This is the second time this week I read an article about paralegals gaining jobs in this miserable economy. OK, it's not miserable for absolutely everyone. But if you're watching Katie or Brian on the BigNews channels, you'll have to agree that most of the U.S. is running pretty lean and mean.
Law360 reported yesterday that while associates are fighting to keep their wits about them as the blood flows down to the first floor, paralegals may be gaining jobs and added responsibilities. With clients screaming about high fees, law firms are letting associates go but paralegals may be an unexpected beneficiary of this recession.
According to Alan Miles, founder of California-based Alan Miles & Associates , paralegals are going to descimate the junior associate ranks. Where there used to be 3-4 associates per partner, clients do not want to pay for extra bodies any longer. The work still has to be done but law firms are finally getting the message, giving what was considered lower level associate work to more senior level paralegals. I also believe that clients finally wised-up to the fact that first and second-year associates were training on their dime. No longer.
The expense of the paralegal is much lower than an associate earning $170-$180k per year. The learning curve is shorter and – no surprise here – you are not going to make a paralegal partner. (My apologies to those paralegals who are learning that here for the first time.)
Hot skills are still e-discovery, technology, transactional corporate and IP. Paralegals are not trained in the practice of law or theory. However, resistence still exists in many firms to paralegals performing associate level work. In many of those firms, the type of work the paralegal can take on is not clearly defined. Rather, a generalization is made that paralegals should not be doing "first or second-year" work. Have these firms defined what part of the associate work should they not be doing? Granted, there is a significant amount. But, it's really the other way around – first and second year associates should not be doing paralegal work (much less billing the client associate rates for paralegal designated assignments).
Clear definitions and job descriptions need to be established. Many firms would be surprised that, given a well-trained, savvy paralegal, a law firm can have its chocolate cake and eat it too. The client gets the work done at a reasonable rate, the firm makes money and most importantly, the paralegal gets a nice push up that "invisible" ladder.
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