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What Attorneys Really Think About Paralegals - The Inside Scoop

IStock_000013299835XSmall[1]Have you ever been curious, even just a tiny bit, about what attorneys really think about paralegals? You can use a little emotional intelligence that might help. You know the new science:  interpreting expressions, analyzing perceptions and evaluating emotions.

Or, you can go right to the source and just ask - which is exactly what I did. Why wait? The world goes around fast enough these days and with the speed careers move and change, right from the horse’s mouth seems to be the best bet to find out.

I went to Allen Brody, General Counsel for the Organization of Legal Professionals and an attorney for thirty years. He is also President for the Paralegal Knowledge Institute and teaches a number of online classes. The whipped cream on all of this is that he has worked closely with paralegals since almost the start of his career. I figured, who would know better?

Here’s what he told me:

CBE:  Let’s talk a little about how attorneys these days feel about paralegals.  In general, do they see a value?

ASB:     When I first started out, paralegals were a novelty, an added expense. There was a question mark, “What do I do with this person? This added payroll entry seemed like a luxury. That’s all gone by the wayside. Attorneys definitely see paralegals as a means to keeping costs under control; saving time by delegating certain work to a competent lower level and the ability to create a profit center. If attorneys don’t see this now, there’s something wrong somewhere, in my opinion.

CBE: Why do some attorneys fail to realize how paralegals can handle much more sophisticated work than what they are presently doing?

ASB:     Attorneys simply don’t know in what areas paralegals are trained. They have no clue what they learned in school, rarely take the time to find out and even if they did, they may not trust in the education. The flip side is that paralegals make an assumption an attorney is well-versed with what paralegals know. Not so. Personally, I’d like to see a class in law school on utilization of paralegals. Then there’s the problem of training. Few attorneys have time or the ability to personally train paralegals, It becomes much easier to keep them doing what they’re doing. It’s the old, “If it’s not broken, don’t try to fix it” routine.”

CBE: What’s the best way to approach an attorney for a higher level of work?

ASB: Don’t wait for the attorney to automatically hand you an assignment you haven’t done before. It’s probably not going to happen. You’re going to have to take the first step.  A good way to do that is to know what’s coming up. There’s a deposition? You need to find out when. Why? Because you’re going to give him/her a list of everything that you can do surrounding that deposition, even if it includes assignments you’ve never had before. It usually is not going to occur to the attorney that you can do these things. How would they know?

Let’s say there’s going to be some type of motion filed after the deposition. You need to approach the attorney well ahead of time and let him/her know that you can do the motion that is sure to follow.

Put him on notice. Don’t expect a negative answer because that’s what you’ll then get. Frame the question in such a way that they have no choice except to agree. Wrong question: “Would you like me to file the motion after the deposition?” Answer: “No.” Why would they answer “no”? It’s easier and you gave them a 50/50 chance of being negative. Too risky. Tighten up that ratio. Instead, say, “I can prepare the SuchandSuch motion for you after the deposition. Would you like it Thursday or would Wednesday be better?” Now, how can you argue with that?

CBE: What if the paralegal doesn’t know how to do that assignment?

ASB: Better find out. Don’t rely on the attorney to train you. Take a class or a webinar. Look it up. Seek out someone in the firm who can train you. Tell the attorney you have never done that type of assignment.  You’re going to have to sell him/her on the idea. Either get the training or let him know you have the training. Don’t sit there and wait.

What you do is bargain for time. “Look, an associate will take x amount of hours to do this assignment. I’ll take y. It will be less expensive for the client and free you up so that you can take on more sophisticated work. Let’s do this: I’ll spend x amount of hours on the assignment. I will bill half the time and put the other half in admin because of training. I will take ½ hour (or whatever) of your time to go over it and I won’t bill that time anywhere. The next time this kind of assignment comes up, you can automatically give it to me and we’ll both know it will be done properly.” There. You’ve just trained the trainer how to train you.

