Where the Big Bucks are for Paralegals – and it can make you leave the field.

Show me an employee who says the money doesn't matter and I'll show you someone whose nose is growing. 

Cover.LegalProjectManagementParalegals are now facing a tremendous game changer – the advent of technology plays a significant factor in whether or not you make good money. Statistics show that paralegals without technology know-how earn fewer dollars than those that have the skills. That doesn't mean you have to be a programmer or expert, it means that those paralegals who continue to claim Microsoft Office Suite, Word, Excel and PowerPoint as their mainstays are so far stuck in the past, they may as well not come to work at all. 

I spoke with Bert Binder today. She's a paralegal turned paralegal career coach who recalls in 1999 when she was one of the first paralegals to be handed a technology position. It was unheard of back then. "It was an accomplishment," she says. "No paralegals that we knew of had ever been promoted into technology nor were they even expected to have graced that side of the computer." 

Time to get on the bandwagon, folks. Recently, the Cowen Group published its Ninth Annual Salary Study for compensation and hiring trends in Litigation Support and eDiscovery. Now, bear in mind that litigation paralegals are becoming hybrids. They need to know not only how the legal process works but everything you need to know about eDiscovery. And now, you're expected to understand the technology for litigation support, know how to utilize legal project management and have the soft skills of HR management to supervise the teams you're expected to lead. It's all changed – and rapidly.

It turns out that the highest paying non-attorney jobs are in eDiscovery and Litigation Support. If you're not on that bandwagon, chances are you're either getting paid less than those who are or you're on track to lose your job because you will be expected to know and pretty damn soon. Fact of legal life, folks. Fact of life.

So what does the Cowan Group report tell us? They surveyed all levels of employment including Technologist, Project Managers, Managers, Directors and Attorneys. The survey included responses from over half of the AmLaw 200 and corporations, vendors and mid-size law firms. There were 90 responses from corporate participants. 

The corporate participation showed that corporate law departments are keeping the work in-house. While the demand for eDiscovery talent is predicted to remain the same for most organizations in 2015, on average, 30% of firms, vendors and corporations intend to grow their practice groups. And here's the kicker: corporations are predicting the biggest increased demand is for Paralegals, Analysts, eDiscovery Attorneys and Consultants. Paralegals -listen up! If the demand for you is there – you're going to have to get the skills to do the job. It's that simple.

The survey also indicated that the level of certifications has significantly increased over 12 months for the Project Management Professional and Certified eDiscovery Professionals. Relativity Certified Administrator was the most widely held technical certification. Clients are listing the certifications as "nice to haves" particularly for Project Manager roles – a great career path for a paralegal.

Here's how the survey broke down. You can find the complete survey at: http://bit.ly/1MupiO0

Litigation Support Analysts:        $71 – 85,000

Litigation Support Specialists:    $81 – 100,000

Project Managers:    $108 – 135,000

Litigation Support Coordinators:    $101 – 125,000

Firm-wide Managers of eDiscovery:    $131 – 190,000

Firm-wide Directors of eDiscovery:       $175 – 375,000

eDiscovery Attorneys:    $125 – 240,000

eDiscovery Partners:    $213 – 350,000

If you are serious about moving your career forward, the best thing to do is to get training. Most firms cannot or will not get you on-the-job training.  Most firms, as are in this survey, are not AmLaw 200 or major firms and do not have the staff nor the resources to train you.

If you want to be able to walk into your firm and ace these positions, you have to extend yourself. Firm doesn't pay for training? Give them an analysis of their ROI – return on investment. If they pay xxx for you, you can double or triple their investment simply by billing at a higher rate for a more specialized position. Trust me, they will understand the numbers. Really, they will.

Go to the Organization of Legal Professionals www.theolp.org or the Paralegal Knowledge Institute www.paralegalknowledge.com. Take any one of the online classes: eDiscovery Project Management, Litigation Support Project Management, Managing the Litigation Support & Technology Professional. Sign up for $59 for a six month membership with OLP and get a ton of free webinars all on eDiscovery and technology to enhance the training. For heaven's sake, let your firm know what you're doing. Stick it on your resume as well. No one can assume you know the topic and if you do, you're going to have to prove that you're staying well up-to-date with the latest information.

We all go through career changes and we all have to keep up. Age has no relevance when it comes to staying up-to-date. It doesn't matter how old you are. What matters is your mind-set. If the world is changing towards technology and you absolutely, positively hate technology, you might think about changing careers. This career may no longer fit your hopes, wants, dreams and desires. Paralegals generally have problems giving themselves permission to change. In my mind, you have to do what you love because in the end, passion is the key motivator and driver of change. It's really not the money. Money is a short-term motivator – you get used to the lifestyle but truthfully – you never get used to the passion. 

Note to my readers: With 20+ years of fantastic experience in the legal field, I have recently been asked to do some career coaching. I have been handling a small group of clients and have had success beyond what I had hoped for! Either I've learned well (and the hard way!) or I have a pretty savvy group of clients! (Or both…)

I am taking on a few clients on Fridays and Saturdays – mostly on successful job searching and changing careers. There are hour sessions, group sessions, webinars, ebooks and lots more. It's an investment in your career. You hire a personal trainer, a therapist, a dog trainer. Why not do something for your career where you are for 2/3 of your time and your living depends upon?

Watch for the new website: LegalCareersRx.com coming this weekend. In the meantime, since I can only take on just a few clients, reach me at chere.estrin@paralegalknowledge.com and book a teleconference. Here's the bonus: book two hours and I'll give you the third one free……it's a great deal and a lot of fun!

 Stay happy.