The Next Illegal Question.....

Don't Get Asked and Don't Reveal.....

As of January, 2018, California employers will no longer be allowed to ask candidates for their salary histories. That’s right. You will no longer be required to disclose your current or past salary to get a job offer. A new law, AB 168, goes into effect designed, in part, to eliminate wage disparity in different races, sexes, or ethnicities. deskThis law follows similar new laws recently passed in New York, Pennsylvania and Massachusetts. Existing California law prohibits employers from paying employees at rates less than the rates paid to employees of the opposite sex for substantially similar work when viewed as a composite of skill, effort, and responsibility, and performed under similar working conditions.

AB 168 does not prohibit applicants from disclosing wage history information "voluntarily and without prompting."   

If candidates make a voluntary disclosure, the employer may use it to determine whether to extend a job offer or to decide what compensation to offer the applicant. However, such use is still subject to the Equal Pay Act’s caveat that prior pay cannot, by itself, be used as a justification for any disparity in compensation between employees of different races, sexes, or ethnicities.  

The law also does not prohibit obtaining or using pay history information disclosable to the public under  federal or state law.  

This prohibition is codified at Labor Code Section 1197.5, which also provides exceptions based upon various factors, including a seniority system, a merit system, or any other "bona fide factor" other than sex, such as education, training, or experience. 

Part of the rationale for this new legislation is an attempt to remove one more barrier to wage equality. The California Legislature found that the gender wage gap has not narrowed significantly in recent years and that in 2015, the gender wage gap in California was 16%. Wage inequality is even greater among women of color. Accordingly, the reliance by an employer upon an individual's prior salary to establish wage rates could perpetuate historical wage inequality. It’s not an overstatement to say that wage discrimination exists everywhere.  In 2014, the Census Bureau reported that female paralegals earned 94% of what male paralegals earned.

The new law was created, in part, to prevent employers’ salary inquiries from perpetuating any discrimination that women or people of color have previously faced. When employers ask candidates about prior salaries, they hear a figure that anchors them and offer wages that keeps candidates at a salary that is already too low.  Typically, employers are not motivated to offer a salary that brings a candidate up to market. They offer a certain percentage of the existing salary that may already be low.  This is part of what prolongs wage discrimination. Being underpaid should not condemn you to a lifetime of inequality.

What are you likely going to see going forward?

Firms may publish salary ranges more often. Or, they will interview you and at the end of your lively little talk, they will tell you, “This job pays, $xxx.” It will be up to you to say, “That does or does not fit my salary requirements”.

They cannot ask you, “What is your current or past salary?”  They can no longer judge you based on the percentage of salary increases you received in the past. They can't make up their minds whether you were a good employee by the amount of past increases you received nor whether they will give you an amount they feel you will be satisfied with simply because you were receiving similar increases in the past.

Furthermore, and most importantly, they can't keep you pushed down on the salary scale because you started out low and they won't bring you up to wage equality.  Nor, can they prompt you to reveal the numbers.  You can, however, voluntarily offer a figure. You might also answer, “I am looking for a salary of $xxx.” However, you do not have to reveal past nor present salary.

When you are working with a staffing organization, be open about what your number is. It’s very frustrating for a recruiter to present you with opportunities only to have you say, “No, that’s not it” while the recruiter presents job after job with the question, “Is this it?”, “Is this it?” I know few recruiters who will want to continue to work with you on that basis. They may ask you, “What salary would make you happy?” However, if you don’t give them a figure, they will simply move on to other candidates and not waste precious time.

Divulge Your Worth, Not Your Past

Know the market.  What is relevant here is finding an appropriate job against which to benchmark the open position. Find a market price for the job you're applying for, and determine how close to that median you should be paid given your experience and accomplishments. What you made yesterday doesn't matter - what your peers are making today does.

Once you've found what the job is worth to the market, save the information for the offer segment of the interview.  You'll be on solid ground if you negotiate from an informed position.

How are firms getting information as to what to pay?

Some firms are going to the associate compensation program, i.e., paying for years of experience in the field instead of paying for performance.  In the past ten years, the field was headed toward the pay-for-performance model and moving away from paying strictly for years of experience. Previously, firms modeled paralegal wages on the associate program – paying for years of experience. For example, firms pay the graduating class of 2008 xxdollars with no regard for experience. Positions should be paid on pay-for-performance. That is, what experience and education is brought to the table vs. what duties and education are involved.

How to get your offer up

Employers should pay for skills that match the job description and years of experience. Perhaps you are in a situation where you are earning substantially more than the employer is willing to pay.  Since you will no longer be required to disclose your salary, and if the salary offered is much less than you require, emphasize your expertise. Years in the field might not help you.

You may say, “I see that you require eDiscovery skills, expertise in Relativity and five years attending trial. Not only do I have all of that, I am also an expert in legal research, have drafted motions, pleadings and attended many high-profile trials for Fortune 1000 companies including……” Sell those skills.  You can still negotiate.

The reason years in the field might not help is that you may be a 10-year paralegal but performing at the 3-year level i.e., Bates stamping, organizing documents, summarizing depositions. This isn’t going to get you more money. It’s all in the skill level, even if you are earning more than the job is originally slated to pay.

It will be interesting to see how this works. It might cause some confusion in the beginning as employers may not be able to get a handle on what the market is currently paying. Guesstimates may occur but somehow, I have a feeling this is a good step towards an antidote towards wage discrimination. Let’s hope so!

Chere Estrin is the CEO of Estrin Legal Staffing. She is also the President and Co-Founding member of the Organization of Legal Professionals and CEO of the Paralegal Knowledge Institute. She is the author of 10 books in the legal field, a Los Angeles Paralegal Association Lifetime Achievement Recipient. She is a former Paralegal Administrator for two major firms, an executive in a $5 billion company. She has been interviewed by the Los Angeles Times, Newsweek, Daily Journal, Above the Law, and other prestigious publications. Her blog, The Estrin Report, has been around since 2005.  She has 3:00 - 5:00 a.m. on Sundays free and can be reached at

Are You Calling Me Fat? .....And Other Little Career Mistakes

Pinup girl

A few years back, when I was a Paralegal Administrator for a major law firm, the Director of Administration took me to lunch at the Yorkshire Grill. He plied me full of a pastrami sandwich and insisted that I order the potato salad full of creamy, yummy mayonnaise, a big kosher pickle and lots of salty potato chips. A diet Coke went along with it. God forbid I should get too many calories.

As we were walking back to the office, he said to me that if I wanted to succeed in the firm, I was going to have to lose weight. I remember exactly where we were, in front of what building and even the crack in the sidewalk I was looking down on when he said it.

“Are you calling me fat, Lou?” I shot back. Uh, oh. Probably not the best answer, I realize now, looking back on it. “Not exactly fat,” he said. Well, truth be known. I was kind of waddling down the street and those plus size suits were stretching just a tad. (I have since lost over 100 pounds. Yep. Feeling great here.)

Was he wrong? Oh, yes. Could I have handled that better? Oh yes.

Here are some career mistakes we might make along the way, some we can all avoid and at the same time, take a stab at strengthening our careers:

  1. Becoming too smug

I have a candidate who wrote to me from the Midwest. She said, “I can’t get a job because everyone here is envious of me. I have my CP and am technologically superior to everyone I come across. People are jealous of me.” Oh, yes. Those were her words. Wow, I thought. She must really be something. I opened her resume. She had Trial Director. OK. A lot of paralegals don’t have Trial Director. She didn’t have Relativity. Maybe they don’t use Relativity in the Midwest. However, while her skills were good (I wouldn’t call them “superior”), it was obvious that she wasn’t getting a job because of her attitude. I am quite certain it wasn’t jealousy preventing her from getting a job but her smug attitude that was coming across. Check it at the door.

  1. Aiming too low

Whether it’s salary, title, or type of law firm, people are too intimidated by superiors, the system, interviewers, and are scared of asking for what they want at every stage of their career or during the interview process, and suffer from imposter syndrome.

This is a direct result of decades of indoctrination by authoritative educational, parental, and societal institutions that tend to demolish your self-confidence in an effort to control you.

This persistent lack of confidence is the number one issue paralegals suffer from when it comes to selling yourself effectively. Re-evaluate the position. You haven’t arrived this far in your career based on luck. Believe me.

  1. Not exactly listening.

The other day, I sent a Paralegal/Office Manager on an interview for an Office Manager position. Her goal was to move up. We went over and over the interview process. The firm wanted someone who could handle accounting and HR and had a law firm background. We redesigned her resume to highlight the HR and accounting skills and de-emphasize the paralegal skills because she had both. I coached her to highlight just how strong the accounting skills and HR skills were.

