Who's Afraid of the Big Bad Stress?

Stress4Stress doesn't really scare me. It is part and parcel of our lives. Why, might you ask, would anyone say that? Probably because in the second half of my work life, I have found the secrets to a relatively stress free career.

Article after article has been written about stress. It’s the same old, same old: manage your stress, have a plan, stay positive, visualize your last trip to Hawaii in the sun-soaked terrain, exercise daily and get regular hot rock massages. That, or have a glass of good white wine, get in the bathtub with lots of Evelyn & Crabtree, cozy candles and listen to old Neil Diamond songs.

I don’t know where some of these authors get this stuff, except to say that they must live in Dreamland, somewhere east of here. Have they ever worked in a law firm? I used to be the most stressed-out person I knew. I averaged 90 hour weeks in the legal field as an executive in a $5 billion corporation, traveled three weeks out of four, answered to some big shots who thought they owned the planet, and managed hundreds of people. It wasn’t much different when I was a paralegal manager. There were critical deadlines to meet, difficult attorneys to juggle, anxious clients to handle and something called a “minimum billable hours” requirement, now referred to as “suggested” hours in a more politically correct and less actionable environment. I recently looked at a picture of myself during that era. I was holding my new-born niece, Cristina, a joy to behold and I looked like I just escaped from a train wreck and stopped by to say howdy.

Some years ago, California Lawyer magazine published an article by Richard Carlton, author of “Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff” that cited: “Among members of the medical community, there is a growing acceptance that stress from long working hours, such as 70 hours a week or more, may contribute to the onset of clinical depression. A study of 10,000 adults by a team from Johns Hopkins University discovered that among all the occupational groups represented, attorneys had the highest prevalence of signs and symptoms of clinical depression. In fact, the rate of depression among the attorneys studied was 3.6 times the norm for all occupations.”

The article further stated that, “Psychologists observe that attorneys, who are trained to be impersonal and objective, often apply the same approach to their personal problems and are reluctant to focus on their inner emotional lives.” Wow. Examining the state of mind of those around you in relation to why your atmosphere seems stressful is very revealing, indeed. First, let’s debunk some myths about workplace stress.

Myth #1:  Stress is normal for anyone working in the legal community.  The stakes are high and when the stakes are high, so is the stress.  Anything can go wrong at any time.  Stress is even good for you because it pushes you to perform.

            Some people think that if you’re not too busy, you’re not really crucial to the organization, particularly when you are rewarded for high billable hours.  But stress does not mean you matter. It either means that something is wrong at work or that you’re not doing a good enough job of matching your tasks to your time. Worse, it also means that you get less work done, because stressed people are less efficient, worse communicators and even worse at making good decisions. To accept stress as a normal condition of work is bad for people and bad for business.

There are also certain delusions we create for ourselves.  Declaring that you thrive under stress is a justification for procrastination. Sure, there are people who can’t figure out how to deliver anything until the last minute. But this is a crisis in confidence (fear of starting for fear of failing) as opposed to stunning brilliance unlocked by stress.

Myth #2: Stress is caused by working too much.   But then, why do some people work 80 hours a week and feel great, while some people work 30 hours and get seriously stressed?  Here’s why: stress has nothing to do with the number of hours you work, and everything to do with how you feel during those hours. If you work 100 hours a week and feel great, have fun and take pride in what you do, you won’t be stressed. If you work 30 hours a week feel inadequate, bullied or unappreciated, you will be stressed.  Stress at the workplace does not always cause unhappiness. Your workplace happiness hinges more on whether or not you like your work than on whether or not your work is stressful, according to Alan Krueger, a professor at Princeton University.

Myth #3: Stress is cured by working fewer hours.  Most workplaces react to stress by reducing employees’ workloads, responsibilities or working hours and in serious cases, by giving people long sick leaves. According to Danish medical researcher Bo Netterstrom who has studied workplace stress for 30 years, this is a mistake.

            Netterstrom claims people hit by stress need to increase their confidence at work. While time off can be necessary to treat the immediate symptoms of stress, a long absence from the workplace does exactly the opposite. When people return, they’re even more vulnerable. Worse, some never return to work at all. Reducing work or leaving work temporarily doesn’t fix any underlying problems. When employees return to work or to “normal” work conditions, nothing has changed and the stress returns quickly.

Myth #4: Stress is cured by working more.   Falling behind at work from time- to-time is a given in this 24/7, Internet accessed, Iphoned, work world. Believing that if you work really hard for a while you’ll catch up and then stress will go away is a fairy tale. It won’t “just go away” for two reasons:
            1.         Workplace stress does not come from falling behind at work. It comes from how you feel about falling behind.

            2.         In most law firm environments, people will always be behind. There is simply too much work. Finishing all your assignments can mean getting more work along with the career enhancing opportunity to push your billable hours even higher. 

            A temporary push to reduce a pile of work or meet a deadline is fine. But all too often that temporary push becomes the new standard.  So the solution to stress is not to work harder to catch up because in most law firms, this is impossible. The solution is to feel good about the work you finish and not to get stressed about the work you don’t finish. It’s not that you should stop caring or not look for a solution.  It’s that you should avoid a vicious circle:  being stressed makes you less productive which means you get less work done and become more stressed.  

The Truth about Stress

            Work does not give you stress. Feeling bad about work gives you stress. This means that changing your work hours, responsibilities, priorities or work environment is meaningless, unless it also changes the way you feel at work. Forget about those stress management courses. They just will not do the trick either, unless they can achieve how you feel.

            The most common sources of stress for legal professionals — deadlines, lack of control over time, difficult clients, escalating intensity, no margin for error - are outside of a paralegal’s control.  What determines how much stress these circumstances cause is the degree to which these “givens” are perceived as threatening. Any perceived threat - real or not - triggers our body’s “fight-or-flight response.” Over a period of time, it is possible to modify how your body reacts by whether you perceive situations as threatening. Ask yourself whether an issue really justifies your current reaction - or, whether it will matter in a month. Keep matters in perspective so that stress is relative to its importance.

What Do I Do Now?

            Given that I have knocked a number of standard stress articles, I do have a few suggestions that personally helped change my life around.  Everyone can find a way out of stress and some may wish to seek professional counseling. Let me share a few things that I found helpful:

                1.         You can’t change things if you don’t acknowledge them.  Ok, so I’m quoting a TV psychologist.  But he hit it right on.  When it was first brought to my attention that I was stressed out, I was in total denial.  Because I was fearful of being accused of failing and I wanted to do a great job, I denied I was stressed-out.  To me, it was a sign that I couldn’t deal with the job.  What I really needed to change was my responses.  Acknowledge what is.  Without that acknowledgement, you cannot take action.

                2.         Learn to really laugh.  How long has it been since you laughed out loud, long and hard?  I mean a good belly-laugh.  If you’re stressed-out, it’s probably been awhile.  Laughter releases endorphins, natural pain-killers.  It boosts immune function by raising levels of infection-fighting T-cells, disease-fighting proteins called Gamma-interferon and disease-destroying antibodies called B-cells.  In short, it’s great medicine. 

                 3.         Make a friend at work. When you have someone you can confide in, someone with whom you feel secure, trust, can share the ups-and-downs of the workplace, you feel better.  The environment somehow doesn’t seem all that bad.

                4.         Make a decision.  The only way to transform your life is to make a decision to change and then honor that decision.  Decide how you want to live your life and set about with complete certainty to create it.  The most critical time in my career came when I decided that I wanted to create the environment that was right for me. I wanted to own my own business and call my own shots.  I haven’t looked back.  I’m happier than a clam.

                5.         Love ‘em or leave ‘em.  You have to love what you’re doing.  You absolutely have to get up in the morning and be excited about the workday.  There is no better career booster than a job that you love, thrive in and that remains fun and stimulating.  That’s what actually changed me around.  I personally created a situation where I am passionate about what I do; feel appreciated, challenged and excited just about every day. (There is no 100% avoidance in the war against stress.) With that attitude, it doesn’t matter if I work 30 or 90 hours a week.  I am thrilled by what I do and the time I spend doing it.

            The secrets to a (relatively) stress-free environment? Make a decision to craft your career so that it works for you.  Decide what you will stress about and what you will not.  By loving the job you’re in, stress becomes  a challenge and challenge become invigorating.  Trust someone who spent the first half of her career as sergeant of the stress battalion: creating a work environment that is pretty much stress free is the long-term answer for outrageous, healthy success.

Chere Estrin is the CEO of Estrin Legal Staffing, CEO of Paralegal Knowledge Institute and President and Co-Founding Member of the Organization of Legal Professionals. She She is the author of 10 books on legal careers, a national seminar speaker and has been written up in Newsweek, LA Times, Daily Journal, Entrepreneur magazine and other top publications. She is the recipient of the LAPA Lifetime Achievement Award. You can find her with free time on Sundays from 3:00 a.m. to 6:00 a.m. Talk to her at chere@estrinlegalstaffing.com.  Copyright C.B. Estrin 2016


The Newest, Latest Trends in the Paralegal World - Are You Riding the Horse in the Direction It's Going?

