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Associate or Paralegal


when you graduated law school and hung that proverbial shingle outside of your small office you hoped against all hopes that one day you would find yourself in the situation you are in today. There was a very small chance that your practice would grow so much that you had to face the decision of hiring some help.

Yes, you have a secretary. She’s great. You really lucked out when you hired her. You have a great relationship with her. You hear the horror stories about some secretaries and thank your lucky starts that yours is professional and always willing to help. However, there are things that she just can’t do. Not because she’s not intelligent enough to do them but that’s not what’ she’s been trained to do. Draft motions, review discovery, research and write memos, all the things you did before this huge client hired you to represent him. You really hit the jack-pot this time. You have arrived.

You need to find someone to do all those things. Otherwise you will be in the office 24 hours a day with no hope of ever seeing day light again and, worst of all, not being able to drum up business and keep the momentum going. There are business meetings to attend, conferences to prepare for and travel to and … horror of horrors, there’s that trial starting in a few weeks that may take a month or more in court. What will you do then? How will you work on your other cases? You have, after all, more than one client. Shhhhh don’t tell that one client. He/she doesn’t know that yet.

So now you have two choices. You can hire a first year associate and bill him/her out at $300. The clients will think it’s a bargain. After all, it’s less than what they are currently paying you. Sounds good doesn’t it? You’ll have to hire someone right out of school because you can’t pay them that much and after all, you’re running a business and the goal is to have more money coming in the door with both of you billing. Or you can hire a paralegal. You can’t bill her as high as you would a first year associate and you will have to supervise her work and still spend some time at the office. However, you can hire an experienced paralegal because paralegals make less than attorneys and with your budget you can pay a pretty competitive rate. You can then bill her out at $200, and all you have to do is review her work and supervise her activities in the office and with the rest of your time you can drum up more business.

Recently, while you were sitting in court you heard someone talk about the paralegals in their office. Even the guy down the street has one first year associate and two paralegals working for him. He seems to be doing well and his practice seems to be growing at a much faster pace than you. He also seems to have more time to go to seminars and meet with clients. You’ve always wondered how he did that.

Paralegals That’s how he did that.

Let me put into perspective for you. Let’s compare what you can do in both scenarios.

Remember when you first graduated law school? How many motions had you filed? Did you know how to navigate the court system? What clerks to call? Response schedules? Filing dates? You know, all the procedural stuff that you learned while working at that other law firm for the first two years of your career? Yeah, that’s what you’re going to get when you hire a first year associate. You will have to fully train that person. When you hire an experienced paralegal you don’t have to spend your time doing that. The paralegal already knows how to navigate the system, which motion to file when, what documents to sent with which motion, how to e-file and even, at times, which clerks are easier to work with.

Has your choice become easier now? How about this? The paralegal can prepare all the pleadings you need, reach out to clients and interview witnesses, draft your memos, organize your medical files, have all your discovery ready and organize before you come back from court at the end of the day. The beauty of that is that you will be paying this individual, with experience, probably half of what that first year associate would be asking.

Don’t get me wrong. I think that eventually you will and should hire that first year associate. Next year you can hire the associate and the paralegal can train him/her and the office will never miss a step.

Now, to develop a program where a paralegal can thrive? That’ll be my next post. Stay tuned.

 
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Posted by on September 28, 2011 in Attorneys, paralegal management

 

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For the Lawyers


In today’s economic times everyone is looking for most economical way of delivering services. The goal is to maintain the same type of client service for less cost. Ultimately, we all want to deliver the same product while spending less. For a law office, be it small or large, the best way to accomplish this goal is hire paralegals.

Ok, so you went ahead and did it. You put out an add in the local paper or called your local college and hired one paralegal. Now what?

The first thing I’d like you to consider is that paralegals are professionals. Let me repeat that … Paralegals are professionals. Most of us have career goals and aspirations as much as that first year associate you also just hired. As paralegals we would like, again just as that first year associate, to have a career path and know that there is a career track. Being a paralegal is not the end of the road for most of us. It is just the beginning.

So, this area of my blog is for the lawyers. See the tab up-there titled “For Attorneys.” These will be posts created especially for the hiring partners of the HR specialists that want to bring their practices to the next level.

In these posts we will discuss how to hire your paralegal staff, how to develop a paralegal program and how to train your paralegals to achieve optimum results. I say WE because the intent is to have this be an interactive discussion.

I look forward to working with you even if only virtually :)

 
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Posted by on August 10, 2011 in Attorneys

 

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“All Roads Lead to Rome”


This to say that there are many routes to get to where you want to be.  I get asked, many times, how I became a paralegal.  My professional ascension to the paralegal halls was not much different from those paralegals that have been in the profession for as long as I have.