I also coached her on how to dress for the interview. The firm, a real estate transaction firm, dealt with high-end clients. It was important that she dressed conservatively. I was very precise in my instructions. “Show up in a Brooks Bros. look,” I said. “No open toed or sling-back shoes.”

The managing partner called me. Not only was he passing, he was pretty upset. “How could I send someone who kept emphasizing her paralegal background,” he said. “This is an Office Manager position. And, why on earth did she wear tennis shoes?”  Listen to what is being said. Read between the lines.

  1. Saying no to yourself

Because you feel that you lack the “qualifications” the job description asks for, you end up not going for the opportunity, whether it’s for a new job or a promotion. This continued lack of self-confidence through self-discrimination, combined with the obsession of fulfilling requirements down to the last detail, handicaps good paralegals from achieving career greatness.

Although job descriptions don’t matter, many candidates still try to play by the rules. They don’t understand that job search or a promotion is like war. The victor obtains the spoils. It’s every paralegal for themselves. I had a candidate call me to pull her resume because the job description said a BA was required. However, she had over 25 years of experience in real estate. Real estate paralegals are tough to find. The firm would definitely consider her.

There are no rules in moving your career along! This is why often liars sometimes get the best jobs and offers. They understand manipulation. Too often, the most accomplished candidates lose because they don’t know the song and dance that is job search or career success.

  1. Not understanding the modern job-search ecosystem and process

There are four major hiring entities that you need to know how to manipulate, maneuver around, and negotiate.  The HR person, headhunter, attorney, paralegal manager or senior paralegal.  Each person has a slightly different incentive, process, and interaction protocol. You should behave accordingly.

In addition, the process of the job search is no longer: look on the web for listings, apply to jobs that you like, wait for feedback, go interview. The new process is: create your marketing documents (including your resume, cover and thank-you letters), master LinkedIn networking, leverage the four hiring entities mentioned above, utilize the volume of interviews to your advantage, and negotiate throughout.

  1. Becoming a jack of all trades – not necessarily good

The most dangerous problem paralegals run into that seriously limits their market value and range of future career options is becoming a generalist. Law firms no longer value soldiers, willing to do any assignment for pay. They want specialists, professionals, experts, and true masters of the practice specialty.. They need experts to remain viable and stay ahead of their competition.

No longer is being eager and willing to work for a firm for the next 20 years a valuable trait. Firms want true leaders. If you have stayed at your firm for more than 10 years, you may have stayed too long. Have you updated your technology skills? Do you know what the latest trends are? If not, frankly, you are less marketable.

I have a candidate who applied for a highly sophisticated trial paralegal position. While she told me what she did verbally, her specific skills were not reflected in her resume and she refused to take the time to put change it. Yet, she wanted more money. I explained to her that the firm would probably not consider her. She thought I was unreasonable. You know the story. Submit resume. Reject resume. Hate to say I told ya so. Had she shown where she specialized in trial, she probably would have gotten the position – at least the interview! Specialization and experience within a niche skill are not only good to have, but must-haves to remain a relevant and desirable paralegal.

  1. Losing the passion

Most professionals forget that they work largely to make a living. Since most people accumulate worse spending habits every year, people rely on their jobs more and more to fuel their lifestyle. This dependent relationship on a job quickly spirals out of control once their house of cards experiences even the smallest tremor.

Because of your deep reliance on your paycheck, your emotions can run amuck when experiencing any type of career turbulence. But be careful not to let your emotions get the best of you. I am on a Board for a non-profit. In a meeting a couple of weeks ago, I re-evaluated my vote regarding a fiduciary responsibility. A Board member literally screamed at me at the top of her lungs to shut up. I looked around at the table. The other Board members faces were ashen. No one knew what to say. Never had I ever had that happen to me. I was literally shaken up. I apologized all over the place until I realized I wasn’t the one out of line. Upon reflection, I realized that at least this woman still had passion for her job. I guess that’s one way of looking at it.

Whatever you do, whether you are seeking a new job or a promotion, don’t lose sight of your passion for your job. It’s not always about the money. It’s about enjoying what you do, getting up in the morning and looking forward to another great day.

In conclusion:
Careers will always have their little mistakes. The trick is to recognize them, correct them and get yourself pointed in another direction before they get to be those BIG mistakes. Because by then, well, it just may be just a little too late. If you know what I mean.....

Chere Estrin is the CEO of Estrin Legal Staffing. She is also the President and Co-Founding member of the Organization of Legal Professionals and CEO of the Paralegal Knowledge Institute. She is the author of 10 books in the legal field, a Los Angeles Paralegal Association Lifetime Achievement Recipient. She is a former Paralegal Administrator for two major firms, an executive in a $5 billion company. She has been interviewed by the Los Angeles Times, Newsweek, Daily Journal , Above the Law, and other prestigious publications. Her blog The Estrin Report has been around since 2005. She can be reached at

"Girls" Just Wanna Have Funds......

"What’s your salary?” becomes a no-no in job interviews.

By Chere B. Estrin


IStock_000013170478XSmall[1]There’s a hot trend sweeping equal-pay legislation right now and some legal field industry leaders are not too happy about it.  New York, Massachusetts and Philadelphia have passed the country’s first law that prohibits employers from asking candidates for their current salaries or salary histories. This is a way to counter pay discrimination that can follow a woman throughout her career when the salary bump she gets with each job is based on pay that’s already lower than that of her male peers.

Think it doesn’t exist in the legal field, particularly in the paralegal field? Guess again.  In 2014, the Census Bureau reported that female paralegals earned 94% of what male paralegals earned. But there were only 30,616 male paralegals in the survey, while the number of female paralegals surveyed – 263,647. I was astounded. Thirty thousand male paralegals and on the average, they out earned over 250,000 female paralegals!!!!!! What??? All wages should be based upon job experience and education. No pay should be based upon race, gender or ethnicity. Ever.

The thinking behind the new law is that when employers ask about a candidate’s salary history, they can end up perpetuating any discrimination that women or people of color may have faced previously. When employers ask about salary, they hear a figure that anchors them and offer a salary that keeps candidates at a salary that is already too low.  Being underpaid should not condemn you to a lifetime of inequality.

At this writing, more than 20 other city and state legislatures have introduced similar provisions.  California is one of the states considering legislation and asking for salary history could soon be illegal in all fifty states.  Many employees, including paralegals, carry lower salaries for their entire careers simply because of wages at previous jobs that were set unfairly in the beginning.

Hiring managers often base their offers on your previous salary. They are unlikely to make an offer over a certain percentage of what you are currently earning.  This is how you arrive at the offer you get. However, that can change. I placed a candidate at a firm where hiring managers made an offer to bring the candidate up to market.  A candidate was in a litigation support manager position earning $85,000 in his/her current position. He/she was very much underpaid, given his/her years of experience and duties. The new position paid $110,000 and the firm brought the candidate in at what the position was worth, not what the candidate was previously earning. Kudos for the firm.

Candidates who negotiate and advocate strongly for themselves at the salary phase can wind up with a lower offer than someone who happened to earn more at an earlier position. In practice, employees who get lower offers are often women. Contrary to popular belief, it’s not because women don’t ask.  However, they pay a higher social penalty when they attempt to negotiate. Making salary history part of the job interview process means that tomorrow’s salary depends on yesterday’s wages, making it harder for female candidates to get paid what they deserve.

Firms should price the position, not price the person. Employers are trying to fill a certain role. What firms should be doing is to understand the market rate for that role. On the flip side, many firms use salary history to set pay, manage costs and get information about market. It is very hard to figure out how to pay someone a fair amount. This has been a hidden form of discrimination that has followed women throughout their careers.  Many employers many think it is reasonable to ask salary history and may not understand the discriminatory effect.

What’s happening in California? AB 168, introduced in January by Assemblywoman Susan Talamantes Eggman, D-Stockton, passed the Assembly May 22nd and currently sits in the state Senate. California employers would be prohibited from asking job candidates for their salary history and would be required to disclose the pay scale for a position to candidates who request it, under a proposal making its’ way through the state legislature.

How are firms solving the problem? Some firms are going to the associate compensation program, i.e., paying for years of experience in the field instead of paying for performance.  In the past ten years, the field was headed toward the pay-for-performance model and getting away from paying strictly for years of experience. Previously, firms modeled paralegal wages on the associate program – paying for years of experience. The firm will pay the graduating class of 2010 xxxx dollars with no regard for experience. Positions should be paid on pay-for-performance. That is, what experience and education is brought to the table vs. what duties and education are involved. Period.