Horse.backwardsIt’s a whole new world out there for paralegals. If you are not riding the horse in the direction it’s going, you are going to be left behind. Why? Because whether you are seeking a new position, looking to expand in your role at your present job or merely suiting up and showing up (let’s be honest here), staying complacent and ignoring the trends is, well, death to your career.

Here are just a few of the most recent trends of which you need to be aware:

  1. Hottest, most requested software package for litigation paralegals: Relativity.
    Employers can’t get enough litigation paralegals with solid Relativity skills. If you are not familiar with Relativity, get on the band-wagon now. Even if your firm doesn’t use it in-house, you may be required to oversee the vendor of your choice who is using it.

  2. Most requested skills - Real Estate transactional:
    Real estate is heating up. Law firms are seeking the experienced paralegal who can review title reports, surveys, prepare lease summaries, purchase and sale agreements, participate in closings and due diligence. Biggest mistake you can make: Pushing your real estate license. I know you’re proud of it. But, in fact, law firms hate to hear about it. Yes, you did learn about easements, title reports, and escrow accounts in your real estate license course and you’ve sold a lot of houses. But law firms don’t want that skill. Why? It’s not transaction paralegal work. They discount the real estate license and I mean big time. It’s a huge turnoff and doesn’t help in most cases.

  3. Biggest, newest step-down or step-up? The Paralegal hybrid job called the Paralegal/Legal Assistant:
    By combining your paralegal and secretarial skills, the firm saves money. No longer do attorneys need a full-time secretary, so by combining the paralegal with the legal assistant, they think they save money. However, they do lose the billable time the paralegal generates while saving the dollars they put out for the secretary. You must have great typing skills, know the court system and be able to tolerate clerical duties such as meeting and greeting clients, getting coffee, booking travel arrangements, typing correspondence, and answering phones. If you can do that, you might make a very decent salary. Good legal secretaries can earn upper $70’s to lower $80’s in major metropolitan areas.  We actually just placed a Real Estate Paralegal/Legal Assistant in Los Angeles for $95,000 plus bonus. Who knew?

  4. Why the paralegal pool seems smaller: It isn’t, really. Paralegals are moving into other roles with different titles such as Litigation Support or eDiscovery.
    Employers are hiring paralegals with excellent technology skills. These paralegals now have titles such as Litigation Support Analyst, Coordinator, or Manager and earning very decent salaries. If you check the backgrounds of highly successful eDiscovery Case Managers and Litigation Support professionals, you probably will find a paralegal background. This is a great area for you to move into. Garner and develop your technology skills. This is where you find the money and upward movement. Salaries can range from $80 - $110,000 or higher, depending upon the level of management duties, sophistication of computer background and region of the country.

  5. Speak another language? Foreign language skills are in demand:
    We’re seeing more requests for bilingual abilities in many practice specialties including Spanish for legal support professionals.
  1. Want to work in your jammies? Ah, the joy of telecommuting and the virtual law office:
    More and more employers are offering positions based on home office or virtual law office that leads to controlled overhead and better work/lifestyle balance. However, be aware that this can be a lonely adventure if you are used to a lively environment and colleagues surrounding you. It takes a certain personality and strict discipline to be able to work from home. Salaries remain comparable to those found in offices.
  1. You absolutely, positively must have knowledge of eDiscovery:
    I can’t tell you how many candidates I talk with who tell me they know nothing about eDiscovery. In fact, they repeat the question with, “Do you mean eFiling?” Come on, folks! eDiscovery has been around for years and years now. You are not going to get anywhere in your career without understanding eDiscovery and the EDRM. Take free webinars from vendors. Get signed up for seminars or webinars but understand eDiscovery. If your firm or in-house legal department “isn’t into it”, it is dying, dying, dying and eventually, you’ll be out of a job. Then what?

  2. Of course, we all have enhanced communication skills: What I mean is……
    Another major trend is a focus on legal writing, communication and marketing. Many employers believe that paralegals today lack necessary oral and written communication skills and are asking for a writing sample from prospective candidates. Be sure that you take continuing legal education classes not only in legal writing but good old fashioned business writing as well.

  3. It’s all about the Internet and Distance Learning:
    Distance learning, also known as e-learning, is one of the fastest-growing segments of continuing legal education.  Media and interactive technologies have increased the e-learning possibilities in the academic setting and the workplace. The flexibility of taking classes at any time from any location is now the norm. Distance learning appeals to all employees, and is especially popular with experienced, busy paralegals on limited CLE budgets or those with families.

Online continuing education classes are an excellent way to make yourself more marketable, not only if you are looking to change jobs, but also if you are seeking to advance right where you are now. Be sure to let your employer know that you have taken a class. It’s a great way to get more sophisticated assignments and move up within your firm.

  1. The way we find a job and present ourselves professionally: You must have a LinkedIn profile.

If you don’t have a LinkedIn profile or haven’t paid any attention to the one you do have, you are shooting yourself in the career foot.  Employers today spend 2 seconds reviewing your resume looking for keywords and then look you up on LinkedIn to see a) whether your profile matches the resume; b) whether you are promoting yourself as a paralegal (and not an actor or something else) and c) yes, to view your professional picture. (Don't remind me it's illegal. I know that.)

They also want to see your summary that should indicate a bit of your personality. They are checking to see if you are the modern employee and if you are professionally keeping up with social media. The more you are up-to-date, the more they feel they are getting someone who is savvy enough to work for them. If you are not seeking employment, you still need to be on LinkedIn as quite frankly, it’s the professional thing to do.

Chere Estrin is the CEO of Estrin Legal Staffing (www.estrinlegalstaffing.com). She has written 10 books on legal careers including The Paralegal Career Guide 4th Ed. Her blog, The Estrin Report has been around since 2005. Chere has written hundreds of articles, is a national seminar speaker and has been interviewed by the LA Times, Newsweek, the Chicago Trib, Above the Law and other publications. She is the CEO of the Paralegal Knowledge Institute and President and Co-Founding Member of the Organization of Legal Professionals.   She is a co-founding member of the International Practice Management Association, a Los Angeles Paralegal Association Lifetime Achievement Award Recipient, a New York City Paralegal Excellence Award Recipient and an Inc. Magazine Entrepreneur of the Year Finalist. Reach out to her at chere@estrinlegalstaffing.com.


Refusing to Play Office Politics? You Might Want to Rethink That.

It’s a dirty word.  I’ll be surprised if it gets printed here so I’ll whisper:  office politics….  (Shhhhhhh!)  Your mother may have told you that nice professionals don’t do that sort of thing. Gossip

Anyone who tells me they “avoid office politics” is really telling me that they are heavy into the game.  Politics are an integral part of the world of work. Truth be told, what’s really behind office politics, however, is fear. Fear of what could, might or does happen.

No one I know likes to admit that they play office politics or worse yet, that they are pretty good at it. Employees often complain that they are not involved or they just want to do their jobs.  Let me share a time-saving technique:  Do not waste one second commiserating about the horrible politics in your firm.  There is no gathering of three or more persons that is free of politics.

Politics come with the office (or cubicle).  In a 2012 study from staffing firm Robert Half International nearly 60 percent of workers said involvement in office politics is at least somewhat necessary to get ahead. Another survey from OfficeTeam, a California staffing organization, stated 19% of executives wasted their time – at least one day a week – dealing with company politics.  These execs said they spent a good deal of time dealing with internal conflicts, rivalry disputes and other similar situations.

With competition rising for jobs, it is necessary to be aware of how politics can operate. Sometimes, why you keep your job is as much based upon loyalty to the firm and your supervisors as it is on performance.  Staying out of the game is an option.  Not playing the game is a strategy for dealing with the game.  Political skill requires knowledge of how the firm operates and who operates it, along with unwritten policies and written rules.  People who don’t play and don’t get kudos give politics a bad rap.  However, I have never heard anyone complain about office politics who has been the beneficiary of its actions.

 Here are a few drawbacks resulting in not being politically savvy.  You may be perceived as:

  • Not a player who can be promoted;
  • A loner, not a team-player – an essential skill in law firms;
  • Lacking career-management skills;
  • Untrustworthy of confidences and not able to receive important information.

I’m not talking about cutthroat office politics – the stab-you-in-the-back-don’t-dare-meet-me-in-a-dark-alley-I’ll-take-credit-for-your-every-idea-gossipy politics.  That’s not politics.  That’s dirty play.  Never a good idea.

I’m referring to knowing how the game is played that in turn allows you a good chance of competing competently with those who undertake the lifestyle of cubicle warfare.  “Politics is really the play of human interactions at work that can make your job easier or more difficult,” write co-authors Ronna Lichtenburg and Gene Stone in Work Would be Great If It Weren’t for the People.  “Being a good office politician means you know how to turn individual agendas into common goals.”

How can you be a good office politician?  Here are a few starters:

  1. Politics are about power. Just as there is no real definition of the practice of law, there’s no standard definition of power.  You need to pinpoint the factors considered “powerful” in your firm.  Blaine Pardoe, author of Cubicle Warfare:  Self-Defense Strategies for Today’s Hypercompetitive Workplace provides examples of how firms measure power:

    • Headcount – how many people report to one manager
    • Office location such as a corner
    • Company-paid perks such as club memberships; first-class travel
    • High-profile project assignments
    • Merit bonuses
    • Amount of budget
    • Most powerful computer or system
    • Individuals who receive a high degree of acceptance by upper management for failures.

