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The Old Gray Mare - Is She Still What She Used to Be? Ageism and Paralegals

Guest Blogger: Raul Estravit

This popular post first appeared in The Estrin Report in 2013.

EstravitRaulI started my paralegal career back in 1984 by cutting my teeth on the AT&T v. MCI Telecommunications anti-trust case. This is the case that broke up AT&T ("Ma-Bell") and allowed the world to go on and have all of the new telecommunication devices we now enjoy. I was on the "Damages Team" and we were able to prove damages caused by AT&T against all other competitors who were trying to enter the telecommunications market. 

At that time, I was also attending Golden Gate University where I graduated summa cum laude in Political Science and Business Administration.  Once I graduated and the case was over, I was hired by Gibson Dunn & Crutcher (a major law firm) and eventually became the Senior Paralegal of the firm.  I brought Gibson what was then the new frontier of digital technology. The term "Litigation Support" was not a term-of-art at that time.  The firm just did not know what to call me, so we used the term "Technical Paralegal". 

Around 1989-1990, I introduced Gibson to scanning and coding documents. We used the first version of Concordance to keep track of a very large securities case for a very large client. The documents ranged in the hundreds of thousands of documents resulting in a few million pages. 

One of the highlights of my life was when I was invited to have lunch with President Reagan up at his office in Century City (California). This was back in 1993.  While I was at Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher, I was the paralegal who assisted with the building permits of the Reagan Library and secured the permits for his burial there. He wanted to meet and thank me personally. 

Several years later, I was recruited by Chere Estrin for a case that took me to another law firm.  I landed in the island of Guam where I sharpened my technology skills. I was exposed and embraced the world of  Trial Technology. I learned the popular software program, Trial Director, when it was in its separate component format. There I was, supporting a construction defect case trial on the Island of Guam that lasted 366 days.

Not only did I run the trial but ran the servers, acted as the Help Desk for work stations at all of
the attorney desktops and staff computers.  While in Guam, I managed the network and VPN.
I also managed an ongoing coding project that involved approximately a dozen paralegals in our Los Angeles office. This was a big challenge and a great case.  Our firm won a very substantial
sum of money for our client.

I have had the honor to work on or successfully manage some of the largest litigation matters in our country's history and work alongside of some of the most well-known and respected attorneys.  It has been challenging but I have always learned new methods and have been able to test and prove my own metal in the heat of litigation wars. It has been rewarding on many different levels including job satisfaction, challenges and yes, financially.

I have embraced litigation support tools and applications and am certified in many different applications.  When asked by students what is my single most important key to success (besides skills), I tell them that I leveraged my experience and knowledge.  I had to. The legal world is moving very rapidly and staying ahead of the game is vital to your career. I am now in the process of getting my eDiscovery certification from OLP!   I have found OLP to be one of the best online training organizations for the advancement of your career.

I love this career but it does have the same unlawful circumstances as all others. At a recent position, I found myself in the terrible situation of age discrimination. I was basically led out the door. My supervisor remarked to me on two separate occasions that I may be "too old" for the type of work I was doing.  At the time he said this, I had reached the age of 54. The supervisor was 46.  

A few weeks after the second “you’re too old” remark, I was let go - even though my reviews were excellent.  In California, you can be let go for a reason or for no reason.  You cannot be let go for illegal reasons.  I have yet to be informed why I was dismissed but I don’t think it takes a brainard to figure it out. 

After that potentially career-busting experience came the interviews.  I was pretty discouraged because I was not receiving the type of offers I am accustomed to, even with a pretty extensive work history.   Although the average age of entry-level paralegal is 36-38, unfortunately, it has been my experience  that age does matter.

After being let-go and experiencing several rejections for jobs, I refused to let myself sit around.  I gave myself another opportunity by opening my own shingle called "Encore Litigation and Trial Technology Services".

Not only can I consult and manage databases, oversee processing and transfer of data into usable databases such as Concordance and Relativity but I also consult and instruct with attorneys and paralegals on effective and efficient ways to work with these applications. Thus far, it has been great! In the past four months, I have already successfully completed three trials and consulted with two different law firms on various software and databases.

Going solo as a hired gun can be scary but with a little smart marketing, leveraging of your
background and skill set, remaining competitive in pricing and rates, you just never know where you can end up. Recently, I have been retained by a large court reporting agency for a very large international client. I am their "go to" guy for everything involving trial technology and litigation support. 