CBE: Let’s talk politics. Why can some attorneys work with paralegals until midnight but wouldn’t be caught dead having lunch with them. What’s with the caste system?

ASB: Arrogance. Don’t try to change things. It’s not going to happen. It’s not a reflection on you. It’s all about the attorney’s ego. These are things beyond your power to change.

CBE: What if the attorney sees me as his “golden girl/boy” and gives me too much work?

ASB: Get help. Always, always, figure out the revenue it’s going to generate. Otherwise, the firm sees this as an expense that is going to eat into their profit which is going to affect their bonus. You reach an attorney’s mind through profit and loss. If you’re in-house, figure out how much time you’re going to save that attorney and present it that way.

CBE: Do attorneys see paralegals as a threat to their billable hours?

ASB: The younger ones don’t. The older ones started practicing without paralegals. While a lot of them have gotten used to it, some habits are hard to change. Don’t worry. Those attorneys are going to retire soon. You’ll have a whole generation of attorneys who do not expect to practice law without a paralegal.

CBE: What’s the best way for a paralegal to get ahead?

Get training. Don’t just get CLE because your state requires it or you’re abiding by NALA’s requirements. Stay updated because you want to. Otherwise, you end up doing routine and repetitious work. Just clocking in and clocking out. You fall behind while everyone else moves ahead and you don’t know why you’re not getting good raises or juicy assignments. It’s because you expect the firm to “take care of you” or pay for your training. Not a good way to advance. With anything you want via the Internet available at your fingertips via the Internet, it’s behind the times not to seek out additional training.

Remember: Attorneys are required to get CLE and like attracts like. If you’re not constantly getting more education, attorneys are not likely to hold you in as high esteem as they could. This is a group that values education.

You have to let them know that you receive more education all of the time. Mention it in a conversation. “In my suchandsuch course I’m taking…” or send them an article that relates to a matter they are currently involved and say, “We discussed this in a webinar yesterday and I thought you might find it of interest.” Get the word out. You are your own PR machine. Take advantage of it. Attorneys will only tolerate stagnation so far.

I recall one paralegal telling me that her firm is just going to have to deal with the fact that she is not very good when it comes to technology. Oh, really? This entitlement attitude is not going to fly. Paralegals cannot exist today without technology. Attorneys will not admit it but they rely on paralegals to handle the technology or to teach them what to do. I give this paralegal six months before she’s out on her you-know-what.

CBE: Your best advice to paralegals coming right from an attorney who works closely with them and who trains them is……

ASB. Think about the future of your career. Things are changing. 

So You Think You're So Smart: IQ vs. EQ

BrainOur guest blogger today is Donald Billings who has a thing or two to say about emotional intelligence.  Donald is a well-known legal technologist with a major law firm. Whatever he says, I have to sit up and listen.

Now, I have to admit, I'm not an expert on the topic of emotional intelligence but apparently, whether we believe EQ is a current fad or is here to stay, it's has been taken quite seriously in the past few years. Here's Donald:

When it’s time to hire, we legal technologists usually go for two skillsets: technical and business.

Of course, that’s not surprising; our work is often complex and risky.  However, when evaluating skills or even culture fit, we often overlook the fact that the same personality traits that make us great at the technical aspects of our job can lead to challenges when dealing with the more humanistic elements of the business. 

Although IQ plays an important role in personal success, especially in complex disciplines such as the sciences, studies have demonstrated that emotional intelligence—or EQ—can play an even more important role. In fact, experts in this field argue that IQ contributes only 20% to life success. 

Which means that the majority of your achievements come from emotional intelligence.

So it stands to reason that mastering emotional intelligence and understanding professional interpersonal relationships in today’s workplace should be considered as much a core skill or competency as technical ability or general business acumen.

Do as I do 
An emotionally intelligent leader is adept at recognizing and examining his or her emotional responses in an honest an introspective fashion. When we are better able to understand the strengths and weaknesses of our own personalities, we can avoid many of the triggers that often result in unnecessary workplace conflict or tension. 