The result of paying strictly on years of experience in the field can backfire and firms are going to have to find a way to combine experience, performance, education and responsibilities with market rate.  The problem with paying strictly on years of experience is overpaying for under performance. For example: employers can end up paying a ten year paralegal whose responsibilities have only been Bates stamping and summarizing depositions $100,000 a year while a five-year paralegal will earn $65,000 and but has experience drafting motions, preparing pleadings and attending trial. There’s inequity everywhere, isn’t there?

In the end, no matter the legislation, some determined firms will find ways to continue paying women less than men.  You can be a woman paralegal, negotiate a salary equal to a male paralegal and then find out later the male paralegals received higher bonuses. There’s no silver bullet. There’s awareness, education, outspokenness, and standing up for your rights. As long as everyone bands together and not allow inequity to continue, we can continue to fight for the right to be equal, fair and just. It may take a while and won’t happen overnight. But I’m not giving in. Are you?  

Chere B. Estrin is the CEO of Estrin Legal Staffing, a national staffing organization based in Los Angeles. She is a LAPA Lifetime Achievement Recipient and author of 10 books on legal careers. Chere is the CEO of the Paralegal Knowledge Institute; President & Co-Founding Member of the Organization of Legal Professionals, a non-profit providing eDiscovery training, a former Paralegal Administrator for two major law firms and an executive in a $5 billion corporation. She has written her blog, The Estrin Report since 2005. She has been interviewed by Newsweek, the Los Angeles Times, Daily Journal, and other prestigious publications. You can reach her at


How to Change Specialties: Getting It Right the Second Time

Many paralegals who want to switch practice specialties write their resume with exactly what it is they are doing now, send out a cover letter stating they have lots of experience in their current practice area and are “detail oriented, a team player and a quick learner”.  In other words, “here I am, take me as I am and, oh, please train me”.

And expect that will get them a new job in a new specialty with a new firm.

Woman.half face glassesYou have to be kidding.

Changing practice specialties is harder than getting your first job - much harder.  Your experience in one arena probably does not translate into another and budgets being what they are today, few firms want to train and pay you anything other than entry-level salary.

Given that people spend most of their lifetime at work, enjoying what you do is especially important. However, how you landed in your specialty is often by accident. It’s not surprising then, that many paralegals call me frequently seeking to switch practice areas.

Your ability to switch specialties depends upon your academic background, length of time in the field, the law firms you have been with, market demand, practice areas you want to leave and enter, skill set, geographic location, recent continuing legal education, contacts and just plain ole good luck.

Switching practice areas is not a decision taken lightly. The type of work you should be practicing should be a function of your strongest skill sets and interests more than anything else. You have to love it, otherwise, why do it? Simply switching firms to learn a new practice area may not always be appropriate either. For example, you may be able to switch practice areas within your own firm.

You may be in a practice specialty by default: it was simply, the best job you got after paralegal school. Sometimes, the condition of the legal market forces you to choose a particular practice area. For example during the recession because of weak market conditions, many paralegals fell into litigation or bankruptcy rather than corporate or real estate.

Why do you want to switch? Paralegals choosing to switch practice areas for the "right reasons" often do so because they realize that they are not suited for the practice area they are in. It is critical that you totally evaluate why you want to change.  Be realistic. Were you listening to colleagues boast about the mega merger deals they worked on, or the salary they command? Does a colleague work for a glamorous entertainment firm with lots of wrap parties and you’d like to be part of that?

Have you thought about whether you are seeking to change practice areas because you are unhappy with your current firm? In such circumstances, changing firms may ultimately be the right choice instead. Perhaps you just need a vacation after working for 30 days straight on a trial in the middle of nowhere eating junk food and soothing upset, agitated, grumpy attorneys.

Whatever the reason, you need to be clear and identify the reason you are seeking change. Make sure that your reason has been thoroughly explored and is compelling. You do not want to find yourself in a similar situation in another year.

What is the new specialty?  Sometimes it’s a matter of, “Just get me outta here!” Other times, you already know where you want to go. However, if you don’t, here are a few steps you can take:

  • Shed your preconceived notions. Many of us think we know all there is about various specialties. But if you’ve never actually worked in those areas or spoken at length with someone who does, chances are your perceptions are inaccurate.
  • Explore your options. Go to LAPA job seminars, find webinars, read articles, join LinkedIn groups, connect with paralegals on Facebook, attend association meetings.  This is a great way to find out what’s out there and learn more about different specialties. Read job postings.  Join practice specialty sections of your association.  Look up attorney and paralegal job descriptions. Attend lawyer association meetings and find out what lawyers do. They all need paralegals. Read journals. Google different specialties.  Take a paralegal to lunch.

Take steps to successfully assimilate. Once you’ve decided to make the change, immerse yourself in the specialty. Immediately join that specialty association. Get out to meetings, read journals, go to state and national conferences, and consider getting active by joining a committee. Many paralegals make the transition to a new area and then bail when they feel like a fish out of water. They don’t give themselves a chance to learn and grow into the new position or develop expertise.  Remember that it takes three to six months to master a new environment – sometimes longer, depending on the complexity of the specialty.

How to make the change. Once you have identified the reasons to change your practice area, are convinced that the reasons are compelling, have done a requisite critical self-analysis and examined your academic qualifications and experience, the next step is to plan how to proceed.

  • New projects: To make the transition to a new specialty, you’ll need a record of projects showcasing your new skills and definitely additional training. Even then, expect to start at the bottom, both in terms of pay and job responsibilities.

  • Transferable skills. The biggest mistake paralegals make is to assume employers will take them as they are. That is, they can simply go from one arena to another. Telling employers you are hard-working, can handle a large volume of work, and a quick learner means nothing. What skills do you have that are transferable? Are you a litigation paralegal seeking to become a corporate paralegal? Did you ever work on a case where you had to look into the corporate formation? Do research on the corporate structure? Those are the transferable skills.
  • Continuing legal education. You must take continuing legal education to show that you have the right skills. Are you a corporate paralegal seeking to go into litigation? Take  seminar/webinars in eDiscovery and state and federal rules. Put those courses on your resume. Now, you can show potential employers you have some current knowledge of the specialty. This is the most important step you can take to switch specialties. Can’t find a paralegal course? Take attorney seminars or webinars. You will gain a lot more knowledge than you realize.
  • Get cross-trained in your current firm.  The paralegal that brings the most value to firms today is one that is cross-trained. You may not have to leave your firm to learn a new specialty. Find out where your firm can use your talent and get cross-trained. You’ll bring added value to the firm and ensure better job security in the process.

Make an impression. During interviews, be the standout candidate by talking up the actions you've taken that prove your commitment to the field. Reveal your practice specialty knowledge, and mention events you've attended or associations where you volunteer. Write articles on LinkedIn, for LAPA or other legal publications that demonstrate the value you bring. You can even start a blog or utilize social media.

Your goal is to make potential employers see you as someone already in their industry and in it to stay, regardless of whether they hire you. Don't leave the impression that if they don't hire you, you will do something else.

Think small.
Bigger firms may offer a broader range of opportunities and even more money, but a smaller firm may give you the chance to work in a jack-of-all-trades capacity to develop skills outside your area of expertise. Also at smaller firms, job roles may be more flexible, thus allowing you to gain exposure to other responsibilities.

Change your resume.  Another common mistake is to use the same resume that worked in previous specialties when pursuing new ones. Instead, resumes should be reworked to emphasize key qualifications for new objectives. The best way to get started is to research the specialty you're trying to break into and understand what hiring managers want. Learn about the skills and other credentials that are important in your new career and put those skills first in your resume. Don’t assume employers will know you have those skills. They don’t.

It’s exciting and daunting at the same time to make a switch in practice specialties. Take the proper steps and don’t expect to make a change without some bumps in the road. It’s possible, it’s being done and you can do it. Just one more positive line on your resume on your road to paralegal success!

Chere Estrin is the CEO of Estrin Legal Staffing. She is the author of 10 books on paralegal careers and a former Paralegal Administrator for two major law firms. Chere is the CEO of the Paralegal Knowledge Institute, the President and Co-Founding member of the Organization of Legal Professionals and a former executive in a $5 billion corporation. She has been interviewed by the Los Angeles Times, Newsweek,, Above the Law and other publications. She is a LAPA Lifetime Achievement Award recipient and national seminar speaker.  Reach her at


Fifteen Cent Part

Covair2Long before paradigm shifts were in vogue, my dad taught me a good life lesson.  I was so young. It was the late 70's and I desperately needed a car. So, Dad and I went down to the local Chevrolet used car lot to pick out the vehicle that was to announce my social status to the world. We picked out a 1962 shiny red Covair with bright red interior and real leather seats (most of you may not have heard of this short—lived classic) for the great price of $400. It was a small car with the motor in the trunk and the trunk in the front.