While in college I thought I wanted to go to law school, however, all I knew about the law was from watching legal shows on television.  It all looked so glamorous.  They all had great cases and were all stars in court.  They all knew exactly what to say and always wore the nicest clothes.  Was that what I was wanting to be or did I really want to be a lawyer?  I decided that in order to better understand what a lawyer does I would have to spend time with lawyers.  I was determined to find a job in a law firm and give myself some time to decide what I wanted to do when I grew up.  I’m still waiting for the grow up part, but at least now I know that I am doing is exactly what I always wanted to do…. but I digress.

Growing up I lived in an area with a large population of Portuguese immigrants.  I can speak the language and I could translate, I thought.  I just needed to get my foot in the door.  I lived with my parents and they were going to pay for some of my college and the rest would be loans so I would not need that much money from a job.  Yeah, I was one of the lucky ones.

I searched the papers for any job postings in the area law offices.  There were some but most of them required experience.  As I said, unless they were looking for experience watching law shows, I was not going to qualify.  However, I have always believed that the only limitations are those you impose on yourself and I was determined to find something, therefore, I couldn’t let anything stop me.  I called one of the telephone numbers that was advertising for a legal secretary.  The advertisement called for someone with one or two years experience as a legal secretary and fluent knowledge of Portuguese.  Hmmm… I thought.  I have one of those.  So one out of two is not bad.  I made an appointment with the hiring partner.  It was a small firm, there was no Human Resources Department.  I interviewed with the attorney for whom I would be working.

After a few minutes of speaking with the attorney and explaining to him that I had never had a job in a law office or been a secretary.  Heck… the only thing I knew about typing was the one course I took in high school on how to type.  I could type a college paper but I had never taken dictation.  Yeah, in those days secretaries took dictation.  I started to realize that I was not going to get the job unless I was able to give him something he was not able to say no to.  So I explained to him that I was very fluent in Portuguese, I had just came from Portugal a few years prior and I would do all of his translations.  Although I could not, at that time, take dictation, I was willing to learn and I was a fast learner and I would work for him for free for three months in any position he chose.  If at the end of the three months I was not working out he could fire me, no questions asked.  He smiled.  He thought about it and right there and then he decided that he would give me a job.  He told me later that the reason he did that was that no one had ever been that eager to get a job and he thought that someone with that much “guts” would be a good worker.

I started out being a file clerk. I learned to tell the difference between a pleading that needed to be filed in the pleading board and interrogatories that needed to go into a discovery folder.  I learned how to type a request for medical records and what types of paperwork needed to be filed with a motion.  I read as much as I could while I filed all the millions of paper that are produced in a law office.  I asked questions when I couldn’t figure things out on my own and I made it a point to learn from everyone in the firm.  I even learned how each lawyer liked his coffee (there were only three lawyers).  I stayed late and started early and I made myself available when there was a need for witnesses for wills or other documents.

After the three months were up, the lawyer called me into a meeting with the other two partners and offered me the secretary position.  This is how I started.  I still had a lot to prove but I had a good foundation at this time.  Had this not worked out, I would have at least had the foundation and been able to get a job somewhere else and claim to at least have some knowledge and … If you think about it, my goal was reached.  If you recall when I decided to get the job I was only trying to find out if I wanted to go to law school.  I wanted to see what it would be like to be a lawyer.  After three months I had spent enough time with lawyers to at least have an idea if I wanted to attempt law school.

So that was my first job.  From that first job I’ve worked in other firms.  I was a legal secretary for very large law offices as well small law firms and sometime after I learned about paralegals.  I set my goals on becoming one.  I was always good at finding opportunities and when they arose I was never shy about taking them.  There is nothing like taking the bull by the horns.  Decide what you want to do and do it.

It has taken me close to seventeen years to get to where I am and along the way I decided that law school was not for me.  Ohhh I applied, was accepted, deferred my acceptance and ultimately decided that being a paralegal was exactly what I wanted to be.

Do you need to go to paralegal school?  For me it was not necessary.  I came into the profession at a totally different time.  The competition was not as steep as it is today.  Most lawyers didn’t know what a paralegal was or how to assign work to a paralegal.  Most of time the secretary would do all the work done by a paralegal today.  There were enough hours in a day for a secretary to accomplish both tasks.

Today I am a paralegal supervisor for a very large bank in New York.  I supervise a small paralegal department and looking towards my next goal.  I’ll keep this one to myself for now until I can figure out how to go about it.  It’s in the works.  Stay tuned.

So…, why does it always seem like I have such a long winded ways of saying things?  Anyway, there are many ways of becoming a paralegal.  Today, there are other opportunities you can take.  There are many schools that offer paralegal programs as well as internships.  Take every opportunity placed in front of you.  Keep your eye on your long term goal and go for it.  Don’t discount anything just because it does not fit into your immediate plan and have fun.

 
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Posted by on August 6, 2011 in paralegals

 

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