Add to the above: paid association dues; whether you are invited to firm events; a window office; whether you are invited to socialize with attorneys and supervisors; level of employee that reports to you; where your parking spot is located; if you are given a laptop; and whether you have a firm credit card.

  1. Learn from the past. The unofficial history of your firm is important.  How were past employees rewarded?  Who was a hero?  Who was fired? Why? 

  2. Don’t ignore (or believe everything you hear from) the grapevine. Although the grapevine is an unofficial communication channel, it can be a rich source of information.  It’s a good idea to become friends with people tapped in.  Sometimes it’s the “sacred cow” - the person who has been with the firm 25 years or the receptionist with her ear to ground. 

  3. Start with your boss. It’s your job to make managing or senior partners look good.  Know what is expected and find out how to add value.  If moving up the ladder is a priority, find out if your a) paralegal department is profitable b) results are measured c) boss has the power to make decisions that affect your goals, and d) boss is perceived favorably.  If you’re tied in with a loser, chances are pretty good you are not going to be first for promotion.

  4. Find out where the power resides. Promotions and survival are usually based on loyalty.  Identify where the power resides and select the winning side.  If possible, become a part of that department or work in connection with to it. Find out who the conduit to the power is. It may be that using the conduit can get you to the power.

  5. Perform at a level beyond reproach. In office politics, negative stereotyping can have a devastating affect on how fast and far you go.  For example, if the probate department is not favored, chances of succeeding are limited.

  6. Be careful how you socialize. The firm is not your family.  Tread carefully.  Opinions are based on observations.  Avoid getting involved with conflict as it is very easy to get labeled as someone who does not get along with others.  Dating a colleague on the job is something that should probably be avoided.  In fact, make that a no-go.

  7. Avoid cliques. Managers tend to view cliques as detrimental to teamwork and feel that they often undermine authority.  The ultimate result of a clique is that it may affect your raises. 

  8. Cultivate alliances in high places. Insulate yourself from some of the effects of nasty office politics and get advice on how to cope.

       10.  Don’t get consumed with office politics. Politics can be necessary but be aware it can have a negative impact. Participate positively as a point of survival but avoid becoming

Don’t be a novice at the oldest game in corporate history.  Philosopher Plato knew the importance of managing the perils of politics.  His advice?  “Those who are too smart to engage in politics are punished by being governed by those who are dumber.”  Amen to that.

Chere Estrin is the CEO of Estrin Legal Staffing and CEO of Paralegal Knowledge Institute, an online training organization. She is the author of 10 books on legal careers and has written her blog, The Estrin Report since 2005 in addition to hundreds of articles. Chere is a Los Angeles Paralegal Association lifetime achievement recipient, Co-Founding Member of the International Practice Management Association and President and Co-Founding Member of the Organization of Legal Professionals. She has been interviewed by Newsweek, the Los Angeles Times, The Chicago Tribune, The Daily Journal and other publications. Talk to her at chere@estrinlegalstaffing.com.

Highly Paid Successful Workers Compensation Paralegal Tells All - An Interview with Paula Delp, ACP

DelpPaulaOn occasion, you meet an exception to the rule. This is the case with Paula Delp, one of the highest paid Workers Compensation Paralegals in the country, if not the highest. What a breath of fresh air! Great attitude, smart, dedicated....ok, I digress here. It takes a lot to impress me and believe me, I'm impressed.

Generally known as a low paying specialty, Workers Compensation is often under-rated in its complexity of skill sets required.  There are two sides of the specialty: applicant and defense. Working with this specialty in recruiting for several well-known, well-respected firms, I have interviewed literally hundreds of paralegals. While the position is often rewarding, the paralegal is often compensated as low as $12.00 - $16.00 per hour.  These paralegals rarely tell me that they have low job satisfaction. I found happy, dedicated employees who are compassionate and involved in their jobs. Here is a specialty where you learn via on-the-job training.  While paralegal certificates are preferred, there are no paralegal programs I know of that offer training in Workers Compensation.

Enter Paula Delp, a highly successful, well-compensated paralegal with a great sense of humor and practical, down-to-earth attitude. Here is her eye-opening interview about a specialty rarely written up. This hidden job market has lots of openings, great job satisfaction, is even-keeled in the economy..... it's just that salary thing.....

Who is Paula E. Delp, ACP?

I'm 53 years old, born and raised in Southern California. My father is a retired truck driver. Mother is dedicated homemaker and Avon representative. I have three siblings - one  sister and two brothers. I am the only one of the four kids who has an advanced education as my sister is a homemaker; one brother is a laborer, and the other is a welder.

I've been married since May 1995 to the same man (Fun Fact: I met husband through an ad in the newspaper and have two sons, ages 19 and 14). Our oldest was born on our second anniversary. My husband is a stay-at-home dad and has been since 2000 or 2001. I am the sole breadwinner for our family.

What is your background prior to becoming a paralegal?

In 1984, I moved to Reno, NV, and secured a job working for Federal Probation and Parole as a probation clerk preparing pre-sentence reports and documents related to supervision of probationers and parolees. In 1985, I transferred from the Reno office to the Long Beach satellite office. Only supervision was conducted out of that office; pre-sentence reports were prepared out of downtown Los Angeles.

In 1988, I was tired of the politics associated with working for the government, so I began looking for work in the private sector. I secured my first job as a legal secretary for Cantrell & Green, a workers’ compensation firm for applicants. There, I performed all aspects of secretarial duties except transcription (that was done by our word processing department). I dealt closely with clients (Applicants in this case), primarily on the telephone, as the attorneys did not like to take calls.

In 2000 I began to think seriously about where I wanted to go with my legal career and started looking for employment elsewhere. My thought was to get out of workers’ compensation, but it was difficult since I didn’t have any other experience. The best I could do was switch sides and go to work for defense. At the same time, I enrolled in the paralegal program at Cerritos College.

On 11/6/00, I began working for Schlossberg & Associates (now Schlossberg & Umholtz) in Anaheim, a workers’ compensation defense firm, as a legal secretary. I began working for an associate, but after 8 months, she left the firm. I then worked as a floater until I left on maternity leave in August 2001. When I returned, we had opened a Los Angeles office, and the owner of the firm asked me to come to work for him. I worked as his secretary until December 2004, when I asked to be trained as a paralegal. The following May (2005), I graduated from Cerritos College with an AA degree in paralegal studies and a 4.0 GPA.

What made you decide to become a paralegal?

I wanted something different. I wanted to remain in the legal field, but I wanted something more challenging than transcribing all day.

How did you get your first job?

I am not sure if you mean my very first job or my first job as a paralegal. My first job was as a file clerk in a law office after school, which I obtained by writing letters to the law firms in my neighborhood. My first and only paralegal job is for my current employer, Schlossberg & Umholtz, which I obtained when I asked to be promoted. My training was long and arduous. It took my boss a long time to trust that his training took hold, after which he let me loose on his caseload.

Did you leverage prior skills into becoming a paralegal?

I’m not quite sure how to answer this question. My main skill is typing—I type nearly 100 wpm—and I do a lot of my own typing; but I dictate much of my work, as well. I’ve been in the workers’ comp industry for nearly 30 years, so I was able to use my experience with all the changes in the law through the years to build on in my career as a paralegal.

Who influenced you?

The only one I can think of is my boss. I haven’t really had anyone as a paralegal influence me to become a paralegal. My boss has supported me through every aspect of my career, when I was going to school and when I studied for the CP exam. He pays my dues to my various legal associations, and he pays for me to go to MCLE [mandatory continuing legal education] seminars. He taught me everything I know about how to do my job, and I think he is pleased with my work.

What responsibilities do you have at your present job?

I basically help manage my attorney’s caseload. I help with everything on the file except make the appearances or attend depositions. I review the mail and address letters to opposing counsel and the client setting forth a plan of action. I schedule medical evaluations and depositions, I prepare initial analysis reports for new claims that come in, I review medical records and prepare summaries of those records, prepare settlement documents, prepare cases for hearings, prepare trial exhibits, and once the case resolves, I resolve the lien claims.

Tell us about a very rewarding case you have handled.

From a defense point of view, a “rewarding” case is when we can get a “take nothing” or get a case dismissed. One particular case comes to mind where the Applicant injured her foot by stepping on a rusty nail then later claimed that her injury caused paralysis. The doctors believed her and diagnosed her with “conversion disorder,” which essentially means it’s in her head, though she believes she is truly injured. However, we obtained surveillance video showing the Applicant to be quite active walking well on her own. We even obtained video evidence that she would get in the wheelchair for her deposition and doctors’ appointments. She was ultimately prosecuted for fraud and her workers’ compensation claim was dismissed.

Tell us about a very tough case.

