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Paralegal Predictions for 2015: Probable, Paralyzing or Positive?

                               2015!
Predictions for each new year is a c**pshoot. How can you know? Based on what? I'm going to stick my neck out here and say that most likely, predictions are based upon the previous year's trends. They certainly don't come out of the blue. Really now, predictions shouldn't come as any surprise to anyone. That is if you've kept up with facts, forecasts and fantasies.  OK, I've missed a few here and there. However, let me try my hand at five and at the end of 2015, let's see how close I came. I'll bet anyone $.25 on these. I don't go more than $.25.

 1.    Paralegals will be allowed to go to court and appear in front of a judge. They will be allowed to present uncontested motions for signing, default judgments, get court dates and more - perhaps name changes and adoptions. I have always forecast that the paralegal field will mimic the nursing field in formation of hierarchy i.e., nurse's aide, licensed vocational nurse, R.N., Nurse Practitioner. Some states, such as Washington, have allowed paralegals to appear in front of a judge for more than 25 years. However, most states haven't even thought about it yet and many people are simply horrified at the very idea.

2.    More entry-level associate work will be delegated to paralegals. Not such a new prediction. However, we'll see more of it in 2015 than ever before. There's a new billing technique called "blended-rates." This is where the firm bills the client by joining attorneys with high billable rates in combination with lower billing employees for an client average rate. You might think that the firm would get more money by blending with an associate. However, associate rates have gotten so high, that the attorney/associate blended-rate would no longer look like a good deal. (Paralegals beware: all of these changes mean that you are going to absolutely, positively need to stay on top of all changes in the legal field and push CLE to the max.)

3.    Fewer law school admissions equates to fewer associates equating to more hiring of paralegals - a field that apparently is having no trouble attracting students. If you take a look at any recession, enrollments are always up during and down immediately after. Combine that with fewer jobs for lawyers and well, bingo, more need for paralegals. Someone has to do the work. I can't remember the last time I saw a managing partner of a major firm asking a judge for a default judgment.

4.    Demand for paralegals with expert technology skills will be even greater. More times than we'd like to admit, firms with a need to hire technology experts with top-notch experience have a hard time finding that candidate. Firms go outside of the legal field for IT. Problem with that is, the candidate has no legal background and most firms have no means to train. What we need to do is encourage paralegals to get more technology training beyond the user-friendly stage and also recruit paralegal students right from the technology field. The average age of paralegal student is around 36-38 anyway. There's bound to be some technology career transitioners in there who would like to come over to legal.

5.    Limited licensing will emerge. Right now, Ontario, Canada licenses paralegals. California and other states have the issue under consideration. The question as to whether licensing paralegals is a good idea has been around for almost as long as the paralegal field - since the late '70's. In fact, I was once a guest speaker for a California paralegal group and predicted that licensing was on its way. I can't tell you how many years ago this was but it seems like around 20. (So, I was a little ahead of the trend.)   Honestly, they were so mad at me for that prediction that I don't think anyone applauded. In fact, I seem to remember a long silence until someone (probably feeling sorry for me) started a solo clap. The rest did follow but oh, ever so lightly. 

That's it! There are lots more predictions in sight. Tell me yours. It's always enlightening to hear opinions - it sure does makes the field go 'round.   

 


What's Hot - What's Not: How To Be Left in the Dust Without Even Trying

ChangeWe try to follow Robert Denny at www.robertdenney.com for what's hot - what's not. There are tons of Nots and Hots around, however, Denny seems to have his predictions right. 

Here is what he says is slated to happen in 2015. My take on things is that he's probably 95% correct for lawyers. But then again, I'm only concerned with paralegals and sometimes what's hot doesn't always apply to high volumes of paralegals. I'll explain below.

What's Red Hot:

Intellectual Property.  Hot for paralegals? Yes.
Trademarks and Patent Prosecution have become Red Hot due to the rise of social media and the increase in branding. Patent Litigation is Red Hot due to Congress’s failure to address patent reform and patent trolls’ continued licensing and suits.  

Labor & Employment: While hot for lawyers, this area has never really hired the number of paralegals it could. In-house legal departments use a good deal of labor & employment paralegals. However, law firms could certainly utilize paralegals a lot more.  The trick is to shake loose some of those assignments from first years.

Technology: Will become Red Red Hot if patent reform finally occurs next year, says Denny. I think he's talking about the specialty in representing tech companies.

But let's not dismiss technology as a skill. Here's is probably the hottest area for paralegals right now. No longer are paralegals expected to get along without thoroughly knowing technology. That applies for any practice specialty. If you don't know technology, get your head out of the sand. You're simply going to be out of a job and pretty soon.