“It’s perfect,” I sighed. “We’ll take it,” said my dad. “By the way, Bob,” he said to the used car salesman, with whom we were now best friends, “Just why is all that oil blowing out the back?”

“Fifteen cent part, Al,” said our new pal, Bob. “We’ll have it fixed in a jiffy.” (There was a time people talked like that.) They shook hands in that masculine way that men were used to doing in those days.

I drove away, excited, fully liberated, and loving every second of my new found independence. Driving down the street, I suddenly spotted a car right in front of me about to make a left-hand turn. I stepped on the brakes. Nothing happened! My heart beat rapidly. Thump! Thump!  I noticed my entire week flashing before me. Uh, oh. This isn’t good.  Two milliseconds later, I ran smack dab into the car in front of me. The Corvair, with the trunk in the front and the motor in the back, curled up and died in the middle of the street with the trunk in the front now smashed into the middle of the trunk of the car in front of me. Fortunately, no one was hurt.

After all information was exchanged, I hiked over to the nearest 7-11 to call my dad. (There were no cell phones in those days). Sobbing into the phone, I tried to grasp how the car I owned for a total of 16 ½ minutes was now a mere memory of itself. I felt terrible. Nothing could console me.

“Dad,” I wailed, while looking at this crumpled mess now attracting attention from the entire neighborhood, “I wrecked the car. I stepped on the brakes. It….didn’t stop! I rear-ended the car in front of me.”

There was a pause on the other end of the phone. I could actually hear my father thinking. After a moment, came the astute wisdom of fathers. “Honey,“ said my dad, in that voice I shall never forget, “it’s not your fault. She was in your way.”

Thank you , Dad.   From the mouths of fathers come their lessons to daughters. 

Quit Kidding Yourself with Boring Cover Letters. Get One That Works.

Cover letterCover letters are usually boring, unimaginative or just not taken seriously because there is nothing new in the letter that makes the writer stand out. Typical responses from employers? “Same letter, different sender.”  Not exactly the let’s-jump-right-for-the-phone reaction you are seeking. In fact, with all due respect, I'll bet your letter goes something like:

“I noticed your ad for a litigation paralegal. I am a paralegal with 10 years of experience. I have attached my resume for your review.

I am seeking a challenging position which offers me the opportunity for growth. I have extensive litigation experience and excellent skills: I have great attention to detail, am organized, an expert in research, and a team-player. I am seeking a position where I can utilize my background and skills.

I can be reached at (213) 555.1212. I will call you next week in order to schedule an interview. I look forward to hearing from you soon.”

As an employer, here’s all I can say: Blech! This candidate does not stand out from the crowd. He/she sounds just like everyone else. Let me just close my eyes, reach into the pile and pick one. I don't want that. What I want is someone outstanding.

Funny thing is, people don't think to change what they're doing. Instead, they tend to increase the volume of resumes sent expecting different results. Or, blame the market for lack of results. Career coaches tell you to send out 75-100 resumes to get one interview. I say if you send out a dynamic resume and convincing cover letter, you'll get the interview.

Here’s a little known secret: A resume only talks about 20% of the information you need to impart to get a job. It reveals none of the 80% of the information upon which hiring decisions are based. These decisions are primarily based upon emotion. Do I like this person? That’s the first thing that goes through an employer’s mind. The resume does not speak to your personality, creativity, style, work habits or critical thinking. Rarely, will a resume tell a hiring authority you are precisely the right candidate. Only a letter can start to reveal these things about you.

Here are some basic rules:

  1. Write a letter addressed to an individual. Call and find out to whom the letter should be addressed. I know, I know, you can't do it with a blind ad.
  2. Don’t use standard openings. “In response to your ad in the Daily Journal” gets a big ho-hum. Stand out from the competition! Weave information to suggest that the letter was written specifically for the opening at-hand.
  3. Don’t use legal terminology or try to sound “lawyerly”. You’ll sound silly instead. Using terms such as “this position is not de facto”; “Responsibilities include but are not limited to” are unlikely to impress. Frankly, “tacky” comes to mind.
  4. Keep it brief. Three – four paragraphs MAX! Explanations as to what has occurred in your career are not necessary. Save that for the interview.
  5. Link your strengths and qualifications to the job. Do not leave out your passion for the field. Cover letters not addressing the pain that needs to be fixed or the needs of the firm are likely to come across as narcissistic. It comes across as “Me, Me, and more Me”. Let the employer know you understand what it takes to fit the bill.
  6. Do not use standard cover letters right out of a book. Employers can quote that book. Not a pretty picture for original thinking.
  7. Make the letter easy to skim. No one reads anything thoroughly anymore.
  8. If it’s broken, fix it. Don’t use a cover letter over and over that is not working. It’s not the number of resumes you send out. It’s the quality of the cover letter and the resume.
  9. Use numbers or percentages where possible. Phrases such as number of billable hours, Fortune 1000 clients, and AmLaw 100 firms are impressive.

Here are a couple of samples. Use your own tone and style. (Don’t copy. Employers will only see the same ole, same ole once again.) You are going to use four topics: opener, your passion, action, and hot closer. That’s it.

#1.   Re: Corporate Paralegal Position: I am a certificated paralegal with excellent references.

(OPENER) I have been fortunate to have found the occupation I love – paralegal. Although I do not have extensive experience, what I do have has only furthered my commitment. As an entry-level paralegal, I have developed a skill for detail that incorporates a thorough, flexible work plan, along with a healthy dose of a see-it-through attitude. I am devoted to continuing my own education with the many seminars I take.  My greatest asset is my enthusiasm to become a top-notch and committed paralegal with a firm such as yours.

(YOUR PASSION) One reason I have chosen to apply for a position at your firm is because it is rated in the National Law Journal as one of the top 10 firms in the country. If I am hired, this fact will give me a great opportunity to incorporate my extensive product manufacturing skills along with my personal goals of becoming a high-quality paralegal with those of Acme, Acme & Acme.

(THEIR ACTION) If after reviewing my resume, you believe there might be a match, please call me. I am available Monday – Friday at 213.555.1212. Otherwise, please leave a message anytime.

(HOT CLOSER) Becoming a paralegal is more than a job to me. It’s a lifetime commitment to education.

#2.   I'm available immediately and highly interested in the Paralegal/Database Coordinator position for Coffee, Coffee & Wine.

(OPENER)  For the past three years, I have had the opportunity to become an expert in Relativity.  I am now looking forward to applying my skills and knowledge in a new setting with an established law firm where I can continue to meet new and different challenges. My fifteen years of experience with all aspects of the eDiscovery life cycle will make me a valuable asset to both your firm and your clients.

(YOUR PASSION)  After recently researching Coffee, Coffee & Wine’s vision/mission, along with your recent high-profile travel industry win, I believe that my abilities can make an immediate and positive impact on your bottom line. Particularly with my experience working with a top travel industry client leading eight litigation teams, working on cases with over two million documents along with a 93% accuracy rate, I can help by providing value-added Summation implementation. I can deliver quality performances that will lead to success stories for your clients and additional business for your firm.

(HOT CLOSER) The position of Litigation Paralegal/Database Coordinator is more than a job to me—it's my passion. Understanding legal problems, providing recommendations for training non-attorney staff, creating improvements, and providing technology solutions that support your firm’s objectives is what I can offer Coffee, Coffee & Wine.

(ACTION) I will follow up with a phone call in a few days to make sure you have received my resume as well.

#3.  Write the above and add: (Do not make cover letters too long. They will not get read.)
 "I took a moment to match my skills with your requirements.  You may find the following chart helpful in your assessment of my skills and abilities."

Job Qualifications


Experience with trial preparation, document organization, Relativity  

Full understanding and knowledge after working on many high-profile cases leading a team of 10 utilizing Relativity and other databases.

Preparation of subpoenas

Regularly prepared subpoenas both in the U.S. and abroad.


Ability to work overtime

Billable hours consistently exceed 1800 hours per year.

This unique Skill Matching technique has many excellent advantages to help get you that all important interview. It:

  • will get your cover letter and resume noticed quickly;
  • focuses the employer directly on skills with a brief and easy to read strong summary;
  • helps the reader quickly skim your cover letter;
  • helps your cover letter and resume get decided upon immediately.

It has been shown, believe it or not, that the color of your signature can improve the response (even in an email). If possible, always sign your letter using blue instead of black. Be sure to make it legible.

There you go! Tweak these, use your own style and create each cover letter unique to the job advertised. Test market to see what’s working and what’s not. Above all, if something isn't working, change what you're doing. That's the best way you'll get results.