This can be particularly useful for those of us who spend significant time supporting or servicing the litigation industry, where our internal/external clients are trained to engage and argue for a living.  In these situations, failing to hire—or to develop—emotionally intelligent staff can result in unproductive debates, or worse, escalating conflicts that might otherwise have been de-escalated (or never have occurred in the first place). 

When we fail to understand emotional intelligence, we risk allowing our emotions to mimic or further influence negative emotions around us. This can create a feedback loop in which negativity and conflict build to a point where even the most trivial disagreement can derail a project, or (in an extreme example) irreparably damage business relationships.  

We’ve all experienced situations where tensions were high, voices were raised, and both verbal and non-verbal communication led to what can best be described as non-constructive dialogue.  Recognizing and managing our emotional responses as they are occurring allows us to more easily avoid or defuse many of these situations.  

So what are some of the markers of Emotional Intelligence?  Goleman argues that first and foremost is: 

Ability to empathize with others.  Whether it’s a client, a member of your staff, or that angry person standing in front of you at the grocery checkout, what’s paramount is not just listening to what a person is saying, but truly empathizing with his position.  However, it’s important not to confuse empathy with agreement. When you empathize, it doesn’t necessarily mean that you agree with another person’s position, merely that you understand her perspective. Remember, the more self-aware you are, the more skilled you will become at reading other people’s feelings.

Understand and recognize your personal biases.  We all view the world through our own individual lens that was shaped and honed by our cultural, educational, and experiential influences.  That lens shapes our perspective and how we view the world and others.  As a result, two individuals looking at the same set of circumstances may come to two completely different conclusions.  Are you looking at the problem from the lens of the technologist? If so, is that influencing your position in a way that someone without a technical background might not understand?

Focus on relationship management, not just people management.  The ability to express feelings is a key social skill, and emotions are often contagious.  As managers, it’s important to realize that we send emotional signals during each and every encounter, and our staff, clients, and others around us may actually mimic our emotions.  During social interactions, people tend to mirror the body language of those around them, leading to what’s known as “mood coordination.” The better you are at reading others, the more effectively you can control the signals you send. This awareness will help you to manage the effect you have on others.


Goleman, D. (2005). Emotional Intelligence. New York, NY: Bantam Books.

Goleman, D., & Boyatzis, R. (2008). Social intelligence and the biology of leadership. Harvard Business

Review, 86(9), 74–81. 

About the Author: Donald Billings has 20 years of experience in leadership, entrepreneurial, and consultative roles serving global law firms, fortune 100 companies, and non-profits.

He holds a B.Sc in computer science/software engineering, master certificates in business administration, legal studies, and information security management, and an M.Sc in leadership with a focus in innovation & technology. He is currently pursuing a doctorate in business administration with a focus in technology entrepreneurship.





Stand Out...Don't Just be Outstanding: Be Out-Rage-Ous

Be Out-Rage-Ous....Not Just Out of the Box....

Today we have the pleasure of Mark Gorkin, MSW, LICSW, the "Stress Doc" as our guest blogger. Enjoy!

GorkinMark2Early on in my migration to the Internet, I christened myself AOL’s “Online Psychohumorist” ™.  Along with a part-time psychotherapy practice and the moniker “Stress Doc” ™, I was writing short psychological pieces for both AOL and Rick Estep’s pioneering jokes/humor newsletter.  My stories were infused with a strong dose of wit and humor.  