The toughest cases come when the opposing counsel sends the Applicant to a physician in every specialty under the sun (typically internal medicine, psyche, pain management, and ortho). One such case settled by Stipulation providing the Applicant with an impairment for psyche and ortho and future medical care to those body parts. She then reopened her claim, and opposing counsel attempted to stip it again, this time including internal. This Applicant had two dates of injury, but one claim was barred because opposing counsel filed his Petition to Reopen more than five years after the date of injury, which is when the Statute of Limitations ran. The agreed doctors did increase the Applicant’s impairment, but because of the way the doctors apportioned the disability, we are arguing that opposing counsel’s demand for a Stip at a higher rate is not valid. It is a little confusing to explain. In the end, this case is going to trial, and has yet to be decided.

How have you seen the paralegal position change over the years?

My entire legal experience lies in the workers’ compensation arena. In the workers’ compensation arena, paralegals are acting more as “hearing representatives,” mostly on the side of the Applicant. However, I, too, have appeared at the Appeals Board on occasion. In workers’ compensation, non-attorneys are allowed to appear “in court,” whereas other court systems do not allow for the appearance of non-attorneys. I could not testify to whether or how the position has changed in other areas of law.

Why are workers comp paralegals historically paid beneath the average paralegal compensation across the country?

Most paralegals in workers’ compensation work on the Applicant’s side of the claim, and Applicants' attorneys only receive 15 percent of the award or settlement; unlike civil litigation attorneys who get a third of the award or settlement, so I hear. In other areas of law, attorneys get to charge an hourly rate which can be pretty steep, again as I hear it. I make as much as I do because I work for a defense attorney and for a generous boss who values my knowledge and skills.

What can paralegals do about that, if anything?

I don’t know how to answer this. I consider myself an anomaly.

Can you clarify the Applicant vs. defense sides for our audience?

Applicant attorneys, obviously, advocate for their clients, the injured workers, and fight to get them the largest recovery they can. An injury to a neck or low back can only yield so much of an award, but if they add psych and internal, it increases the value of the claim. Defendants work to provide benefits pursuant to the Labor Code, and our desire is to get the Applicant back to work as quickly as possible.

Does the defense side pay more?

I believe that defense does pay more, because defense attorneys can bill their clients by the hour. In my case, I bill hours just as the attorneys do, and I increased bonuses each month. I don’t know if all defense firms work that way, though.

What about the “mill” reputation of some workers comp firms?

There are “mills” out there, and I deal with them on a daily basis. They give the business a bad reputation. The “mill”-type firms deal in volume and will take any case that walks through their door. It was a “mill” firm that represented the aforementioned case where the Applicant was caught committing fraud. It should be noted that “mills” are solely on the Applicant side of the fence.

What type of work background does it take to get into Workers Comp?

In California, workers’ compensation is the easiest to get into. I had no legal experience when I got my first job in the 1980’s. At this firm, we hire people fresh out of school or who have experience in other fields of law, or even people who have no legal experience. I am of the opinion that workers’ compensation is the easiest type of law to learn from a secretarial (or paralegal) aspect. That being said, I don’t think anyone could do all I do for my boss without having a background in the industry.

Where do you see the profession headed?

I don’t really know how to answer this question, since my experience is limited to workers’ compensation. I can speak about my own position and state that two years ago my job consisted of working the files and processing the mail. Now, I actually prepare the files for hearing and prepare the hearing reports based on what the appearing attorney says happened at the hearing. Next, I can see myself making the appearances and sitting in on depositions.

What’s your take on licensing and regulation?

I feel that our profession should be regulated. Without regulation, people can call themselves paralegals without having the experience and training it takes to be a paralegal. Regulating the profession it the respect it deserves.

What education do you think paralegals need today as opposed to yesteryear?

Paralegals of “yesteryear” primarily learned their craft “on the job,” which is no less valuable today. However, education through an ABA approved school goes a long way to preparing would-be paralegals for the real world. In school, you can get instant feedback on assignments you are given, while on the job a boss isn’t likely to be patient while you try to figure out how to complete the assignment.

Can you give us examples of what it took for you to become a successful paralegal? 

It took me a while to think of an answer to this question. The first would be that I am teachable. I learned the foundation of my job from my boss, who pretty much taught me how to think like him. He taught me how to develop a plan of action on any given file. I still run that plan of action through him for approval, but essentially the next steps to take in any given situation arise from my review of the file, the medical reports, and the communications from the clients.

The second is that I am always going to seminars and other MCLE classes and conferences, especially in my field of law; and I use that information on my files when I return to the office. I have attorneys coming to me with questions like “How do you . . .?” and “What would you do if . . .?” I draw on my individual experience with the issues or I pull out my seminar handbooks to get them the answer. It has gotten to the point where my boss refers the attorneys to me whenever they have any questions about legal procedure, or how to rate a report, or any variety of reasons.

Third, I show up every day, and express a successful work ethic. I work long hours at times, and I will often work weekends. My boss does not require this of me, but it is something I do in order to keep on top of my workload and to ensure that important deadlines are not missed.

You are so knowledgeable! Can you give us some advice?

Never stop learning. Seminars and MCLE classes can be boring, but you’ll usually receive some nugget of useful information. A perfect example is a rating seminar I went to where the rater from the Disability Evaluation Unit was spoke, and he taught us how to rate headaches. Now, I have attorneys coming to me with questions on how to rate headaches, and I can refer them to my seminar materials.

Enjoy what you do. I love my job. Workers’ compensation law can be dry and boring, but I love it. I enjoy it because I know what I am doing and I have the respect of my boss, the attorneys, and my peers. It is hard to love a job if you do not know what you are doing or what is expected of you.

Remain humble and own up to your mistakes. As good as I am at my job, I do make mistakes, but when it does happen, I apologize, rectify the issue (if possible), and move on. In one case, we failed to inform the client to deduct an amount from a settlement to pay EDD. It was a mistake that was not discovered by me, my boss, or the client. My boss accepted part of the responsibility, but I had to do the same. The end result was WE paid EDD, and I had to make up hours to equal half the damages. Needless to say, we never made THAT mistake again.

 Thank you, Paula!

Chere Estrin is the CEO of Estrin Legal Staffing providing nationwide staffing opportunities for paralegals and legal professionals. She is the President and Co-Founding Member of the Organization of Legal Professionals (OLP) a non-profit providing online technology training and CEO of the Paralegal Knowledge Institute providing online training for experienced paralegals. An author of 10 books on legal careers, Chere is a national seminar speaker and author of hundreds of articles. She has been interviewed by the Los Angeles Times, Newsweek, Daily Journal, Chicago Tribune, Above the Law, among others. Chere is a recipient of the Los Angeles Paralegal Association Lifetime Achievement Award and the NYCPA Excellence Award. She is a former paralegal administrator in two major law firms, an exec in a $5 billion corporation and Co-Founding Member of the International Practice Management Association. Talk to her at chere@estrinlegalstaffing.com.


An American Hero Right Here in the Paralegal Field

HebertConiAmerican Heroes. They are among us. Look to the right. Look to the left. Looking right in front of us is Conni Hebert, ACP,  smack dab in the paralegal field whom I had the privilege of getting to know. What an astounding background. A paralegal for over 23 years, Conni developed an interest in the legal field while serving active duty in the U.S. Air Force. She is a Desert Shield and Desert Storm veteran and received the National Defense Service Medal and the U.S. Air Force Achievement Medal for her contributions to the Gulf War mission. 

In a nutshell, Conni graduated from the American Institute in Phoenix, Arizona in 1993, magna cum laude. She was appointed  one of the 2000 Most Notable American Women in 1994 by the American Biographical Institute.  She is currently employed as a commercial litigation paralegal at Brownstein Hyatt Farber Schreck, LLP where she serves on the firm's Pro Bono Committee, Paralegal Advisory Committee, and Technology & E-Discovery Committee.   She has worked in insurance defense, construction law, contract law, personal injury, medical malpractice, product liability, ERISA subrogation, and general civil litigation.

Conni has worked with general counsel for a major land developer in Las Vegas as a corporate paralegal handling multiple real estate transactions. She is currently the Chair of the State Bar of Nevada - Paralegal Division, an active member of the Clark County Bar Association, and actively involved in the Las Vegas Valley Paralegal Association currently serving on the Board of Directors as the NALA Liaison. Conni is a Certified Paralegal and earned the Advanced Certified Paralegal (ACP) credential in Discovery from the National Association of Legal Assistants-Paralegals (NALA).

Folks, let me present an amazing profile:

CBE: Conni, let's get personal.  Tell us about the side we don't get to read in a LinkedIn profile!

Chere, I will be turning 48 years old in a few months, whew! I have an amazing husband who is very supportive of my busy career and understands when I often bring work home. We have been together 17 wonderful years! I have two kids (one grown daughter and one teenage son) and two grandsons who call me “Grandma Blondie”. My parents, my daughter and my grandsons, along with most of my immediate family, all live in south Texas so I try to visit as often as possible! I grew up there and I love my big family, but I do not miss the humidity of that area of the country at all!

CBE: Tell us the military story:

I went into the U.S. Air Force when I was only 20 years old. I wanted to travel the world and get out of small town, USA. I had been attending community college, and I just felt like there was so much more out there in the world that I wanted to see and do. I signed up for overseas duty, and lucky for me, I was assigned to Torrejon Air Base, Spain – a military base just outside of Madrid. I spent three years living in Alcalá de Henares, Spain, and traveling Europe

CBE: How did you feel when you were assigned overseas?  What was it like to be a woman in the military?