Hot:

Energy: Yep. However, this is more regional: Texas, Oklahoma.......looks more likely to hire. Where are the oil and gas company headquarters? That's where you'll find the legal departments and you can take it from there.

Litigation: Most bet-the-company cases are still going to the big firms but many of the
other cases are going to mid-size and boutique firms. Much of the work is still on an hourly
basis although there appear to be more contingency arrangements.

What does this mean to paralegals? Litigation has always been the biggest arena for paralegals in a multitude of specialties. Let's examine contingency arrangements, however. This means that you're going to have to get your act together in terms of how efficient you are. If you're taking one hour to draft a 5 page memo, that's going to have to decrease to half an hour. Why? The less hours it takes to do a project, the more money the firm makes. And you're there as a revenue generator. I don't care how much fun you're having.

Environmental: On the companies’ side, fracking continues to be a major issue. As long as I can remember, this speciality is up and down for paralegals. 

White Collar Crime: Involves many areas including government, health care, tax and
intellectual property. Finally, a new road for paralegals.

Health Care: Adding to the heat are billing investigations and complaints from patients on
HIPAA compliance along with self-reports related to privacy and security breaches. Always a good avenue for paralegals.

IPOs: This could cool off next year if the market tumbles again. Another area that's up and down. Traditionally, there are few well-trained corporate paralegals. But they can make some big bucks if they specialize in transactional mergers & acquisitions. We're not talking about corporate maintenance here. Unfortunately, the economy dips, so do mergers and oops! you're the first to be laid off. Pays well, very risky. Ditto for real estate.

Getting Hot

Elder Law: Although not much discussed, this area continues to grow because people need
to make changes in their estate plans since they are living longer. Some firms now have
paralegals who research life care facilities and retirement homes to help clients select one
they can afford and that can provide the care they currently or eventually will need.

I've heard this one about Elder Law getting hot now for years and years. But 'lo and behold! Baby Boomers are starting to retire - at least they hope so. 

Gay Marriage Rights: At least 30 of the largest firms are representing challenges to state
laws banning same-sex marriage. Here's a brand new blossoming area for all legal professionals.

Will Get Hot: 

Immigration: The real money is in business immigration. That's where they're bringing in jewelers, cooks, tech professionals, sports professionals. Pay attention, particularly with all the new upcoming changes in the laws.

Geographical:

London: U.S. firms continue to enter the market in several ways: U.S./U.K. mergers such
as Sutherland and U.K. energy boutique Asbil; U.S. mergers such as Squire Sanders and
Patton Boggs; and office openings by mid-size U.S. firms including Butler Snow.  Pay attention! If you want to work overseas, check what firms want to send American paralegals. This could be fun, lucrative and look stunning on your resume.

Mexico: Economic reforms intended to spur foreign investment continue to attract major
global firms such has Hogan Lowells which has merged with a prominent Mexican firm with
offices in Mexico City and Monterey. Don't overlook firms who will need international Spanish speaking paralegals with good business sense.

Houston: It’s not just energy that is attracting new firms but also a booming deal market. Wilkie Farr & Gallagher is one of the most recent to open an office there. OK, so it gets pretty humid there. Take lots of showers.

California/Asia: Some of the larger California firms continue to open offices in Asia, as Denny
has been reporting, or send lawyers to various Asian countries. I don't see why paralegals can't be included in these journeys.

Cleveland: Who knew? This is due to the expansion and acceptance of mid-sized firms. Don't underestimate the consolidation of large firms and the preference of many corporate clients for mid-size and boutique firms. They're just cheaper and that's what clients want today.

Business Development. Denny lists these to look at how firms are expanding. I'm looking at it as new horizons for paralegals. There's absolutely no reason why paralegals can't handle some of these positions. That's why your previous careers are so important. Leverage them, folks. Leverage!

Pricing Directors: Probably over 50% of the AmLaw 200 have created this position. In
addition to being involved in developing responses to RFPs, the PD is often involved in
project management. Project management!!!! Hey! I've been preaching to paralegals for a few years now, LEARN PROJECT MANAGEMENT. Ride the horse in the direction it's going.  In mid-size firms, the COO may fill the role of PD.

Client Interviews: Their importance is acknowledged by a slowly growing number of firms but even in some of these firms there is debate on who should conduct them: Managing Partner? Member of the client service team? Member of the Marketing department? Third Party? Denny's experience is that it depends on the firm’s objective. To further cement client relationships, the MP is best if properly prepared. Who can prepare MP's? Paralegals, that's who.  