Throw in the myriad DSM-psychiatric labels strewn on both sides of my family tree…well the title definitely seemed apt.  It certainly helped me “stand out.”  In fact, a health reporter from a Canadian newspaper called wondering just what an “Online Psychohumorist” was.  She had never heard the “Psychohumorist” term, let alone an Internet variety.  (Btw, this was all happening around 1994-95.  Actually, two years earlier, awakening from a semi-conscious/dream-like state had produced a similar role- and box-breaking epiphany.  What was a psychotherapist-university professor doing writing rap-like lyrics?  Of course, I was pioneering “Shrink Rap” ™.)
However, my invented neologism wasn’t simply clever thinking.  I had broken out of the semantic box by integrating two seemingly contradictory knowledge-emotion-role sets – the serious mind-space of psychotherapy as well as the playfully evocative world of applied humor.  (As outlined in Part II of this series, perhaps even then I was putting what I now call my new KISS into action:  Keep It Simple and Smart; email for the essay.)
And when wearing a Blues Brothers hat, black sunglasses, and banging a black tambourine, and prancing around the room while performing a “Shrink Rap” ™, I can imagine folks speculating on from where the “Stress Doc” had recently “broken out.”  (In fact, most are amazed at my courage.  I simply aver that despite years of all kinds of therapy, I have just one singular accomplishment:  Absolutely no appropriate sense of shame!)
Being able to poke fun at my own psyche not only is self-effacing but also liberating, e.g., I casually say to audiences:  “I’ll let you all decide where the emphasis on the word ‘psycho-humorist’ should go.”  I’m comfortable being out there, fulfilling my existential mission…being a wise man and a wise guy.  And I’m standing out even more by being “Out-Rage-ous”!
Harnessing the “Rage” in Out-Rage-ous
These days, akin to the newscaster in the classic movie “Network,” a lot of folks are verbalizing – whether dramatically or more covertly:  “I’m mad as hell and I’m not taking it anymore.”
Clearly, we need leaders who can reach out to these folks and, as Lincoln hoped, acknowledge their base pain, (recognize and respond to the political-economic inequality and moral issues facing the country), and encourage our “greater angels.”  We certainly don’t need more communicators stirring up a hornet’s nest of “buzzin, bloomin confusion” and scapegoating division.  Invariably, the so-called authority’s self-righteous rant becomes a smoke and mirrors cover for personal egotism and venom as well as consuming ambitions.
We hunger for enlightened communicators who will purposefully and compassionately touch rather than provocatively trigger rage.  A healing and harmonizing leader wants to harness and transform individual and/or group frustration or aggression into constructive discontent. The aspiring inspiring communicator wants to turn that aggression into proactive vision, purposeful and hopeful energy, and collaborative action.  Such a challenging figure believes in breaking down barriers – whether personal or social, mental or external – in order to build “performance and partnership” bridges of expanded openness and opportunity, of greater trust, productivity, and team synergy.
Pushing the Boundaries
To do this may require pushing the boundaries of the predictable and comfortable.  In fact, the Old French derivation of outrageous is “to push the bounds” or “to be highly unusual or unconventional”; okay, sometimes it means “being shocking.”  One appears unrestrained (if not on the edge) regarding behavior or temperament.
Not surprisingly pushing bounds or borders often challenges perspective, e.g., upending “black or white” assumptions or creating shades of gray in someone’s “only one right way” world.  That is, a key component of being out-rage-ous involves challenging a person/position bounded or blinded by rage or self-righteousness or rigid expectations.
A conscious boundary pusher, not wanting to be arrogantly righteous, often generates contrast through contradiction, but not by pummeling the head nor by shaming the heart of a message target.  (This only numbs the brain or eventually fuels more rage.)   Remember, optimal contrast is neither full of rage nor full of itself; it is “out-rage-ous.”  Such contrast pushes boundaries until they loosen up, perhaps reveal a crack in the armor, or even break; but “out-rage-ous” does not blow up boundaries or bodies for dominance or violence sake.  You are trying to have others consider a less rigid and more open world view.  Contrast used “aware-ily” (with awareness and some wariness, or, even better, playfully or humorously) is less likely to evoke defensive reactivity; it has a better chance of stirring a degree of mind-opening cognitive dissonance and reassessment.
