Should Your First Job Be For a Service Provider or a Law Firm?

You have made the decision to pursue a career in litigation support. You have the task of convincing a hiring manager that you have what it takes. You have the ambition and desire. Your background may include technical skills or it may include experience in the legal industry or it may not include either of these.

The question you keep asking yourself is whether you are better off beginning your litigation support career within a law firm or for a service provider. Your decision may be leaning towards one or the other based on your background or your contacts in the industry. But what if you have no idea which is the better choice for you?

As you can imagine, since I began this mentoring website, this topic has come up more often than it had in the past. There are some differing opinions. I think the perspectives of the differing opinions are based on their (1) different exposures, (2) different learning environments, (3) different successes and failures and (4) different focuses.

My background as a Litigation Support Manager is primarily on the law firm side. I spent about 18 months on the service provider side in a hiring manager role. Since I did most of my hiring on the law firm side and I know more about that perspective on the successes and failures of hiring entry-level candidates, I decided to reach out to a friend and fellow mentor who “grew up” in the litigation support industry on the service provider side.

Shawn Huston is a smart guy and he articulates well. He answered my question and shared his thoughts. Ironically, even though his perspective is from the service provider side and mine is from the law firm side, we have similar points of view on this topic.

Below are some of the points we raised during our discussion.

1) The law firm side can be more structured whereas the service provider side can be chaotic.

2) The law firm side provides more experience interacting with legal teams at your firm whereas the service provider side can offer you a different level of exposure, but with many legal teams at many firms.

3) We both agree that it is more difficult to go from a service provider to a law firm, than it is to go from a law firm to a service provider.

4) Some law firm hiring managers treat experience “from the service provider side only” (with no law firm experience) as a negative. They don't value the experience gained with a service provider as much as they value law firm experience.

5) The service provider side can provide more exposure to a variety of tools and there seems to be more of an opportunity on the service provider side to move from one position to another and try out different roles.

I believe there is no right answer to this question. I believe there are pros and cons to both options. I also believe that it can depend, to a degree, on the skill sets you bring to the entry-level position.

Shawn and I were thinking that this topic might be perfect for a future Litigation Support Guru Webinar. The discussion would focus on the Pros and Cons of law firm and service provider positions. I would appreciate it if you could participate in the poll below to let us know what you think.

If you began your litigation support career on the law firm side or the service provider side and you would like to share your point of view, please add a comment below.

Is this a good topic for a LitSuppGuru webinar?

View Results

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UPDATE: In a Litigation Support Guru podcast episode, Shawn and I compared the differences and similarities between law firms and service providers.

    I am very passionate about helping legal professionals succeed. I even quit my day job to devote more time to mentoring! I want to encourage you to subscribe and join the LitSuppGuru community. I share humorous, informative, and time-sensitive emails above and beyond what appears on this site.

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    • Julie Zamarripa

      I started my litigation support career at a service provider, of course this was 22 years ago and technology was just a word at the time! I did not hear the words litigation support for several years. From that first job [which was a service provider only for the “overflow” from one corporation, I went on to some other short term jobs through a staffing service that specialized in legal placements. They placed me at a law firm that ultimately hired me in their Practice Support department. I supervised the coding operations at the firm as well as providing other support services. After 8 years at the law firm, I moved to a service provider where I have been ever since. I think my law firm experience has helped me by enabling me to “speak their language” when I talk to paralegals at the law firms that are our clients. I understand that they frequently do not understand the technology or even what they really need. My earlier service provider experience as well as my contract positions throught the staffing service also helped me in obtaining the law firm position.

      • LitSuppGuru

        Thanks so much for sharing your experiences, Julie.

    • Scott Holec

      Amy,

      Very cool topic.  Having not worked in the law firm world, but having hired both vendor and law firm experienced lit support professionals, i can definitely say that the major differences in work environments creates different expectations, experiences and skill sets. A recent great benie with working for a vendor that is not often experienced in the law firm environment is the the opportunity to work remotely from a home office.