Living overseas was amazing! I served during Desert Shield/Desert Storm. When Iraq invaded Kuwait, my daughter was only 4 months old. I was assigned to fleet management for the Gulf War mission, and I was responsible for the safe and timely transport of the flight crew and passengers to and from the flight line. There were many nights that I had my baby girl on the flight line with me greeting troops coming back from Saudi Arabia. Our base had cargo aircraft and fighter jets landing every few minutes, so it was an overwhelming responsibility. I received the Desert Warrior Commendation and the Air Force Achievement Medal for my dedication to that mission.  

For fun, I played softball for the Air Force and I was given the opportunity to travel Europe and play softball for the military. I have been to Italy, Germany, and I also spent Christmas in Paris, France one year. After my tour in Spain, I was assigned to a remote duty station in Gila Bend, Arizona – in the middle of the Sonoran Desert, the hottest desert in North America.

CBE: What drove you to become a paralegal?

I worked in the base legal office on the military base while I was in the Air Force and I just loved it! I realized that I was really good at organization and administration of the legal files. I decided to pursue a legal career so when I completed my military service I would have a new career to go into. I pursued a degree in paralegal studies while stationed at Gila Bend, 75 miles from Phoenix. I was so determined to get my degree that nothing was going to stop me! I would change out of my camouflage uniform and combat boots at 4pm on class day and hit the road… what a journey that was. I did that long distance college thing for a year, four days a week. Graduation was very sweet.

CBE: Tell us a little about your career as a paralegal.

My first paralegal job was in a personal injury firm. It was a large, well-known, billboard advertising firm in Phoenix. My job was taking phone calls from accident victims, evaluating the facts, asking about injuries and accident coverage, and determining if the caller had a potential claim. I set appointments with attorneys and met the client after they retained our firm.

Now, after working as a paralegal for close to 25 years, my work day is filled with the unexpected. I support attorneys in the litigation and corporate departments, and serve on the firm’s pro bono committee. My duties include everything from drafting legal pleadings, reviewing thousands of electronically stored documents to analyzing pro bono hours data for the firm.

CBE: What are some of the most significant changes you have seen?

In the past five years, the biggest changes have been in technology. With the increase in consumer technology use, e-discovery is becoming more prevalent. Paralegals are becoming skilled in using document review platforms such as Relativity to search and review case documents. The paralegal is now a tech-savvy employee, merging the skills of a paralegal with a legal technology specialist. Law firms today are looking for highly sophisticated and experienced paralegals to manage their cases. In addition, although electronic filing has been around for more than a decade, more county and state courts are now offering e-filing, so paralegals need to have that experience. Paralegals are also becoming the liaison for attorneys using trial-prep technology, in and out of the courtroom. Advancements in technology used by law firms have blurred the lines between paralegals and legal secretaries; there is a growing trend among law firms to create hybrid positions. As a paralegal, it is imperative to stay on top of technology trends in the legal field.

CBE: What were those "pet peeves" again? Why do those bother you so much?

My biggest pet peeve as a career paralegal is knowing that there are legal professionals in our field that do not know the difference between a “certified” paralegal and a “certificated” paralegal. If you don’t know the difference you shouldn’t be in this profession! There are paralegals on LinkedIn, for example, that are representing themselves as “certified” when they have not earned the certification, but have instead graduated with a paralegal certificate. I think that if a paralegal is misrepresenting themselves on social media and on their resume, who knows what else they are fibbing about? It is an ethical problem and does not sit well with me. There needs to be more education in our profession about paralegal certification. Recruiters, attorneys and law firm administrators should be educated on certification and know what qualifications they are seeking when recruiting for a paralegal.

CBE: Where are the challenges?

Challenges for paralegals: high stress, long hours, lack of recognition, and billable hours requirements. I have heard paralegals complain about disrespect from attorneys and unreasonable demands made on them. You simply have to demand respect. There is difficulty in some firms to meet the billable hours requirements. Unlike attorneys, paralegals do not generate new clients and cannot generate billable work. On that note, one challenge for me has been under utilization. Unfortunately, I have witnessed billable work being assigned to associate attorneys and that work not being delegated to a paralegal that can handle the task. By delegating the assignment to a paralegal, the firm would be providing the client with a cost savings, while freeing the attorney’s time for more substantive, higher level tasks. Delegation of billable work to experienced paralegals is something that law firms can do better.

CBE: What are the two most important things someone can do to move their career forward?

CLE and CLE! I am big on continuing education, and for a paralegal, continuing legal education is a must. The law is always changing and technology is always improving. You have to stay on top of the changes to be a successful paralegal.

CBE: What's the hottest thing going in the field today?


CBE: Why is joining a paralegal association so important?

Joining a local paralegal association is the least a paralegal should do. Meeting other paralegals can be invaluable to your success. You would be surprised at how often I am assigned to a case where I know the paralegal for opposing counsel. It is very helpful to have that connection, especially when you need an extension for written discovery responses. In addition to networking opportunities, membership in a paralegal association also provides you with amazing benefits such as CLE courses, seminars, discussion forums, newsletters, and resource libraries. Paralegal associations often have notice of job openings before they are publicly advertised, so it can be a wonderful benefit to have knowledge of an opening before everyone else does.

CBE: , What do you get personally from pro bono work and why should someone go the extra mile?

Pro bono work for me is personal. Every individual has something in their personal life that ignites a passion. That passion may be helping children in the foster system or volunteering at the soup kitchen, feeding the homeless. My passion is helping military veterans. Of course, being a military veteran, I understand the difficulties that veterans face. Paralegals are in a unique position – since we are not the attorney, we cannot actually provide the legal assistance to someone less fortunate; however, we are able to assist the pro bono attorney and that assistance can mean everything to someone less fortunate. Paralegals should be valued and appreciated for enabling more legal services to be provided to those in need. Paralegals can help build and expand pro bono programs, recruit volunteers, keep attorneys active in their pro bono assignments, and document pro bono activities.

CBE: If you could design a recipe for someone's career, what three ingredients would you put in it?

A recipe for a successful paralegal career should include:

1) Education – you must have some education in the profession, formal or informal. On the job training can be as valuable as a college degree. Practical experience combined with a degree in paralegal studies has been the key to my success. Continuing your education by attending CLE seminars or courses is a must for any successful paralegal.

2) Networking – Connect with others in your field, whenever the opportunity arises. Join your local paralegal association or go to a CLE in your field, and talk to others that do what you do. Learn from others’ mistakes and experiences. You will develop a network of colleagues that you can turn to when you need help.

3) Certification – Always strive to be the best in whatever you do in life. Although there’s been discussion in recent years about some kind of formal paralegal registration, certification, or licensing, to date there are no mandatory certification requirements. There are a number of voluntary credentials you can obtain by taking a certification exam offered by NALA, NFPA, NALS, or AAPI. Some states offer state-specific competency examinations as well.

CBE: What are the three hardest lessons you learned about what it takes to be a successful paralegal?

1) Learning how to be an effective communicator and effectively collaborate with your attorney

I have learned that regularly scheduled staff meetings are essential in keeping the lines of communication open for the attorney-paralegal team; know what your deadlines are and know who is doing what. You have to utilize the most cost efficient way to complete a task, to keep the client’s costs to a minimum to provide good client service. Sometimes the attorney should perform the task, other times it may be more cost-efficient for the paralegal to perform the task. You have to work as a team with your attorney.

2) Knowledge is key

Never ever pass up a CLE that is on legal technology. Never stop learning and always keep on top of rule updates and technology changes.

3) Be prepared.

Just like a Boy Scout, a successful paralegal is always prepared for the unexpected.

Chere Estrin is the CEO of Estrin Legal Staffing providing nationwide staffing opportunities for paralegals and legal professionals. She is the President and Co-Founding Member of the Organization of Legal Professionals (OLP) a non-profit providing online technology training and CEO of the Paralegal Knowledge Institute providing online training for experienced paralegals. An author of 10 books on legal careers, Chere is a national seminar speaker and author of hundreds of articles. She is a recipient of the Los Angeles Paralegal Association Lifetime Achievement Award and the NYCPA Excellence Award. Chere is a former paralegal administrator in two major law firms, an exec in a $5 billion corporation and Co-Founding Member of the International Practice Management Association. Talk to her at chere@estrinlegalstaffing.com.


5 Biggest Networking Mistakes Guaranteed to Stall Your Career

Networking is an Art.

Networking2Networking. How many times have we heard it? It’s like saying, “Bless you” when you sneeze. It has, in a sense, lost its real meaning.

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. Otherwise, you pretty much run the risk of getting overlooked for promotions, considered as a great candidate for a new job or advancing your current position.  

When given a choice, people will always do business with people they know or with a person that has come 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 friends that last for a lifetime.
  • Receiving and giving advice: You’ll 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  you’ll 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 of the biggest networking mistakes you can make:

1.            Avoid a great profile on LinkedIn:

LinkedIn is your biggest advantage for entry into good 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 place is for many the first and last stop. The latest trend for employers is to look at your LinkedIn profile at the same time they are reviewing your resume. Potential contacts who can help you in your career will also check you out first on LinkedIn.

