in a corporate legal department; however, the economy has adversely affected both law firms and corporate legal departments. However, large corporations are not as susceptible to small fluctuations in business as a law firm that depends on clients walking through the door on a daily basis to pay the overhead. Corporate legal departments will never need to worry about having a lack of clients – - they work for only one client, the corporation itself.
Finding a Paralegal Job in a Corporate Legal Department
As I stated at the beginning of my article, the only way I could ever get one of the coveted corporate paralegal jobs in our town was if one of the paralegals retired and I personally knew someone in power at the company. However, today it is more common to apply for corporate paralegal positions through staffing agencies or through a recruiter. You should also contact the corporation’s human resources department to get the name of the hiring officer for the corporation so that you can contact him or her directly about employment opportunities. Research the corporation as you would a law firm to determine whom to contact regarding open positions with the company. You may also want to consider taking another position within the legal department to get your foot in the door so that you can advance from within when a paralegal position becomes available.