Ageism is definitely out there - even in firms where people ought to know how to adhere to the law. The struggle against it remains.  You won't win this battle by yourself, it takes a community. However, I have found that life can be good on the other side. You just have to believe in yourself and try. 

Raul Estravit
EncoreLitigationServices@gmail.com

Organization of Legal Professionals (OLP ) is offering a new online certificate program in Legal Project Management.  If you are a seasoned vet or are seeking to enter this hot field, you can benefit from this online, interactive program taught and designed by top experts.  For more info:  www.theolp.org.


Licensing Paralegals? Now? Whoa! Hold down there, Big Fella

Hot.iStock_000016332605XSmall[1]This business of licensing paralegals is a hot topic.  I wrote about this some time ago and interestingly, received a number of comments but not to The Estrin Report.  The e-mails came to my business address.  Why?

It may be a touchy area for some paralegals who don't want their colleagues knowing how they feel about licensing.  It's a bit like like letting your workplace know whether you are Democrat or Republican.  It affects your business relationships.

I have always maintained that this still relatively new field (about 40 years old) did not go about establishing itself correctly.  It's been piecemeal, guessing or improvising at best. Why?  Originally, no formal training was required and in most states, still isn't.  The position originated from the legal secretary until administrators and attorneys finally figured out that there were secretarial duties that could be billed.  The problem was, clients would not pay for secretarial duties and the assignments evolving were more sophisticated than the typical secretarial job.  Although there were some pretty fine educational institutions that developed, basically anyone who wanted to could call themselves a paralegal - and did - in all 50 states.  This went on for years and years - and still goes on in the majority of states.

It is only in the past 10 years or so that some states such as California, set up mandatory undergrad and continuing legal education requirements.  Several other states followed but only in the past 2-4 years. There are about 13 states now requiring some form of mandatory education for paralegals.  This means over 75% of 50 states employing approximately 300,000 paralegals or paralegal type positions allow anyone who wants to call themselves a paralegal.  We haven't even mentioned document processors or folks who deliver legal services directly to the public.

Recently, licensing paralegals came about in Ontario, Canada and created a new set of standards for paralegals. Washington state has come face-to-face with it and California has it under consideration. However, most licensing considerations in the states involve those who provide services directly to the public and are no longer considered paralegals. They have brand new names such as legal technician or Legal Document Assistants. (Definitely a topic for another post.)

Maybe it's because I've gotten older that I've also gotten more patient.  The field needs to take one step back before states can jump into the river and demand  licensing. Given the paralegal field is getting a late start with entry requirements, licensing should wait.  It doesn't seem to be able to fit into most states structures somehow set in concrete.

California, for example, considered licensing paralegals some years ago but the agency that would oversee the licenses was to be the California Department of Consumer Affairs. That agency licenses dogs, cosmeticians, morticians and others except, of course, attorneys. Before anxious paralegals start crowding into testing rooms demanding to be licensed, why wouldn't the field make sure that first, paralegals were evenly and equally trained and that certain admission standards are set in place to become a paralegal?  Isn't licensing putting the cart before the horse?

Generally, to be a lawyer, a candidate must complete eight years of education before getting
a license. That's the accepted standard throughout the US.   A nurse must complete certain educational requirements before obtaining a license. How can paralegals obtain a license with inadequate training or education?  Just because they pass one test?  That hardly looks at the whole
picture of what a paralegal is about.

True, Florida now has a certain number of CLEs required per year for paralegals but when did that start?  A few years ago?  So, let me think........Hmmm.......if a state such as California demands four CLE units every two years that means in the past 4 years, a paralegal would have 8 hours of training. (One day in four years.)  That training could consist of one hour webinars, CLE approved, that quite possibly were overviews of generalized topics given by a vendor whose underlying purpose is really selling software.  Not a comforting thought.

