Mayo Clinic Legal Dept. Says Paralegals Are Awesome

OK, they didn't exactly use the word, "awesome" but they may as well have.  In an interview with Corporate Counsel magazine, Jonathan Oviatt , chief legal officer of the Mayo Clinic, revealed that crunching the numbers has led in-house legal departments to rely more and more on legal support staff rather than attorneys.

Man wiping eyeThe ratio of lawyers to non-lawyers on its staff is a key metric for demonstrating to his corporate bosses that the legal department is doing its part to keep expenses down. "I use that in demonstrating value to the C-suite that the legal department is focused on delegation of work to the least-expensive competent level, and that implies increased utilization of paralegals and increased use of contract managers," Oviatt says. "We've actually decreased our total lawyer head count, but we've transferred some of those same dollars into increased legal assistance and contract managers in our department."

The Mayo Clinic has significantly grown its in-house legal department and that includes paralegals.  The department has 35 attorneys and 80 legal staff. By distributing the work appropriate to the skills, the most highly qualified members of the legal department, obviously the most experienced lawyers, can focus on the more important cases.

 "We've reduced 2.4 attorneys over the last three years through attrition, " says Ovitz. "In general, we've transferred those positions and that expense into higher-leveraged positions, paralegals, and contract managers. I think these numbers just show the learning process that's gone on across legal departments where we've been in either flat or decreasing budgets but where we don't have the luxury to hire.

Generally, if you're hiring, it's because you've had some attrition and have the opportunity to fill a position if you can get it approved. And then in terms of the experience that we're looking for, the three to seven years, that's certainly what we're normally looking for at a minimum when we hire."

The Mayo Clinic boasts roughly a 1:1 ratio of lawyers to paralegals/administrative staff.  Ovitz plans to be increasing the number of nonlawyers further.

Just when you thought lawyers were taking the place of paralegals……….