The Other Side of Conflict:  Of Four Minds
If not feeling personally threatened or attacked, a previously one-sided individual may now tolerate some immediate confusion, and move through initial angst or discomfort to see another side of contradiction or conflict.  Building upon the Free Dictionary, “conflict” is not only the clash or struggle of individual or social positions or ideas.  From a psychological perspective, conflict is “the opposition between two simultaneous but incompatible wishes or drives, sometimes leading to a state of emotional tension and thought to be responsible for neuroses”…but as frequently a generator of mind exploration and expansion as well as creative expression.
Consider these four insightful and varying shades of – out-rage-ous viewpoints on the mind-expanding power of integrating or transforming contradiction and conflict:
1.  Sign of Vital Intelligence.  As F. Scott Fitzgerald penned, and many other leading scientists and artists have averred:  The test of a first rate intellect is the capacity to hold two opposed ideas in the mind at the same time and still retain the ability to function.  For example, one should see things as hopeless yet be determined to make them otherwise.
2.  Surprising Example of Wit.  National author and humorist, Mark Twain, further activated and consolidated this “higher contradiction” process by defining “wit” as the sudden marriage of ideas which before their union were not perceived to have any relation.  (So opposites may attract; how long this provocative union will last, and whether it will sire any brainchildren…only tension, some talent, and time will tell.)
3.  Challenge for Higher Synthesis and Flow.  The tension of opposites – thesis and antithesis – challenges the mind to achieve greater synthesis, to integrate contradiction with Janusian perspective. Such a conception reflects the double-profiled, Roman god, Janus, the mythological figurehead of both leavings and returns.  For psychiatrist and author Albert Rothenberg, “Janusian thinking” is a Western version of the ancient East’s Yin/Yang paradoxical perspective, that is, the holistic and synergistic relating and flowing together of opposing elements or forces.
4.  Mind-Body Link across Creative Domains.  And 20th c. political novelist-philosopher and student of creativity, Arthur Koestler, saw a mental and vocal linkage when connecting unexpected or seemingly disparate ideas or elements, but not just within the field of wit and humor.  Koestler made a cognitive-expressive association in the arts and sciences as well:  When we suddenly “get it” or “see it”…when appreciating a piece of art we say, “Ah”; with scientific discovery we exclaim, “Aha”; and when we laugh it is, “Ha-ha!
Conflict, seeming contradiction, and “out-rage-ous” contrast…all have the potential to be communicative and creative catalysts.  To quote John Dewey, 19th century pragmatic philosopher and father of modern American education:  Conflict is the gadfly of thought. It stirs us to observation and memory; it shocks us out of sheep-like passivity.  It instigates to invention and sets us at noting and contriving.  Conflict is the sine qua non of reflection and ingenuity!
And I have come up with a moniker, actually, a conceptual tool kit, for “standing out” and “being out-rage-ous,” for adding communicational, ideational, and inspirational PUNCH:  Passion-(the) Unexpected-Novelty-Creativity-Humor.  Will share more shortly.  Until then, in F. Scott fashion… be “Out-rage-ous” and Practice Safe Stress!
Mark Gorkin, MSW, LICSW, "The Stress Doc" ™, a Licensed Clinical Social Worker, is a national keynote and webinar speaker and "Motivational Humorist & Team Communication Catalyst" known for his interactive, inspiring and FUN programs for both government agencies and major corporations.  A training and Critical Incident/Grief Intervention Consultant for the National EAP/Wellness Company, Business Health Services in Baltimore, MD, the Doc also leads “Stress, Team Building and Humor” programs for various branches of the Armed Services.  Mark, a former Stress and Violence Prevention Consultant for the US Postal Service, is the author of Resiliency Rap,Practice Safe Stress, and of The Four Faces of Anger.  See his award-winning, USA Today Online "HotSite" – – called a "workplace resource" by National Public Radio (NPR).  For more info on the Doc's "Practice Safe Stress" programs or to receive his free e-newsletter, email
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