Chere Estrin is the CEO of Estrin Legal Staffing for legal professionals across the country, CEO of the Paralegal Knowledge Institute and Co-Founding Member and President of the Organization of Legal Professionals. She is the author of 10 books about legal careers including The Paralegal Career Guide 4th Ed. Chere is a national seminar speaker and a Los Angeles/Century City Women of Achievement and Los Angeles Paralegal Association Lifetime Achievement Award recipient. She is a co-founding member of the International Practice Management Association (IPMA). Chere has been an executive in a $5 billion corporation and Paralegal Administrator for two major law firms. She has been interviewed by the Los Angeles Times, Above the Law,, Newsweek and other publications. Her blog, The Estrin Report, has been around since 2005.  She is free on Sundays from 3:00 a.m. to 6:00 a.m. Reach out to her at

Is Hiring a Virtual Assistant Right for You?

Here is an article that appeared recently in the Progressive Law Practice magazine.

"Virtual assistants are hot whether you are a solo practitioner or work in a major law firm," says Chere Estrin, president and founder of The Organization of Legal Professionals. Moreover, she adds, the more tech-savvy the attorney, the easier it is to work with a virtual assistant, also known as a VA.

All of this new-found convenience is due, of course, to the advent of technology and the internet. Lawyers chained to the notion that their assistant must be seated at a nearby desk, answering phones, transcribing dictation and keeping the attorney’s calendar in order for a law practice to run smoothly might be wise to consider the benefits of working with a virtual assistant before poo-pooing the idea.

The A, B, Cs of Working with a VA

There are numerous benefits of working with a virtual assistant versus an in-office employee. The first is the cost savings a lawyer can enjoy by working with someone virtually. It’s not that experienced, skilled VAs are paid less than secretaries. In fact, according to Trivinia Barber, CEO and founder of Priority VA, prized VAs can command upwards of $50 hourly. Instead, cost savings are realized because:

  • VAs are 1099 independent contractors, meaning the lawyer does not pay Social Security or state, federal or other taxes
  • The VA is responsible for their own computer and other office equipment, another money saver
  • The lawyer does not have to provide employee perks, such as medical insurance, parking, paid sick and vacation days

But that’s not all, says Barber. “There are many VAs who can work for as little as ten hours a week, meaning they are flexible. It would be hard to find a secretary to only work ten hours,” she says. Moreover, Barber contends many VAs are “pretty well versed in the online marketing world so their collaborative ability can be extremely helpful to the attorney.”

Eunice Clarke, the director of marketing for the International Virtual Assistants Association, was herself a legal assistant prior to taking on her full-time role with the organization, so she understands the role an assistant plays whether in a brick-and-mortar situation or virtually. Hiring a VA means “anything a lawyer would pay for if a secretary had to come in the office” is saved by hiring virtually.

"If you are a micro-manager, a Virtual Assistant is not for you."

Still not convinced? Hiring a VA who works in a different time zone than the one where a law practice is located can also translate into more work being completed by those VAs in their respective locations. Not only that, VAs can work any time, day or night, so they are not limited by needing to be in the office to complete their tasks.

And, while the VA isn’t taking up space in a brick-and-mortar office, their contact with the lawyer can still extend beyond emails. For example, VAs can tap into online tools such as GoToMeeting and Skype for communicating face-to-face with the attorneys with whom they work, says Clarke.

Of course there are also cons to hiring a VA. For example, says Estrin, if you need something done but your VA isn’t available at the time, you might need to come up with another option. “You don’t necessarily have a full-time word processing department at your disposal” when working with a VA versus an in-office assistant, she says. Another potential pitfall is determining whether the VA possesses excellent project and time management skills.

“Virtual assistants need to know how to be great time managers to impress attorneys how efficient they can make” a lawyer and their law practice, says Clarke.

Are You Right for a VA?

“If you are a micro-manager, don't use a virtual assistant,” cautions Estrin, because you'll never get control. One of the primary reasons people opt to work as a VA is so they don’t have someone looking over their shoulder.

Another type of attorney who probably would not enjoy working with a VA is someone who likes to have a person greeting clients as they come to the office. Moreover, if face-to-face interaction is critical to your law practice, a VA is probably not a great option. If you rely on your employees to help build trust and credibility with clients, then working with someone virtually is not a good choice.

Also, if trusting others is an issue, then hiring a VA may not be a good idea, says Estrin. “Trust is something that people do not consider when hiring a virtual assistant. This issue relates to hiring tech people to work on your system remotely. Ask yourself if you are truly comfortable letting a stranger do work for you when they have access to some of your computers or data. If the answer is no or you’re not sure, then you may not be compatible with a VA,” she says.

Certainly there is nothing wrong with not feeling comfortable about giving someone remote access to your client’s files, but it is a critical question to answer before venturing in the VA market, she says. If you determine you want to dip your toe in the VA pool, there are at least two ways to find one. Not surprisingly, Barber suggests hiring an agency, such as hers, to help match the right VA for the job.

If the lawyer opts for a direct hire, there are specific questions the attorney should ask to help determine if the VA is right for both the job and the lawyer. Among them are to ask:

  • The candidate’s goals for their VA career to ensure they align with the attorney’s mission and vision of their law practice
  • What the VA knows about the lawyer and their law practice. Barber says the response demonstrates whether the VA researched the lawyer and their practice. If they did not, they might only be looking for a job, rather than a long-term professional involvement
  • Specific questions relating to the types of marketing campaigns they have been a part of, if marketing is one of the duties the lawyer wishes to assign the VA
  • Scenario questions to determine the VA’s temperament and ability to work with the clients served by the law firm.

If employee loyalty is a great concern for you, be aware it may not develop with a virtual employee. However, the same can be said for brick-and-mortar staffers, too. “There are virtual assistants who will give you the dedication and loyalty of a 20-year employee. Find out early on who you are dealing with,” says Estrin.

Tami Kamin Meyer is an Ohio attorney and writer.

Reprinted from Progressive Lawyer.

5 Best Networking Tips for Paralegals Who Hate to Network

Networking4It's who you know.

Networking.  No matter how you tweet ‘em up, link ‘em out or face ‘em down, if you are not professionally networking on a regular basis, you are clearly committing career suicide. And, let’s not leave out the importance of the old-fashioned, rarely done, one-on-one, face-to-face, in-person meeting, the one where you busted your budget by purchasing the latest designer jeans with built-in dirt and precise structured torn knees for the discounted price of $469.00 so that you can send the message that yes, you can and do fit in with the oh—so-influential-wanna-be-Melrose crowd. 

There's no such thing as accidental networking. Networking is a mission. When you're headed to a function to meet and greet people who can further your career, you have a strong sense of Purpose. Even a chance meeting can provide a networking opportunity.

Once you discover that new acquaintances have professional power, you instantaneously decide to make the meeting worthwhile. There's no real secret to it. Most people, myself included, hate to admit we network because then we reveal we're actually using the world's greatest career-building trick. Maybe we think it smacks of cheating. You know you do it; I know you do it; others know you do it; and you read that you're supposed to do it, but somehow you deny you're doing it. I mean, only the etiquette-challenged would introduce themselves by saying, "Hi, I'm Jane. I'm here to network." Yikes.

How you network can make all the difference in your career success. If you want to get ahead, your networking skills have to be sharp, savvy and yes, leveraged in such a way to propel you forward.  Smart networking allows you to gain promotions, be considered as a great candidate for a new job or considered spots in the public eye such as speaking and writing engagements or holding association positions.   

When given a choice, people will always do business with people they know or with a person highly recommended by a valued and trusted member of their network. The benefits to networking are endless but you have to be good at it. Really, really good.  Great networking improves your ROI on:

  • Friendship benefits: You’ll make new professional friends that can last for a lifetime.
  • Receiving and giving advice: You can get viewed as an expert.
  • Opportunities: Whether you garner upward career mobility or are making a move, employers want people who are highly recommended from others in like or supervisory positions. Your network can give you that.
  • Assistance on the job:  You have somewhere to go for assistance, suggestions, referrals and   even have someone  covering your back or giving you a heads-up when you goof.
  • Positive influence: You become who you associate with.

Here are five strong tips for successful networking:

1.            Create a great profile on LinkedIn.

LinkedIn is your biggest advantage for entry into good, solid networking.  It has become the winning social media tool for career networking. Whether you are trying to grow your reach, find content or explore opportunities, this virtual meeting vehicle is the first and last stop for many professionals. The latest trend is for employers to seek out your LinkedIn profile at the same time they are reviewing your resume. Potential contacts who can give you career help will also check you out first on LinkedIn.

One of the biggest mistakes is to assume that LinkedIn is only worthwhile if you are pursuing a new job. Not so. It gives legitimacy to your current position. You may network with someone who will look up  your LinkedIn profile to find out more about the professional you. However, you will generate no interest without a stimulating summary. LinkedIn is not a playback of your resume. To attract contacts, you’ll need to demonstrate your personality, take on the legal business world and show your worldliness. If you want to be taken seriously, you cannot go without a full and professionally written LinkedIn profile.  An attention-grabbing profile will help you attract networking contacts. These are contacts that can help leverage your career.  It’s not the volume of contacts, either. It’s the quality.