Content Marketing: Some firms are hiring content specialists to provide material that is
relevant to clients’ industries and to ensure that it is reaching the correct audiences. Let's see. Paralegals = factual research plus good writing skills. You don't have to be a former journalist to seek out a position here. Think! Invent! Create! That's how you move into newly created positions or create them in the firm yourself. Take the risk!

Marketing Department Recruiting: Firms are having difficulty finding CMOs as well as
senior managers and directors because many are changing firms or even leaving the profes-
sion. The reason? $$$. Here's one area that has fallen to paralegals in some firms. It's my belief this has not necessarily been a good match. However, there is one former paralegal who has reached unprecedented heights in a top New York firm as the Chief Marketing Director. There are always exceptions. Why not be one of them?

OTHER TRENDS & ISSUES – New, Old, Hot or Cold
Cybersecurity is becoming the #1 concern of law firms – as it should be.  Take a look at the latest breaches: Sony, the US government, big box stores, and more. 

A  recent survey says over half of firms employing 300-plus staff in the U.K. said they would hire hackers – and even ex-convicts! – to work with their security teams. Global banks such as J.P. Morgan Chase and UBS, in addition to recruiting cybersecurity staff, are subjecting their law firms, small as well as large, to greater scrutiny about security risks.  Paralegals: what is the one topic that lawyers will not admit they are weakest in but there's a pony in there somewhere: they will not admit they know very little about technology. Now's your chance. (But really, I don't think it's a wise idea to admit you've been a hacker....)

Project Management: Red Hot because it produces efficiency, fee transparency, client
value and profits. However, although it should be the #2 concern of most law firms, many
have not acknowledged this yet or are having difficulty implementing it. 

That's where you come in. Take Project Management courses. But be smart about it. Take project management courses that offer legal project management. The courses can be dry but hang in there. It will pay off in the end. I mean $$$, prestige, more opportunity for advancement, the whole ball of wax.

Mid-size and smaller firms are receiving more work that used to go to big name firms. The reasons? 1) Many smaller firms have partners and associates who were trained at the country’s biggest firms: 2) Their rates are lower - often 30-40% less; 3) For the most part, lawyers at these firms pay more attention to their clients’ needs and desires than those at the large firms.

Legal Services Providers: Although employers have added about two million jobs this
year, the total number of paralegals, legal consultants, processors and patent agents has
declined 2,000 since January and 45,000 since the pre-Recession record level set in May,
2007. This picture seems inconsistent with the dramatic increase in work now being
performed by non-lawyers. Working for an LSP does not always translate to SALES. It can mean research; project management; technology; education; publishing. Heck, if you think about it, law firms are LSP's. The gadget a law firm sells is time and knowledge.

Contract and Temporary Lawyers: Their number continues to increase in firms of all
sizes. Where do paralegals follow? Where lawyers tend to go. It's true that firms now prefer a lawyer to do document review but I have to tell you: document review is not the only game in town.

Non-Lawyers: This is one of the biggest changes that has been occurring in the legal
profession yet many firms still refuse to recognize and adjust to it. For more than a decade,
law firms have been increasingly hiring non-lawyer executives as COOs and, well before
that, to run marketing, technology, finance and human resources. More recently they have
been given responsibility for the cost-effective delivery of certain non-legal services such as
database searches and document management. Now, in the last few years, non-lawyers are
being hired to oversee knowledge management and project management.

Did you read that??? Non-lawyers are on the rise. If you don't take advantage of this trend now, you're going to be right out of luck. Best advice: GET CONTINUING LEGAL EDUCATION TRAINING. You can't learn this on the job in almost 90% of law firms. No one has time to train you and most don't have the capacity or good trainers. Firm won't pay for it? Give me a break. Give up your Starbucks. Don't buy that designer handbag. Cut out Netflix and Amazon. You can afford to pay for it yourself, believe me. All you have to do is figure it out and try.

 And an Estrin prediction:

Virtual paralegals - a growing cottage industry. Don't try this if a) you are not business savvy b) can't market to clients c) are not entreprenuerial and d) don't have tons of paralegal experience. Otherwise, why go right ahead. You're on the cutting-edge.

Change is not the easiest thing in the world and the legal field is one of the last fields to promote any rah-rah advocating change of any sort. You can change that mentality one paralegal at a time. It's your job, it's work life, career. And when it comes to your future, believe me, there's always hope.

Chere Estrin is the CEO of Paralegal Knowledge Institute and President & Co-Founding member of OLP - Organization of Legal Professionals. She has written 10 books on legal careers, is a national seminar speaker and has been interviewed by Los Angeles Times, Chicago Trib, Newsweek, Forbes.com, lots of other prestigious pubs and oh, yes, Above the Law. She can be reached at chere.estrin@theolp.org