Sure, you might say.  But the paralegal has on-the-job training.  Not so fast, here.  The biggest negative about on-the-job training is degenerative training.  Most paralegals are in firms that do not have a formal training program or, they are included in the firm's in-house attorney CLEs that do not address the paralegal assignment.  In fact, very few firms have training programs.  The big training dollars are usually spent on associates who will eventually make big revenue generating partners - not on paralegals nor staff.  Let's explain degenerative training:

A seasoned paralegal who may have a lot of knowledge but is not trained as a qualified teacher is given the task of training a new paralegal.  The seasoned paralegal says, "Well, I'm a 10, you're a 10 - everyone in the room is a 10.  I don't really need a 10 to do this job."  So the 10 hires and trains a 9.  Time goes on.  The 9 is now given the task to hire and train someone and says, "I'm a 10, you're a 10, everyone in the room is a 10.  I don't really need to train someone as a 10."  So the 9 hires and trains an 8."  The 8 says.......and hires and trains a 7. You get the picture. Pretty soon you walk into a room full of 4's and you don't know what hit you.

Paralegals need to come together to accomplish a standard of training and education first before licensing is even considered.  While licensing may accomplish a seemingly higher standard, you can't get anywhere in this world today without comprehensive training.  The paralegal field is no exception. These are not the days when the duties of a paralegal are Bates stamping 1,000 documents and arranging them in chronological order.  Responsibilities for many now include assignments previously performed by first and second year associates.

It's a whole different world out there.  Putting things in order is one of the basic duties for paralegals.  Let's clean our own house first before we go on to others.  Education first, regulation second, licensing later - maybe.

Join the discussion! Come to the "Meet UP!" on April 22nd. This teleconference is hosted by the Paralegal Internet Association (www.paralegalinternet.com), a new association with over 700 paralegals worldwide.  Get heard and get known. It's the best career move you can make.


OLP Launches the First Litigation Support Certification Exam: First of its kind will set industry standards

Logo.CLSP.gold.initials.largeLOS ANGELES – The Organization of Legal Professionals, an industry group that includes some of the most respected legal technology thought leaders in the field, announced today that it has finalized preparations for its Litigation Support Certification Exam.  The exam, developed in conjunction with Pearson Learning Solutions, a $7 billion company that specializes in certification examinations for a wide variety of industries, incorporates content created by OLP members including eDiscovery and legal technology lawyers, consultants and experts. OLP is the first organization to offer a Litigation Support Certification Exam.

 

     OLP’s two-hour certification exam covers five primary areas in Litigation Support. Professionals wishing to sit for the exam may apply by going to the website and downloading the Candidate Handbook at www.theolp.org.  
 

     Over 32 high-profile attorneys, law professors, litigation support managers, consultants, and Ph.D.s have contributed to the development of the content of OLP's Certification Exam.  The process took over 18 months of development.

     OLP’s goal in developing and administering a Litigation Support Certification Examination is to establish a standard that can be immediately recognized as a symbol of excellence and signify that an individual has demonstrated the knowledge and skills required to perform competently in today's complex legal technology.  The CLSP or Certified Litigation Support Professional designation will be awarded after the candidate passes a rigorous test, has their backgrounds and work experience checked and submits an extensive application.

     The CLSP is also available through the Paralegal Knowledge Institute, an excellent continuing legal education organization created specifically for experienced paralegals (www.paralegalknowledge.com).

About The Organization of Legal Professionals (OLP)

     The OLP drives education and best practices and provides certification for those involved in complex litigation support. Through its programs, the OLP ensures the requisite level of competency in complicated disciplines -- including trial support, eDiscovery and legal technology -- is met. It is the only organization whose members represent all sectors of the legal profession:  attorneys, paralegals, technical support staff, litigation support professionals, consultants, legal service providers, software developers and the judiciary.

For more information: www.theolp.org, www.paralegalknowledge.com.

     Here's a terrific way to push your career forward and get the recognition you deserve for your expertise. Litigation Support Managers can make salaries of $150,000 or more. This is an exciting and forward-thinking action you can take to move up an otherwise limited climb up the paralegal career ladder.

Sign-up for the Certification Exam today!  Become a charter member of certified CLSP®’s!  www.theolp.org

 

 


 


Paralegal Knowledge Institute is offering the first Litigation Support Certification Exam in the country! This sophisticated exam was designed by 32 OLP technology experts and two Ph.D.s together with Pearson, a $7 billion company that specializes in certification exams such as GMAT, GMRE, LSAT and more. Here's a great way to demonstrate to your firm and clients that you have the expertise required to do an outstanding job. A great career booster as well. For more info go to www.paralegalknowledge.com .