However, you will generate no interest without an interesting summary. LinkedIn is not a playback of your resume. To attract contacts, you’ll need to demonstrate your personality, take on the business world and show your worldliness. If you want to be taken seriously in today’s world, you cannot go without a full and professionally written LinkedIn profile.

  1.             Don’t go to association meetings, seminars and get-togethers.

It’s one thing to join your association. It’s another to work the networking advantages it brings. Statistics show that 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 (so you can take that information back to your firm and be valuable to management),  salaries, and important events. It’s a great way to stay current, uncover “hot buttons” in the paralegal field and who knows? You might even have a little fun.

  1.             Be sure to alienate every recruiter who calls you.

Networking needs to include recruiters. Connect with them. They are invaluable. They hold the key to hundreds of contacts: HR, managing partners, paralegal supervisors, in-house legal counsel, legal service providers, colleagues and more. They know salaries, firms, trends, and in particular, where the field is headed. In fact, they know if your firm is in trouble before you do.

Don’t be so smug if a recruiter calls or emails 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 or months later to find their firm is laying off, merging or otherwise purging. Then what? Do you know where to go? You think back. “Oh, yeah. I’ll call that recruiter who called me a couple of months ago.” Right.  Try calling them back after you have snubbed them. Most likely, they won’t take the call.

  1.             Don’t network with colleagues in your firm.

One of the biggest mistakes people make is that they are networked in social media; go to association meetings; build a network; and reach out into the community but they 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. Similarly, you may discover the firm is opening a new branch 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 paralegals. Network with colleagues, partners, associates, staff – be sure to include everyone. People can tell you what’s going on in your own firm.  You’ll get noticed. Everyone wants to be with a winner that other people respect. Hanging out alone in your office or cubicle will not get you advanced up the ladder.    

For example, success stories such as Ralph Lauren, Mark Cuban, Warren Buffett and Jay-Z all rose from modest beginnings. You can be sure those who showed them support with no agenda during the growing pains enjoyed the ride once these icons’ careers exploded.

           5.         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.

For example, success stories such as Ralph Lauren, Mark Cuban, Warren Buffett and Jay-Z all rose from modest beginnings. You can be sure those who showed them support with no agenda during the growing pains enjoyed the ride once these icons’ careers exploded.

The key is to keep your networking process going as much as you can without needing to ask for anything in return. Show genuine interest in other people and in their hopes, wants, dreams and desires.  Ask questions they'd be excited to answer. Listen intently to what they have to say 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.

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 the paralegal career and hundreds of articles. Formerly, Chere was the Paralegal Administrator for two major law firms and an exec in a $5 billion corporation.  She has written 10 books in the legal field and authored hundreds of articles. She has been interviewed by many  prestigious publications and is a national seminar leader. Chere is a Los Angeles  Paralegal Association Lifetime Achievement Recipient and Co-founding member of the International Practice Management Association (IPMA).  Talk to her at chere@estrinlegalstaffing.com.

The British are calling.....the British are calling. UK magazine reaches out for interview.

Singh-Schroeck KarinFrom our guest blogger,  Karin Schroeck-Singh of the popular Careerheads online magazine in the UK........who graciously conducted this interview.

Karin Schroeck-Singh:
Chere Estrin is the CEO of Estrin Legal Staffing and Paralegal Knowledge Institute. She is the author of hundreds of articles, 10 books on legal careers and has been interviewed by Newsweek, Los Angeles Times, ABA Journal and many other publications.

She worked also as a Paralegal Administrator in two major firms and was an executive in a $5 billion corporation. Chere Estrin is the President and Co-Founding member of the Organization of Legal Professionals (OLP), a non-profit company that provides online legal technology training.

She is a Co-Founding Member of International Practice Management Association (IPMA), Inc. Magazine Entrepreneur of the Year finalist and Los Angeles/Century City Chamber of Commerce Woman of Achievement Award Winner. She is a New York City Paralegal Excellence award winner and a Los Angeles Paralegal Association Lifetime Achievement Award Recipient. You can follow her on Twitter @estrin, visit her website at: www.estrinlegalstaffing.com and contact her at chere@estrinlegalstaffing.com.

I had the great opportunity to interview Chere Estrin and find out what her experiences in the legal recruitment industry have been so far.

Chere Estrin: Interview with a Legal Recruitment Expert  

Karin Schroeck-Singh: How did you get interested in the legal industry?

Chere Estrin: I actually fell into it. I was hired as a paralegal administrator for an entertainment law firm because I had a background in the theatre. I answered an ad for an entertainment law firm and the administrator happened to have seen one of my shows. True story.

Karin Schroeck-Singh: What are the most positive aspects of your profession?

Chere Estrin:  As CEO of a legal staffing company and President and Co-Founding member of two online legal technology training companies for attorneys and legal professionals, the reward is in knowing you had a hand in assisting someone further their career. People come back to you later with their success stories and it’s a thrill to know that you were able to provide the right guidance at the right time.

Karin Schroeck-Singh: Are there any negative aspects that you don’t enjoy in your job?

Chere Estrin: I witness a lot of age and visual discrimination these days. At first, I didn’t quite buy it. However, when I review some of the questions being asked of some candidates, I know discrimination is practiced. This is a visual age with Facebook, LinkedIn, Snapchat and other social media on the forefront. Times have changed and attitudes have changed with it. On the other hand, there’s a lot that people can do to beat age discrimination in their attitudes, language, skills and yes, appearance. We don’t all have to have Botox and appear younger than we are but we don’t have to present ourselves as outdated either.  I also see a lot of weight discrimination and that seems to be ok with people. It is not.

The most important thing we can do for ourselves is to beat discrimination by staying updated professionally and socially. Ride the horse in the direction it is going.

Karin Schroeck-Singh: Age, visual and weight discrimination, wow! It reminds me a bit of those studies that are stating that attractive, good-looking people get more call backs for job interviews, are hired sooner, get promotions quicker and earn higher salaries. There is a book called “Beauty Pays: Why attractive people are more successful” written by Daniel Hamermesh, Professor of Economics at the University of Texas. He also claims that attractive people earn an average of 3 or 4 % more than people with below-average looks. No wonder that there are professionals who take it a step further by undergoing some cosmetic surgery in order to survive in today’s corporate world. A survey among Chinese Graduates also revealed that 52 % of them believe that cosmetic surgery can indeed increase the chance of getting a job. Do you think that the cosmetic surgery industry will experience a boom in the future with people desperate to look better in order to have better careers?

Chere Estrin: I am not an expert in the cosmetic surgery industry. However, I understand that the industry has already experienced a boom simply because these procedures are no longer considered taboo. I’m not so sure that people are at a desperation point and hopefully, that will not be the case. I’d like to believe that people seek to improve their looks for enjoyment and health but sadly, that’s not always the case.

Karin Schroeck-Singh: You gained 20 years of experience in the legal sector in various roles. What are the five most important lessons you learnt in your career so far?

Chere Estrin:

# 1 – Claim your successes. Women, in particular, have a hard time claiming successes. Particularly those from the Baby Boomer generation. Why? Because we were taught that it’s “not nice to brag”. Men, on the other hand, were taught differently.  You’ll come off much more influential if you say, “I have been interviewed by the Los Angeles Times” rather than, “there have been articles written about me.”

# 2 – Don’t be afraid to get shot down. I’ll never forget one of my first successes. I had just passed the successful entrepreneurial mark. I went out and bought a Mercedes. (In the U.S., that’s a sign of success.) I drove it over to my mother’s. I ran upstairs and brought her down to the driveway. Giggling like two girls, we got in. We rubbed the real leather, we moved the seats back and forth. We played with the radio and didn’t understand all the switches. We loved it. I finally said to her, “Well, Mom, what do you think of your girl?” She looked at me for a moment and she said, “I think this is great, honey. Is this a Toyota?”

# 3 – Always look at the paradigm. When I was first starting out and didn’t have two dimes to rub together, I was driving a white 1961 Corvair with red interior. That’s a car with the motor in the back and the trunk in the front. I was driving down the street at 35 miles per hour when the brakes went and I rear-ended the car in front of me. Now, the trunk in the front was in the trunk in the back of the car in the front. No one was hurt. I got out and walked to the nearest 7-11 to the pay phone. (No one had cell phones in those days.) I called my father. “Dad,” I whined into the phone. “The brakes went and I just reared-ended another car. I heard a pause on the other end of the phone. “Well,” he said. “I guess she was just in your way.”

# 4 – Don’t be afraid to fail.  Why? No one bats 1000. No one. Failure or challenges, call it what you want, only propels you to get up, dust yourself off and succeed. Big time, I might add.

# 5 – Learn to use your network. Network can be an overused term. However, I have had more successes by utilizing my extensive network than any other business technique imaginable. People will remember you from years ago and be more than willing to help you out. The thing is, you need to learn how to ask.

Karin Schroeck-Singh: That’s interesting and I fully agree with regard to the power of networking and the importance of the right asking technique. What is your best advice when it comes to effective networking?

