Jones Day, the #4 firm in the AM 200 with 2,500 lawyers and 32 offices announced last week that it axed an unspecified number of support staff in its Cleveland office.
Further, it announced that it let go 32 staffers in its Los Angeles and Dallas offices. Recession? Cash flow problems? Too few clients? Too little work? Guess again. According to the firm's spokesperson, “(The) universal adoption of smart phones, voice mail and email enables (and requires) lawyers to be more self-sufficient." In other words, emerging technology can strip you of a job in no time and leave you waiting in the unemployment line for 26 weeks.
This sad news is reminiscent of other positions going by the wayside as the world moves forward: telephone answering operators, messengers, travel agents, newspaper journalists, and printers (the people kind). Jones Day also announced it was continuing to hire …..you guessed it…..lawyers – and plenty of them.
Does this sound the alarm in your head asking if your mother was right? "Sheldon, why are you going to be a paralegal? Why don't you make your mother happy and go to law school?" No. What it means is it is time to start climbing up the ladder, making sure you generate plenty of profit for the firm and get to the assignments that require brainpower. No more lower level clerical duties! It's time to start aiming for more sophisticated work. Drafting, interfacing with the client, research, technology, contracts, risk management, compliance, securities, assisting at trial and more.
Once a major firm such as Jones Day publicly announces a startling and significant move toward cutting costs, the legal field takes notice. Why? Simple. Competition. I firmly believe that one of the reasons that paralegals caught on so well in the beginning is that the firm down the street had one and was able to brag that they were saving the client time, money and costs. That meant the firm up the street had to have one. And so on and so on and so on.
George Jetson may have been right. The robot finally takes your job. This is how trends start particularly after a Great Recession where the landscape screams "cost savings", not "divine decadence". Keep yourself at the forefront of knowledge. Learn the latest anything that is useful and sustaining. Ride the horse in the direction it is going. Keep paralegals on the list of the top 20 fastest growing professions by constantly evolving and pushing forward.