Paralegal Predictions for 2015: Probable, Paralyzing or Positive?

Predictions for each new year is a c**pshoot. How can you know? Based on what? I'm going to stick my neck out here and say that most likely, predictions are based upon the previous year's trends. They certainly don't come out of the blue. Really now, predictions shouldn't come as any surprise to anyone. That is if you've kept up with facts, forecasts and fantasies.  OK, I've missed a few here and there. However, let me try my hand at five and at the end of 2015, let's see how close I came. I'll bet anyone $.25 on these. I don't go more than $.25.

 1.    Paralegals will be allowed to go to court and appear in front of a judge. They will be allowed to present uncontested motions for signing, default judgments, get court dates and more - perhaps name changes and adoptions. I have always forecast that the paralegal field will mimic the nursing field in formation of hierarchy i.e., nurse's aide, licensed vocational nurse, R.N., Nurse Practitioner. Some states, such as Washington, have allowed paralegals to appear in front of a judge for more than 25 years. However, most states haven't even thought about it yet and many people are simply horrified at the very idea.

2.    More entry-level associate work will be delegated to paralegals. Not such a new prediction. However, we'll see more of it in 2015 than ever before. There's a new billing technique called "blended-rates." This is where the firm bills the client by joining attorneys with high billable rates in combination with lower billing employees for an client average rate. You might think that the firm would get more money by blending with an associate. However, associate rates have gotten so high, that the attorney/associate blended-rate would no longer look like a good deal. (Paralegals beware: all of these changes mean that you are going to absolutely, positively need to stay on top of all changes in the legal field and push CLE to the max.)

3.    Fewer law school admissions equates to fewer associates equating to more hiring of paralegals – a field that apparently is having no trouble attracting students. If you take a look at any recession, enrollments are always up during and down immediately after. Combine that with fewer jobs for lawyers and well, bingo, more need for paralegals. Someone has to do the work. I can't remember the last time I saw a managing partner of a major firm asking a judge for a default judgment.

4.    Demand for paralegals with expert technology skills will be even greater. More times than we'd like to admit, firms with a need to hire technology experts with top-notch experience have a hard time finding that candidate. Firms go outside of the legal field for IT. Problem with that is, the candidate has no legal background and most firms have no means to train. What we need to do is encourage paralegals to get more technology training beyond the user-friendly stage and also recruit paralegal students right from the technology field. The average age of paralegal student is around 36-38 anyway. There's bound to be some technology career transitioners in there who would like to come over to legal.

5.    Limited licensing will emerge. Right now, Ontario, Canada licenses paralegals. California and other states have the issue under consideration. The question as to whether licensing paralegals is a good idea has been around for almost as long as the paralegal field – since the late '70's. In fact, I was once a guest speaker for a California paralegal group and predicted that licensing was on its way. I can't tell you how many years ago this was but it seems like around 20. (So, I was a little ahead of the trend.)   Honestly, they were so mad at me for that prediction that I don't think anyone applauded. In fact, I seem to remember a long silence until someone (probably feeling sorry for me) started a solo clap. The rest did follow but oh, ever so lightly. 

That's it! There are lots more predictions in sight. Tell me yours. It's always enlightening to hear opinions – it sure does makes the field go 'round.