Chere Estrin: Even in this day of social networking, the best networking is face-to-face. People remember you much better and for longer periods of time. That being said, don’t turn people down when you are asked to connect on LinkedIn or a professional Facebook page. Write articles, get speaking engagements – all of this builds a very effective network. The more people who know you, the more likely you are that they will help you.  The higher your profile, the more employers want you. Everyone wants a winner.

Karin Schroeck-Singh: That’s true! So what are the qualities in your opinion that make a great Staffing Professional in the legal sector?

Chere Estrin: Reputation, negotiation skills, honesty, integrity and contacts. Oh, contacts are not a quality? How about quality of contacts?

Karin Schroeck-Singh: What are the 3 main benefits that your clients (companies as well as candidates) gain when they choose Estrin Legal Staffing?

Chere Estrin: Reputation, honesty, integrity and let’s add extensive network from years of building good friendships and relationships in the legal field.

Karin Schroeck-Singh: You mentioned “honesty” twice and you were also talking about age, visual and weight discrimination earlier on. Let’s say you know for sure that one of your clients discriminated against your brilliant candidate due to his age. Honestly, what reason do you give the candidate for not being hired?

Chere Estrin: If I believed that age discrimination had in fact been practiced, I would tell the candidate. To not say something would be in part, as bad as participating. However, in law firms, it’s pretty hard to prove as law firm personnel are very heavily trained against that sort of thing and supposedly know better.

Karin Schroeck-Singh: Let’s change topic. Your company is also a sister company to Paralegal Knowledge Institute. I find it great that a recruitment company also provides a lot of online continuing legal education options (via www.paralegalknowledge.com). I’ve heard about this eDiscovery course/certification exam. I can imagine that not everyone might instantly know what this course/exam is all about. Can you please explain a bit more in detail?

Chere Estrin: I found that training and job opportunities go hand-in-hand. The more training you get, the better your job opportunities. The one thing that employers balk at is that a candidate’s skills are out-of-date. At PKI and through the Organization of Legal Professionals (OLP) www.theolp.org, we provide online training in eDiscovery which is the legal technology system for finding, cataloguing evidence and documents on the computer – a rather shorthand way of describing it. Attorneys and paralegals need to understand this method in order to go to trial in this new computer age.

Karin Schroeck: What advice would you give to someone who would also like to become a Recruitment Specialist in the legal industry. Is there any particular education path you can recommend and why?

Chere Estrin: I personally feel that you must come from the legal field in order to be able to recruit for the legal field. There is no college degree in legal recruiting! I have found some excellent recruiters who have not come from the legal field but who understand the field very well. Interestingly enough, some attorneys make the worst recruiters because they have no sales skills.

There are nuances in this field as in any other specialty. You need to have a finite understanding as to what each position does, how the organization chart reads, software, career path, who the law firms and in-house legal departments are and how each one works, salaries, players on all levels, trends, future, legal service providers, education required for each position, top schools, labor statistics, and more – and that is only the beginning.

Karin Schroeck-Singh: Yes, that makes perfect sense! Having gained some experience in a particular industry or being very knowledgeable about it, makes definitely a big difference when it comes to hiring the best candidate. No doubt! Now let’s talk about salaries. How much on average can a Legal Recruitment Consultant earn in the USA?

Chere Estrin: Salaries are all over the board. Generally, you earn on a commission basis. Some of the larger agencies will pay you a base salary of $60,000 plus a commission. On the other hand, the more well-known recruiters with excellent reputations and book of business will earn upwards of $300-400,000 per year.

Karin Schroeck-Singh: That sounds impressive! Let’s assume you need to hire an additional Recruitment Consultant. What 5 questions would you ask the job applicant during an interview in order to determine whether the person is a good fit for your company or not?

Chere Estrin:

  • What is your sales strategy?
  • From where do you derive your candidates?
  • What associations do you belong?
  • Can you please give me a sample pitch to a law firm?
  • What methods do you use to raise your profile?

Karin Schroeck-Singh: These are great questions. By the way, does your company conduct social media background checks on their candidates before referring them to clients? If so, what were your experiences so far?

Chere Estrin: Yes, we definitely do. Employers are checking LinkedIn at the same time they receive a resume. They put a great deal of importance on your LinkedIn profile. It has to be excellent and powerful. My experience is that most candidates do not have great LinkedIn profiles and many are getting turned down because of it and are not aware of that fact. Employers also check Facebook, even though technically, they are not supposed to. They do anyway. I ask permission of the candidate if I feel I need to check their Facebook page. It could be something that I see on LinkedIn that sends a red flag up.

I don’t like what I find on a lot of Facebook pages for candidates in terms of politics, pictures of people drinking, petty arguments, slamming spouses, that sort of thing. People should be allowed to express themselves on Facebook and employers should not be able to make judgments but that’s not what’s happening.

Karin Schroeck-Singh: Recently I conducted an interesting survey among other HR Professionals. The question was “Would you invite a candidate to a job interview who has no online presence? Why?” (http://careerheads.com/no-online-presence-no-job-interview-11-insiders-reveal/) What is your opinion in that regard?

Chere Estrin:  I saw that survey. Very interesting. No online presence suggests that the candidate is not up-to-date. I do contact the person because it is my job to find excellent talent and I’ll do it if the resume is strong enough. However, before I submit them anywhere, I work with them to get a professional online presence. You don’t have to have a personal online presence but you should have a professional online presence to demonstrate that you are participating in the world as it is. I understand people who want privacy. However, a professional profile on LinkedIn is critical and improves your chances of being hired. Additionally, you might not be seeking to move, however, a recruiter or potential employer will come across your profile and contact you.  It could turn out to be the turning point in your career. The best candidates are sometimes those who are not looking.

Karin Schroeck-Singh: Thank you very much Mrs Estrin for your precious time and your valuable insights. I wish you all the best for your future challenges. You are a remarkable woman! 

Singh-Schroeck KarinKarin Schroeck-Singh
Karin Schroeck-Singh is the Founder and Content Manager at Career Heads. She holds an MBA from the University of Leicester (UK) and gained 20 years of international work experience in Italy, the UK and India in various industries. Her passion lies in creating career-related high-quality content, giving highly engaging public speeches and helping individuals to achieve their career goals quickly, effectively and professionally.


Weight! Weight! Are You Sabotaging Your Career? Those Extra Pounds May Be Holding You Back

A update to a popular piece.....

ScaleHave you ever considered that those extra pounds that sneaked up when you were just “having an extra bite” might be holding your career back? 

Some years ago when I was just starting out working for a major Los Angeles law firm, my mentor, Sinatra, the Director of Administration, asked me to lunch.  No, not the star but for a variety of reasons you sure as heck were never going to forget this memorable guy's name.

I was delighted.  He took me to the Yorkshire Grill where he insisted that I have the pastrami sandwich piled high on thick rye bread smothered in hot yellow mustard along with a generous helping of potato salad ladled with heavy home-made mayonnaise.   Who can refuse their boss? Career buster for sure.  I dug right in.

After lunch, while we were walking – well, he was walking, I was waddling, back to the office, he hit me with “You’re doing a great job here.” Wow.  I liked that.  “However,” he proceeded, “if you’re going to succeed, you’ll have to lose weight.” To this day, I could tell you exactly where we were standing, the window I was standing in front of, what I was wearing and the time he gave me the news. 

What many employees fail to recognize is that this is a new workplace.  We are, rightly or wrongly, visually judged everywhere:  Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn, Skype, Snapchat (now getting more hits than Twitter). You’re even interviewed face-to-face via internet. Then there are the constant pictures from iphones, iPads, emails, websites, videos and more.  We’re no longer a society floating in a world of the anonymous voice. We are judged not only by who we are but unfortunately, how we look. 

In fact, according to one source, there is a proposal in the UK that puts forth that obese claimants could see their benefits reduced or increased according to how often they attempt to lose weight. Robin Thompson, a former legal recruiting professional and now in legal marketing, knows first -hand about weight discrimination. She’s lost 200 pounds. “As a thin person,” she says, “I am greeted with much more friendliness and taken more seriously.  I have even had people comment that people who are overweight cannot control some aspect of their life and that it’s a reflection on how they would perform in a professional situation.” 

You don’t have to be 100 pounds overweight to be discriminated against. “Chunkies” might take a look at the progression of their career over “thinnies”.  Have those around you advanced while you remain at the same level?  Sure, maybe they are more qualified but truthfully, are they thinner?  Does a secret glass ceiling exist at your workplace because of weight? Is there anyone really heavy in upper management?  Of course, there’s an exception or two but it’s really that – an exception. 

While many victims of weight bias have suspected their appearance has been hurting their careers, two past studies analyzing decades' worth of research showed just how pervasive the problem is. The bulk of research has shown that the bias tends to be felt most by overweight white women, who are battling both the glass ceiling and the stigma of being heavy. 

A 2004 study by Cornell University Associate Professor John Cawley found that when the average white woman puts on an additional 64 pounds, her wages drop 9%. (Some studies have shown that overweight white women are evaluated more harshly than overweight African American women   and that African Americans tend to be more accepting of large body types.) 

