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From Paralegal to Legal Operations: Telltale Signs You Should Make the Career Switch

Making the Career Change from Paralegal to Legal Operations

As someone who has worked in people ops for more than 7 years, I’ve seen many colleagues make unexpected career moves. But a career switch from paralegal to legal operations isn’t unheard of. In fact, it’s a natural jump!

Paralegals have numerous skills that are valuable in legal operations roles. Legal ops also offers a fast-paced, dynamic way to grow in your career and earn more—all without going back to school for a new degree.

Why Paralegals Make Great Legal Ops Team Members

Legal operations is a rapidly growing field that has opened up new career pathways for paralegals and other legal professionals.

Until recently, becoming a lawyer was one of the few ways paralegals could significantly grow their future earnings, take on a more dynamic workload, and learn new skills in their field. 

Now, paralegals have more options. With your existing knowledge of project and team management, budgeting, and working with vendors, you can make a great legal ops team member. This is especially true  if you’re bringing institutional knowledge to a new role in your current firm.

“Whether or not it was called legal operations, I was handling workflows,” Tom Stephenson, who is now the legal ops director at CreditKarma, told Legal Dive about his work as a paralegal. “I think a lot of us in this profession take on these responsibilities as we grow with the law firm.”

By transitioning your skillset to legal operations, you can take your career in a new, high-paying direction without having to pursue a new degree—just like Stephenson did.

3 Professional Traits That Help Paralegals Make the Career Switch to Legal Operations

Do you already have these key professional traits? If so, it might be time to consider making the switch to legal operations.

1) You’re Familiar with Technology

Legal tech is one of the most efficient ways to apply business operations techniques to legal department workflows. 

But many law firms struggle with automating tasks or generating reports—especially when they’re invested in paper-based systems.

Legal ops teams use technology to find efficiencies for the following processes:

  • Legal billing and spend management
  • Financial planning and forecasting
  • Conducting SOX audits
  • Managing matters, including intake forms, closing documents, and post-close assessments

Sound familiar? Paralegals often have responsibilities that overlap with these areas, and are already comfortable with the technology their firm uses to manage them. If you do, too, you could be on the road to legal ops.

2) You Have a Desire to Regularly Tackle Dynamic, New Challenges

If you want to do more than help lawyers at your firm prepare for cases or review documents, legal operations might be for you. 

This may be especially true if you’ve already been taking on additional tasks like managing workflows, handling intake forms, billing vendors, or refining your firm’s knowledge management processes.

Because legal ops covers all of the above tasks and more, it offers skilled legal professionals dynamic ways to tackle new challenges and take on more responsibility.

3) You Love Analytics and Data-Driven Decision-Making

Do you get a kick out of a well-designed data dashboard? Does generating a report to help your firm manage costs and plan spending sounds appealing? 

Legal ops team members use data and analytics to help their firms make better decisions about spending and identify areas where the team can be more efficient. 

By applying goals, tracking metrics, and analyzing the outcomes of tasks you’re already familiar with, you can help your firm make more data-driven decisions.

Think you might be ready to make the switch? Take advantage of the numerous resources available to make your transition from paralegal to legal ops professional as smooth as possible.

Setting the Stage for Your Transition into Legal Ops

Legal operations is a famously welcoming space. Reaching out to legal ops professionals for help or advice is a great way to develop connections, expand your network, and start your journey in this fast-paced, growing field.

You can also listen to Brightflag’s In-House Outliers podcast to gain insights into the career journeys of other legal ops professionals. In each episode, you’ll hear from legal ops professionals who can help you find your niche within the community—and ensure the jump from paralegal to legal ops is a smooth one.

Headshot of Danielle Emola smiling in front of a white background with a striped shirt on.

Danielle Emola

People Ops Business Partner at Brightflag

Danielle Emola is the People Ops Business Partner at Brightflag, supporting the Growth team which includes Sales, Marketing, and Customer Success. Danielle has a MBA and is certified through the Human Resources Certification Institute (PHR). With nearly 10 years of Human Resources experience, Danielle is passionate about bringing value-add initiatives to employees and Brightflag, as an organization.