Here’s an example:  Personally, I have almost 16,000 contacts. I don't know if this is a lot or not. It's what I have. I reach into my network frequently for all kinds of reasons.  Here are people who help refer me to others for questions, articles, resources, candidates, employers, referrals. I receive requests for speaking engagements, make friends, do business, and more. Shoot.  Someone called me in Los Angeles at 7:00 pm from Washington DC in a panic the other day. They needed a temporary litigation support paralegal in Denver.  Could I help? Sure!  I was able to reach into my network and find someone within 15 minutes of receiving the call. I hope I made a business acquaintance.  It wasn’t about making money.

  1. Go to association meetings, seminars and get-togethers.

I’ve met the greatest people and made life-long friends. It’s one thing to join your association. It’s another to understand the networking advantages it brings. Face-to-face encounters render far longer benefits than an occasional email to someone you have never met.  People tend to remember you. What will you learn from association networking? What’s happening in your community, new techniques, where the jobs are, the latest software, what firm is doing what (maybe even yours), information you can take back to management, salaries, and important trends. It’s a great way to stay current, uncover “hot buttons” in your practice specialty and who knows? You might even have a little fun.

  1. Don’t alienate every recruiter who calls.

Networking needs to include recruiters. Connect with them. They are invaluable. They hold the key to hundreds of contacts: HR, managing partners, CEO’s, COOs, VP’s, supervisors, in-house legal counsel, legal service providers, colleagues, managers and more. They know salaries, firms, trends, and in particular, where the field is headed. In fact, they often know if your firm is in trouble before you do.  Why? They know who is bailing and most importantly, why.

Don’t be so smug if a recruiter contacts you about a new position. I can’t tell you how many times people ignore the call or treat the recruiter abysmally only to wake up a few weeks later to find their firm is merging or otherwise purging. Then what? Do you know where to go? You think back. “Oh! I’ll call that recruiter who called me about that job.” Right.  Try calling them back after you have snubbed them. Most likely, they won’t even take the call.

  1. Network with colleagues in your firm.

One of the biggest mistakes people make is to neglect to network within their own firm.

If you're able to build rapport with hiring authorities at your firm, you can be the first to find out about forthcoming internal promotions and strategically position yourself for growth.  You can be first in line for a promotion, new position, head-up a department by hearing about it first. You can capture someone’s ear. For example, what if you like to write? Suddenly you’re the person in charge of the firm’s newsletter because you were networked with the appropriate personnel.

Similarly, you may discover the firm is opening a new satellite office in your dream destination, and if you're connected with the right person, you could get a head start on applying for the transfer.

Who do you know? Some of the most important people to connect with are the conduits to the power in your firm. That is, someone who can speak for your job category. Be sure to always network with colleagues, partners, associates, managers. You’ll get noticed. Hanging out alone in your office or cubicle will not move you up the ladder.  One of the most difficult positions to find its way to a promotion is the paralegal.  You have to create your own opportunity. Networking is the most vital tool you can have.

  1. Don’t ignore the benefits of networking.

You can benefit as your contacts develop.  Continuing to build new relationships and nurture existing contacts can be hugely beneficial to you as members of your network grow into the next phases of their career. As they grow, they will continue to help you out – and vice versa. The higher they grow, the more beneficial they are to you. Sound callas? Not really. Everyone helps everyone out. You'll help others, they'll help you.

The key is to keep your networking process going without needing to ask for anything in return. Show genuine interest in other people and their hopes, wants, dreams and desires.  Ask questions they'd be excited to answer. Listen carefully and you'll have surrounded yourself with a circle of people who would not only be willing but excited to help take your career to the next level.  That’s what networking is all about.

Chere Estrin is the CEO of Estrin Legal Staffing; President & Co-Founding member of the Organization of Legal Professionals and CEO of the Paralegal Knowledge Institute.  She has written 10 books on legal careers and hundreds of articles. Chere has been written up in national publications such as the Los Angeles Times, Chicago Trib and Newsweek.  She is a former paralegal administrator in two major law firms, co-founding member of the International Practice Management Association, an exec in a $5 billion corporation and a national seminar leader.  Reach out to her at ©Chere B. Estrin2017

Law Firms Increasingly Using Alternative Legal Service Providers

Man.positive negativeBy Tami Kamin Meyers for Progressive Law Practice

I was fortunate to be quoted in an article by Tami Kamin-Myers for Progressive Law Practice about ALSPs - Alternative Legal Service Providers. Here is a portion of the article. Please check it out. Thanks!

If it seems that ads from businesses offering services supporting the practice of law are popping up on your LinkedIn or Facebook feed more often than they used to, it’s not your imagination.

According to a new study (PDF) recently released by Thomson Reuters, Georgetown University Law Center’s Center for the Study of the Legal Profession and the University of Oxford Said Business School, more than half of large law firms and 60% of corporate law departments say they utilize alternative legal service providers (ASLP) to assist them with their burgeoning caseloads.

According to Chere Estrin, president and CEO of Estrin Legal Staffing, law firms and corporate legal departments outsource work in three main areas. They are:

  • Document review
  • Electronic discovery
  • Litigation support

In fact, the ever-increasing demand for professionals who can support the efforts of law firms and corporate legal departments is what led Estrin to create her company in 2009 in the first place. She is also the founder of the Organization of Legal Professionals (OLP), a non-profit entity providing online e-discovery training.

Based on the success of the OLP, it became clear to Estrin that her company “had a handle on people looking for jobs. We had an 'in' with candidates,” she says.

When the recession hit and many lawyers lost their jobs, they sought ways to support themselves. Meanwhile, law firms and in-house departments still had work that needed to be completed, and the idea of hiring experienced lawyers on a contractual basis to assist with support services grew more appealing. Certainly, costs were lower, and slowly, law firms and in-house departments broke away from the notion they themselves needed to provide every service to their clients emanating from their cases.

With so many lawyers out of work after the recession, “unemployed lawyers could be hired for less than a paralegal,” Estrin says. While fees being charged by these attorneys have increased since the recession, they are actually lower now than they were five years ago, she says. “What you get is a high quality, good attorney doing the work.”

Today, it’s not just out-of-work attorneys drawn to offering support solutions to law firms. They are attorneys in transition, retired lawyers seeking to supplement their incomes and lawyers looking to pad their caseload, Estrin says. And, contrary to the findings of the Thomson Reuters study, Estrin says it’s not just Big Law or corporate-types outsourcing support services.

In fact, she says, it is mid-size law firms “where there is growth,” she says. Still, Estrin says the overall findings of the report are right on. “Because of training aspects, law firms and corporate law departments are better served by utilizing outside support,” she says, offering several reasons for that opinion.

Among them:

  • ASLPs are entrepreneurial
  • They possess the necessary software to perform the work
  • Their staffs are already trained
  • It is cost-efficient
  • Hiring an ASLP saves the firm from needing to create their own technology department

Steve Smith, president and founder of GrowthSource Coaching, agrees there is a growing need for ASLPs. “Areas that are gaining increased opportunity have to do with specialties the law firm does not have knowledge of,” he says.

In addition, with the massive amount of government reform currently taking place, “huge areas of opportunity” are opening up for traditional law firms. Examples include taxation, healthcare, environmental, gender bias and workplace compliance.


Meet Joseph Spada: Controversial, Trendsetting Leader, Educator, and Paralegal Career Change Agent

SpadaJosephMeet a leader: Joseph Spada, Director of Paralegal Certificate Studies, Boston University. Joe plays a significant role in leading and teaching paralegals who are entering the field. If you think back on significant people who influenced your career path as you entered this field, who might that be? Over the years, hundreds and hundreds of paralegals can point to Joe as a definite contributor to the direction, attitude and success they had as they moved forward in this exciting field. Here's why:

Joe, tell us about your background. Let's start with your your education, always good for an educator!

I have a B.A. degree in English from Boston College and a J.D. from Columbus School of Law, The Catholic University of America.

When did you join Boston University?

I first started at Boston University as a Lecturer of Law, in 1995.  I started teaching Legal Research and then added Legal Writing the second year.

Do you have a paralegal/attorney background?

