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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