Sometimes when I write these blog posts I wonder if I’m the only person experiencing these kinds of situations and issues. I’ll bet this post resonates with many of you in your career fields, even those of you who aren’t paralegals.
For a long time, at least the last five years, it’s been frustrating to be a paralegal. There are a lot of reasons for this, which I’ll briefly summarize here.
First off, it’s long past time that the American Bar Association created some sort of standard licensing or framework to ensure that paralegals continue to have career opportunities as they advance in their careers.
When you consider that the medical field has numerous medical licenses and career paths available, all of which pay very well, it seems really strange that in the legal profession, you're a lawyer or you're not. I understand the reasons why it is the way it is – mainly to protect the lawyer profession and the charging of high fees – but those days are over. Doctors don’t seem to mind having physician assistants doing work for them. Lawyers should be doing the same.
As a paralegal with a regular 9 to 5 job, you’ll probably cap out at around $65-$70K with a big law firm after 15-18 years of experience. If you want to earn more than that you need a backup plan. I was able to avoid stalling in my career growth by starting my own business, but that path is not for the faint of heart. I risked everything – it was easier because I’m not married and don’t have kids, but that doesn’t make it any less terrifying. Interestingly enough, I’m in a similar position where I was twelve years ago when I started DEL – overqualified and unsatisfied with my career.
The second issue is that wages are very low for experienced professionals in most professions outside of medicine and tech. Now that I’m in my 40’s, I hear a lot about age discrimination and how employers want young kids that will work for cheap. I think there’s truth to that, but I also think that age doesn’t have to be the end of a productive career.
There aren’t a lot of jobs for experienced professionals anymore. I think it’s easy to make it about age discrimination. I’m not saying that doesn’t happen. But I think retraining is the answer. The problem is that most people don’t see the bigger overall picture of the economic changes happening and get hung up in the past when it’s really time to move into the new.
My father was one of the first blue collar Americans to get displaced by technology and companies sending jobs offshore. He wasn’t a “go to college” kind of man. It’s not like the government ever said, “Hey America, it’s time to get re-trained because we’re sending jobs offshore.” Things were different for the Boomers and sending jobs offshore was unheard of then. So I watched my Dad struggle with depression and beating himself up thinking that his issues with finding work were all about him. It wasn’t all his fault but he didn’t have any help figuring out how to transition into a new career.
The most recent recession didn’t do anyone any favors in terms of wage growth. Fortunately there is upward pressure on wages and it's slowly becoming more about making the employees happy. We're seeing things like employees “ghosting” on employers if they get a better offer. ("Ghosting" refers to disappearing without any notice.) There also seems to be a trend in the news that suggest we're headed back to collective bargaining. It's definitely no longer an employer's market, but many of them continue to act like they have the upper hand, and that's why "ghosting" is so funny. Oh, the irony!
I find myself in a similar situation as my father was in his 40’s. I recently read a book called “It Didn’t Start With You” which talks about scientific evidence that our ancestors’ trauma is transferred to us in our DNA. If you’re wondering what the heck happened to your life, there might be an ancestral pattern there that’s worth looking into.
Finally, the legal profession has a lot of other problems too. The legal system is so biased away from the people it should be protecting, and it’s exhausting to continue working in the field. In many ways, I’ve changed so much that I’m no longer in alignment with the conflict inherent in the profession.
Desert Edge Legal has always been cyclical in terms of keeping me busy, but things have been slowing down again in recent months.
I have been thinking about going to school for computer programming for the last four years, applied in January 2019 but didn’t enroll. When my most recent contract paralegal project ended in July, I decided to go back to school instead of wringing my hands, getting depressed and beating myself up.
I’ve been interested in cybersecurity and hacking for at least a decade, and when the contract ended, although it was quite upsetting, it seemed to me like it was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to break free of my frustration.
I also suspect that going back to school is going to break a few familial patterns. I think if my Dad had been in a different situation where he had guidance and was given the tools to step into a new career at midlife, the second half of his life might have been radically different. (My Dad is still around, by the way. He just recently retired and is enjoying time with his grand kids.)
This is not goodbye, though. As I mentioned above, DEL is cyclical, and I’ve been in love with the legal field since I was a kid. There will be plenty of opportunities in the future to get back into the field.
Maybe I’ll become a cybersecurity expert witness, ha ha! Technology’s intersection with the law is an interesting one.
I’ll still be writing blog posts occasionally and I’ll still be available to help people with audits, corporate entities and the same things I’ve been doing. There are so many new opportunities showing up now that I’ve stepped into this new career path. I’ll be sharing some of them with you here on the blog, so please stay tuned!