I worked as an attorney for over 20 years, primarily in the public sector. I was an attorney for the federal judiciary, drafting decisions for federal judges.  I loved the research and writing aspect.  I also realized I was in a rather rare position in that I was not writing as an adversary. In other words, we have an adversarial system in the United States - plaintiffs legal team and defendant’s legal team.  Since I was working in the judiciary branch,  I was sifting through fact and law and just looking for what I could determine was the objective truth without the burden of representing a particular side or point of view.  So those were the great parts of the job, the down side for me:  there was a certain amount of isolation that became cumulative.  It was me, a law library and/or legal search engines and a computer.  There was very little interaction with other human beings, research and write, research and write.  A very solo job.  That was what first drew me to teach.  The ability to engage with others. I just wanted to connect in real time with other professionals and share my area of expertise.

What attracts you to the legal field?

I joke with my students on the solid analytical reasoning that went into my becoming an attorney.  “As an adult, I realized there are two things I avoid in life: confrontation and uncertainty. So I became a lawyer.”  Well, the irony is - law is both.  At the end of the day, it is a system designed around confrontation and really, nothing is ever “certain” in the law.  It is all varying degrees of gray: are the facts closer to this case or to another case is the statute to be interpreted broadly or narrowly, or even will that law be overturned.  Who thought there would be a federally constitutionally protected right for same sex couples to marry?  Now the U.S. has that right, that law, and it is settled … except it really probably isn’t.  There will be lots of challenges for religious exemption type tests and who knows with new and different members of the Supreme Court - laws could change - same with Roe v. Wade.  Nothing is certain and everything is gray and constantly changing.  However, I do think, amidst this chaos, there are guiding principles of logic and precedence to help us navigate.  That is what drew me to the law.  The underlying desire to organize and make sense of our system of governance and how that can help individuals fulfill our best potential.

What are some of the changes to the field in the last five years?

Probably the biggest change in the area of paralegal education is the emergence of online paralegal education whether it is for a certificate or continuing legal education, online options are exploding.  In the ten years since BU first offered an online option, I have seen a great progression in the capabilities of the software for online education.  Programs are interactive and can be both synchronous and asynchronous.  Today, BU’s program uses a variety of tools to bring the information to life.  Students interact with each other, the instructor, and the paralegal teaching assistants through discussion boards. Every module includes a live webinar which is also recorded for those who can not attend the “live” classroom.

In the paralegal field, the use of paralegals in general has greatly increased since the economic collapse of 2008.  I know that’s a little more than 5 years but I find that to be a real time marker in the paralegal profession.  Clients started really examining a law firms' billing and no longer paid the high billables of attorneys without question.  Clients were much less likely to question the lower billings of paralegals especially in areas where paralegals thrive.  Paralegals are now doing the work once done by first, second or third year legal associates.  Their work is just as reliable and their billables are more reasonable which clients appreciate, yet paralegals are still billing client hours which supervising attorneys appreciate.  So in general, much greater use of a paralegals skills in both law firms and in-house counsel positions.

What are the most significant changes experienced paralegals don’t seem to be paying attention to?

Everyone in the workforce, be it experienced paralegals or attorneys, doctors, accountants, firefighters or the police has to stay on top of emerging technologies.  When I was in law school, we went to this place to do legal research called “a library”.  Now, the majority of legal research is done online in Westlaw or Lexis or facts are searched for on Google.  At Boston University, we have an entire module called Legal Technologies.  We teach students about Cloud Computing, E-Discovery, CaseMap, Pacer, and Clio.  Our tuition includes a WestlawNext password, so they have time to learn this expensive software while a student and not on a client’s billable clock.  The experienced paralegal has to stay on top of all it all.  So emerging software is key. Tech-savvy paralegals will always have an advantage.

What’s hot? What’s not?

Hot = distance learning, technology, billable hours and paralegals.

Not Hot = libraries, and legal secretaries. Through the growth of computer technologies, laptops and smartphones and tablets - allows a lot of people to work from home and really lessens the traditional role of the legal secretary.  There is no typing anymore. Attorneys and paralegals are typing their own briefs and email has replaced the need for a letter to be typed.  And, legal secretaries can not bill for their time.

What significance does an ABA approved school play on getting a job?

This entire ABA or non-ABA debate can become quite politicized. I do not believe it is an issue in attorney’s offices and hiring circles.  The first job you are going to get in any field, paralegal or otherwise, will always be the hardest.  After that, where you went to school will matter less and conversely your work experience will matter more.  Not so long ago, the only way a paralegal could be called a paralegal was through work experience.  A certificate was not needed.

In 1995, when I first started as an instructor at Boston University, BU’s paralegal certificate program was modeled on the ABA paradigm.  It was a one and one-half to two year undergraduate program costing approximately twenty thousand dollars.  In 1997, I became aware of some new, very intensified and concise paralegal certificate educational programs offered by traditional non-profit four-year colleges and universities.  Boston University asked me to investigate and compare the advantages / disadvantages between the paradigmatic two-year ABA paralegal certificate model and the more intensified and concise model.  Boston University talked to hiring partners in law firms and in-house counsel in corporations as well as in the public service sector and our research indicated that hiring partners were not making a distinction between ABA and non-ABA approved programs. 

This is particularly true if the individual already has an undergraduate degree.  With an undergraduate degree (as a quick aside, we did see a preference for a Bachelor of Arts degree over an Associates degree and a distinction between nonprofit certificate programs such as Boston University’s and for-profit colleges).

What employers are considering are national reputation and rankings of the certificate granting institution.  In 2016, Boston University was ranked #39 in the U.S. News & World Report, and #42 in the Times Higher Education 2016-2017, #4 in the Best Online Colleges - (2016) and #47 Best Values in Colleges 2016 based on academic excellence and economic value - Kiplinger’s Personal Finance.  At that time, Boston University made a determination to convert our program to its’ present, intensive study, skill set oriented 14 week program.

In 2000, I transitioned the program to our present 14 week intensive study program.  I took out most of the legal theory taught, and focused on skill sets all paralegals need, i.e. attention to detail.  This is mostly in the legal research curriculum where students are provided hypotheticals, WestlawNext and asked to actually do research and find the most relevant law for their “client”.  In making this ‘best law’ determination, students need to consider: jurisdiction, primary source of law, real issues and what terms best identify it.  In more transactional subjects such as Real Estate and Business Law, students are provided hypotheticals and standard legal forms utilized by paralegals on a daily basis.  In Real Estate for example, we have students fill out an “Offer to Purchase”, a “P&S” or Purchase and Sale and  HUD statement, all forms utilized by working paralegals.

The employment pie is large enough to accommodate both types of certificate programs. I’m certainly not going to say there is anything wrong with the ABA module.  The ABA model makes more sense if you are an undergrad and looking for a major.  If you know you want to be a paralegal, yes, that would be a fine choice as an undergraduate but for all those liberal arts majors - from math to history to computer science, nursing - all of those majors - too many to list - I believe the ABA approach is too costly and time consuming and not warranted in the field.  Why - after four years of undergraduate study (and over a hundred thousand dollars of educational expense) two more years in school (and probably another twenty thousand dollars or more)? 

Even in those situations where an employer might prefer an ABA certificate program, potential students still have to weigh not only the significantly higher cost of these programs, but also the loss of time out of the workforce - at least a year if you are going full time.  That’s a year the student is not working, not earning any income. The non-ABA certificated candidate could pitch themselves as trained in paralegal studies and willing to work at less salary for a year under the guidance of an attorney with the possibility of a paralegal position in a year.  They may start working at a slightly less salary but they are working and not spending time/money in school and they are gaining experience.  The intensive non-ABA paralegal certificate is a baited hook that draws in potential employers because it evidences training and interest.   Potential students should be able to determine for themselves what is most appropriate for their respective time in their lives.

What are some of your responsibilities

Designing the curriculum and keeping it current is a major responsibility of mine.  I also hire and dismiss staff. I supervise 24 attorneys and 14 paralegals.

I teach two of our subjects: legal research and legal writing.  I was first drawn to Boston University for the classroom and student contact and that remains my first love.  Students bring such enthusiasm and even a certain innocence to the classroom.  All students are different and all are there for different reasons and backgrounds but there are some commonalitie and their desire to learn and conquer really does inspire me.

What significance, if any, does a CLA or CP play in getting a job?

I personally know (and have hired) two paralegals who have their CLA and/or CP.  Both successfully completed the Boston University Paralegal Certificate program.  Having those added monikers had no bearing on my hiring them.  I have hired over 18 paralegals as Director and those are the only two that chose to study for that accreditation.  Nothing wrong with the added accreditation.  I just don’t see it ever playing in an employment decision.  I know there are those that disagree. I specifically asked my two employees if they think it helped them.  Both thought it helped in understanding and gaining further expertise in specific area of the law but not in getting a job. 