      • LitSuppGuru

        Thanks for chiming in, Scott. [She replies from her laptop while working at home.] Actually law firms have gotten much better about it. Many people at my firm, attorneys too, work remotely several days a month for various reasons. One of the cool things on the service provider side is that you can hire good people from any city and have them work remotely for your company. Techies can work anywhere.

        • Shawn Huston

          I agree with you both. I’ve seen an increase in the ability to work from home from our colleagues in both the service provider and firm environments. I would recommend anyone that is considering a position that is primarily remote to think long and hard about whether it is something that suites your personality. Working remotely requires an extra level of diligence and extra effort to ensure communication with your team is kept at a high level. Communication is one of the backbones of success in this field no matter which side you find yourself on.

          • LitSuppGuru

            Shawn – You are so right about the personality fit. It can be isolating and it requires extra communication for sure. I actually get more work done at home without all of the interruptions.

    • Catherine Hawes

      I’ve had the benefit of both and of late found myself wishing I had spent more time on the vendor side, since the majority of my experience is with a law firm. I believe the exposure you get on the vendor side to the rapid changes in tools available, review and processing platforms makes your skills invaluable. It also gives you more of a global perspective as to what’s going on in the market, not just in your own little world within the confines of your firm. I agree that it is more difficult to make that transition from vendor to the law firm, but I think your success with that just comes with your ability to sell yourself to the law firm culture.

      • LitSuppGuru

        All excellent points, Catherine. Thank so much for chiming in.

    • Shawn Huston

      Thanks Amy. I always tell people to find the situation that is right for them. That isn’t just limited to choosing a vendor or firm, either. It’s also important to find the right position based on your talents and personality within the company or firm itself. I’ve seen too many talented people get placed into positions that were not suited to them and rarely does it end up well (this includes entry level up to senior management positions).
      This is a maturing and challenging field that still has room for those that possess a strong work ethic, positive atitude, enthusiasm for learning and willingness to put the success of the project and team first.

      • LitSuppGuru

        Agreed, Shawn.

    • Wale Elegbe

      Great topic, Amy… and one that warrants some further discussion. I have had the benefit of working in both environments (starting on the service provider side, and currently in a law firm).  The transition into the law firm environment was not an easy one, but I completely agree with Shawn that finding the right “fit” trumps all.  Law firms and providers alike, have their own style, or culture, or personality.  The best advice I can provide is that candidates should do their homework.  Find out as much as you can about the company and people, as well as the position for which you are applying.  The proper environment can accelerate ones growth in this industry.  Conversely, the wrong environment can further expand the learning curve.

      • LitSuppGuru

        Thanks so much for sharing your experiences, Wale.

    • Ehoskin

      Excellent topic, especially for someone who is looking to go into a career in litigation support.  My question is though, you all mention and believe that it is harder to go from service provider to law firm than vice versa, could you give a little insight as to why?

      • LitSuppGuru

        We plan to cover just that in the webinar on this topic! Keep an eye out for the announcement and subscribe if you haven’t already.

    • Trevor

      Very interesting comparison here. I think one point to consider when making a choice and which in my point of view is speaking for the Litigation Support Providers is the exposure one might get in terms of business development and sales whereas in a law firm the lit support teams do normally ‘only’ cover their core areas. I am myself currently looking to move out of the contract attorney and document review circle and because of my previous project management experience have managed to set up some interviews with vendors. Interestingly business development and sales always comes up as an area they want their candidates to at least not be afraid of.

      • LitSuppGuru

        Very good point, Trevor. Thanks for chiming in.

    • Marilyn Earls

      What if you work fora vendor at a very large law firm? Would that experience be more valuable to hiering managers if I tried to go from vendor to firm?

    • Marilyn Earls

      What if you work fora vendor at a very large law firm? Would that experience be more valuable to hiering managers if I tried to go from vendor to firm?

      • LitSuppGuru

        I would say that working within a law firm in any capacity would be more appealing to the hiring managers that are specifically looking for law firm experience. Even if you worked at a vendor within a law firm, you would have had exposure to working directly with lawyers, paralegals etc. in the firm. You would also be familiar with the law firm environment as a whole.

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