One said not one of the employers she interviewed with even knew what the abbreviations were.  Which is not to say they can’t gain traction but I certainly don’t see that now. There is the CORE certification by the NFPA for entry level paralegals.  I hired a paralegal with a CORE certification.  It was not a factor in hiring her but I did ask if she thinks it is beneficial. She thinks it may have helped her get a little bit of an edge at her last job when she received a promotion but she wasn’t sure.  Of course, a little bit of an edge is better than no edge at all.

What happens to states that do not have mandatory CLE?  Do you believe in mandatory CLEs?

Nothing happens to the states that don’t have mandatory CLEs.  There is no national standard for attorneys having CLEs and CLEs for paralegals is even more amorphous.    I know some paralegal organizations are in favor of mandatory CLEs.  I believe both NALA and NFPA are advocates of state mandatory CLEs.  I will always encourage and support the continuation of education to ensure you are on top of your professional game.  I do not feel that has to be regulated by the state.  The free market system will impose the best standards.

While I don’t think CLE’s should be mandatory for paralegals on either a national or a state level, I encourage my students to take CLEs.  They are a wonderful way to gain areas of subject matter expertise and not only are you learning the actual course content, you are meeting people also in that specific area of law and that is a wonderful way to build and nurture your own professional (and perhaps even personal) network.  Classrooms (physical or virtual) are a great way to meet people who share your common interests.

Where is the field headed?

The legal field in the United States is vast.  The familiar metaphor, " a big ship turning slowly" comes to mind.  That being said, the high cost of law school, coupled with the declining employment prospects for attorneys, is in contrast to the lower cost of paralegal certificates and the higher prospects of paralegal employment which obviously bodes well for the paralegal field.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, paralegal employment growth is at 8% over the next five years.  For lawyers, the employment growth rate is less.  It reduces down to 6% employment growth.  For legal secretaries, that employment growth rate goes down to 3%.  (published date: December 17, 2015)

There is an interesting movement regarding well, a type of “advanced” paralegal.  A position between a paralegal and an attorney that is called the Limited License Legal Technicians.  The motivation for this is the belief that legal services may be made more accessible to those with lower economic resources.  The rationale being, it will take less education costs and time to become a limited license legal technician than it would be for an attorney, so in limited areas legal technicians can provide legal services at lesser costs.  This is a state-by-state matter.  Some states will vote for it, and some will not. 

The state of Washington is the first state (and at the time of this writing - 2017 - the only State ) to offer trained and licensed Legal Technicians to assist people in family law matters.  These legal technician positions are not in direct competition with the average paralegal.  The common comparison is to the medical field and nursing.  The majority of nurses are RNs or LPNs but now nurses also have the option of going to more school and becoming Nurse Practitioners, and with that added education - in addition to their nursing degrees - they can with limited parameters - treat patients and prescribe some medications, like antibiotics but nurse practitioners can not prescribe for controlled substances. 

Attorneys will still employ paralegals.  The future may allow for some paralegals to seek more education and state or bar administered testing, to become limited licensed legal technicians and perhaps work independently in restricted legal areas.  Will the majority of states follow this module?  I don’t have a crystal ball.  Many attorneys are not anxious to open the field up to allow even in limited circumstances to anyone other than an attorney who passed that state’s bar to practice law.  Others feel that legal technicians may be a bridge between the lower economic class who has fewer resources as legal funding programs get slashed along with the availability of needed legal help.

This will be a very slow state-by-state process.  I do not see it hurting or even influencing the mutually beneficial, symbiotic partnership between paralegals and attorneys.

What skills do paralegals need today?

Paralegals need the same skills as every other professional working in the U.S (and with increasing globalization - the same skills as international professionals).  Primarily, we need to be self-motivated with an attention to detail. We need to demonstrate this in everything we do.  For example, you can tell a potential employer that you “are a very self-motivated worker with an excellent attention to detail.”  Job seekers think that is a wonderful thing to say in a cover letter or interview.  It is an empty, vacuous and conclusory statement.  Employers don’t want unsupported conclusions.  They don’t want them at work and nor in an interview.  So, how can a paralegal “evidence” or “support” the statement that they are in fact self-motivated and detail oriented?  One example is to write a complete, fully informed, LinkedIn profile.  If you tell me you are self-motivated and detail oriented and your LinkedIn profile is not 110%, then the evidence of that statement does not support your conclusion. 

Show a potential employer a fully articulated, thought out, robust LinkedIn profile, and they will come to the conclusion that you are in fact self-motivated and detail oriented.  Give them the evidence to form that conclusion.

What does global skills have to do with someone in mid-America?

I don’t think global skills are all that different from traditional good business practices.  There are many definitions of “global skills” but pretty much boil down to: cultural sensitivity, collaborative skills, getting comfortable with situations in which you are not traditionally comfortable and being able to work with various cultural norms to accomplish your own firm’s or employer’s goals.

Whether you are a paralegal in mid-America or mid-Manhattan in today’s world with today’s technology, you may be working remotely, virtually, Skyping with others across the country or even globe.

As an example, I am employed at Boston University. I have an office there.  I also work from my home.  At 8:00 pm eastern time, I have a Live Classroom where students can sign in and participate in their education from their own home computers.  I have students not only across the United States but across the globe.  A few years ago, I had an individual who found one of my hypotheticals offensive.  It was a hypothetical that very few U.S. students would even blink at.  This student happened to live in Indonesia.  It involved an unmarried cohabiting heterosexual couple.  If I want to expand BU’s reach and influence, if I want to honor and respect all my students, I have to be willing to examine cultural variances.  I excused her from that particular hypothetical (while also explaining that in the U.S. such cohabitation is not unusual). 

The lesson for me was to accept her cultural sensitivity, and emphasis the research skill set the hypothetical was enforcing with another hypothetical I wrote for her.  I found a way to respect her as a student and also advance the mission statement which is: “Boston University is an international, comprehensive, private research university, committed to educating students to be reflective, resourceful individuals ready to live, adapt, and lead in an interconnected World.”

What advice would you give to new paralegals?

To paraphrase:  I have three words of advice to new paralegals: network, network, network.

Networking does not have to be this difficult, burdensome or even oppressive albatross.  If you think networking is “tooooo hard”, change your mindset. The reality is, networking can be quite invigorating, enjoyable and affirming.

We can start networking  online. Here’s an assignment (come on - I’m a teacher.  I always have an assignment) … so, for every paralegal, or student, thinking of becoming a paralegal, go post on your Facebook page that you are excited about the paralegal field.  Make it an upbeat, joyful, optimistic post.  End your post with a question, “Do any of my Facebook friends know someone in the legal or paralegal field that I might have an exploratory conversation with?”  Or, if you are a working paralegal post something like, “I love working in my area of the law.  What do other paralegals love about their jobs?” Now that’s not hard.  Facebook has  a ‘group’ section.  Type in the group section “paralegal” . Even type your geographic area and the word “paralegal”. Join and participate in group discussions.  You will educate yourself issues in the field and make professional contacts at the same time.  Always make sure your posts are upbeat.

I recently went to a paralegal resume and networking conference sponsored by my local Massachusetts Paralegal Association.  One of the Placement Agents said:  “If you are not on LinkedIn, you are not looking for a job.” You have to have a detail oriented, robust LinkedIn page.  That’s not hard to do. It just takes commitment and time.  If you are not sure how to fill out a LinkedIn profile, Youtube is your friend.  There a 100s of Youtube videos showing how to best fill out a LinkedIn profile.  View several and cull what you think is the best information from each.

Mostly I would tell a new paralegal, everyone is a contact.  From the other parents at a PTA meeting, to people you meet at the dog park, the book club, soccer or football sidelines, church, synagogue, temple … I don’t care if it’s a pagan prayer circle - talk to people.  Share your enthusiasm for this field and don’t be afraid to ask if they know others you might be able to talk with.  You know your friends but you don’t always know the other friends in their lives and how your friends may be able to help you connect with other similar paralegal enthusiasts.  In a small world, you can become a big paralegal.

Chere B. Estrin is the CEO of Estrin Legal Staffing; CEO of the Paralegal Knowledge Institute; President and Co-Founding Member of the Organization of Legal Professionals (OLP). She has written 10 books in the legal field including The Paralegal Career Guide (4th Ed.) and Where Do We Go From Here? Chere is a Co-Founding Member of the International Practice Management Association (IPMA) (formerly the International Paralegal Management Association); a Lifetime Achievement Recipient of the Los Angeles Paralegal Association. She is a former Paralegal Administrator for two major law firms; an executive in a $5 billion corporation; an Inc. magazine Entrepreneur of the Year finalist; Los Angeles/Century City Women of Achievement Award Recipient; and has been written up in Newsweek; Los Angeles Times; Daily Journal; Above the Law and other publications. She can be reached on her free time Sundays 3:00 a.m. - 6:00 a.m. Talk to her at