In 2004, Charles Baum, of Middle Tennessee State University, reported in the journal Health Economics that obesity could lower a woman's annual earnings by as much as 6.2% and a man's by as much as 2.3%. 

“Fat, lazy and unproductive” might be some of the stereotypes that ring true to employers who reject an obese applicant despite a stellar resume. Published last month in the International Journal of Obesity, a new study examined the role anti-fat prejudice plays in workplace hiring practices. 

A group of 95 reviewers acting in the role of employers were shown a group of resumes with   an attached photo. To avoid biased results, the true reason for the study was concealed from participants, said lead researcher Kerry O'Brien of Monash University in Australia. Asked to determine the likelihood of selecting a potential candidate and her starting salary, the “employers” were shown a group of resumes with equivalent skills, experience and education. 

What the reviewers did not know was that the pictures clipped to the resumes were of the same six women before and after weight loss surgery. The study results showed that obese women received more negative responses on leadership potential, predicted success, likelihood to select, salary, total employment rating and rank order of preference relative to other candidates. 

Employers today want to keep healthcare costs down. The heavier you are, studies show, the more days off you take and the more vulnerable you are to certain illnesses.  While your work may be excellent, chances of promotion may be slim. (Pardon the pun, please.)  Have you been in the same position for 20 years while being told that you are an excellent attorney, paralegal, manager,  legal professional? Surely there must be somewhere upward on the firm ladder you could climb.  If it hasn’t happened and your work is terrific, ask yourself, why, why, why? 

Fat is one of the last bastions of discrimination with very little done to curb prejudice or  intolerance.  Being overweight does not mean a person is unmotivated or lazy.  Chances are if you made it into in a law firm environment, you are smart, good at your job and ambitious.  In fact, because of excess weight, people may even be more driven than others.  

In the job market world, few recruiters will be or can be  honest with you. They are asked but "not asked" to send candidates with "front office appearance" a very old and outdated code for "professional appearance" the new unspoken code for yes, good-looking or not obese. You'll probably never see that written or spoken anywhere. It is not accepted to put your picture on your resume. You are not supposed to be hired based upon how you look, rather only upon your skills.

However, there must be some reason why people in this new social media era are rushing to view your LinkedIn profile (that contains your picture) other than to read the very same thing on your resume. Do you honestly think it's only to read your summary? Partially, perhaps. But only partially.

On the personal side, I did very little in terms of losing weight for years.  Oh, I was up, I was down, I was going to lose those “last few pounds” but frankly, despite a very satisfying career, I never really did see the light.  I had no problem getting up in front of 300 people to deliver a speech. I was no wallflower, that's for sure. Without going into details, I came to  a come-to-the big-guy meeting and took Draconian-like steps to cure a lifetime of ridicule and bias. Sure, people want to be accepted “just the way they are and for whom they are” despite any well documented health risks and concerns - as so they should be.  But that’s not reality.  Excess weight can kill you. You just don't think it's going to happen to you. It happens to the other guy.  Despite anyone’s sincere efforts to change the world, this discrimination probably isn’t going stop soon.  It's going to get worse. Fair?  Absolutely not.  Make you want to rebel?  You betcha.  But consider this: the world has changed. It’s visual now. It's more health conscious - like knowing about smoking. You see someone doing it and you know it's wrong. In addition to discriminating, that's another reaction being overweight causes.

By the way, while I’m on my soapbox, please beware of those of us who are on weight loss programs.  These "just saw the light and you can too" folks can be righteous and annoying; they will preach, lecture and moralize – all the while (for those who succeed) advancing their careers just splendidly. Along those lines, I’m no innocent flower. I'm pleased to announce that I have lost over 115 125 pounds and kept it off for over three  four years. It’s one of the hardest battles I’ve ever fought and am hopefully, winning. But that remains another story meant for another day.

Chere Estrin is the CEO of Paralegal Knowledge Institute providing online paralegal training and CEO of Estrin Legal Staffing. She has written 10 books on legal careers, hundreds of articles and been  interviewed by The Los Angeles Times, Newsweek, ABA Journal and many publications. She has been a Paralegal Administrator in two major firms, an exec in a $5 billion corporation, is President & Co-Founding Member of Organization of Legal Professionals (OLP) providing online legal technology training and Co-Founding Member of International Practice Management Association (IPMA), Inc. Magazine Entrepreneur of the Year finalist and Los Angeles/CenturyCity Chamber of Commerce Woman of Achievement Award Winner. She is a Los Angeles Paralegal Association Lifetime Achievement Award Recipient and New York City Paralegal Excellence award winner. Talk to her at chere@estrinlegalstaffing.com

Here's How Legal Technology Expertise Can Make or Break Your Career

Computer mossIn a perfect world, all paralegals know everything about legal technology.  As you and I know, there’s no perfect world. However, not knowing enough about technology or believing you do, is the best way to bust your career. Trust me. I have 20+ years of experience managing, educating and staffing thousands of paralegals. (OK, I can admit to having more years of experience but then I have to search around for fancy anti-aging creams.)

Legal technology does not stop at litigation. It extends to every specialty whether you are in litigation, corporate, real estate, immigration, personal injury, or any practice area including the latest hybrid: the paralegal/legal secretary. No matter if your firm does not partake in the latest technology, it is incumbent upon you to stay up-to-date. Why? Try to get a new job or advance with outdated skills. Not going to happen. Guaranteed.

Since paralegals are expected to follow attorneys, you must be familiar with ABA Model Rule 1.1 on Competence with Comment 8:

“To maintain the requisite knowledge and skill, a lawyer should keep abreast of changes in the law and its practice, including the benefits and risks associated with relevant technology, engage in continuing study and education and comply with all continuing legal education requirements to which the lawyer is subject.”

Let’s start with practice management. A knowledgeable paralegal must know which software to use for file storage, evidence organization, billing, accounting, research and calendaring. It is critical to understand and utilize MyCase, Clio, SharePoint, Outlook and the cloud. These are just the basics.

There are new opportunities utilizing technology in eDiscovery, Project Management (not legal project management), Information Governance, Compliance, Knowledge Management, Law Firm Pricing, Litigation Support Project Management, Human Resources, Library Resources, Competitive Intelligence, Forensics, Law Firm Accounting, Cyber Security and more where you can leverage your paralegal background.

eDiscovery and Litigation Support Project Management are the hottest areas paying some of the highest salaries and offering challenging and upwardly mobile career opportunities.  It is not unusual to see salaries for Senior Litigation Support Project Managers in the upper $150,000 at major law firms or at Top Tier Legal Support Providers.  Salaries can range from $80-$100,000 or $50,000 - $75,000 for junior level project managers.

According to Marnie Carter, a high-profile San Francisco Paralegal Administrator from major law firms and in-house legal departments, “Litigation support professionals average salaries that often exceed the top ten percent of paralegal salaries. Roles in information governance, compliance, and cyber security also present previously nonexistent opportunities to ambitious paralegals with an understanding of legal technology.”

Carter has hired and supervised hundreds of paralegals. “Paralegals can broaden earnings potential and career opportunities with legal technology skills and are breaking through prior salary and career limits with the aid of technology knowledge. There are new opportunities to specialize in e-Discovery that equates to an increase in value to employers and an ability to command higher salaries. Legal project management is emerging for paralegals. Firms, companies and service providers are hiring project managers with legal expertise to manage litigation more efficiently and at a lower cost," she says.

"Paralegals who combine their legal knowledge with advanced technical skills are finding litigation support roles at much higher salaries. Litigation support professionals average salaries that often exceed the top ten percent of paralegal salaries. Roles in information governance, compliance, and cyber security also present previously nonexistent opportunities to ambitious paralegals with an understanding of legal technology.”

What does it take to get into the field? Vincent Garcez, a former Los Angeles paralegal, now a Litigation Support Manager in DC, has an interesting career history: “I got into legal technology when I was recruited for Lockheed Martin as a contractor for the Department of Justice (DOJ). They partnered me with several senior eDiscovery project managers to assist with trial matters. I immersed myself with senior project managers as they took me under their wings. They taught me the foundations of eDiscovery and opened a new sect not taught in paralegal school. Taking this new leap into the eDiscovery field not only excelled my career but allowed me to learn something new.”

I’ve witnessed paralegals give in to their firm’s philosophy of “We just don’t do that here.” Career opportunists beware!” This is the biggest career buster of all! While you think that you’re not going to make a move any time soon, do you know what’s going on in the Executive Committee? Chances are excellent, you do not. One week you’re good, the next, managing partners decide to merge, purge or otherwise scourge as in lay-offs. You can’t get a decent raise. You’ve realized you’ve capped out. The firm’s cash-flow isn’t fluid. The firm lost its best client/rainmaker. Who knew??? A host of unanticipated reasons arise and suddenly, without warning, you need to move on and your skills are out-of-date.

Think ahead! What do you do if your firm does not reinforce continuing education or stay up-to-date in the latest technology?

According to Carter, “An understanding of legal technology is critical to a paralegal's career regardless of the work performed. Recent amendments to the FRCP, State and local rules outline expectations that attorneys know more about eDiscovery than ever before. This means paralegals must know more about ESI eDiscovery. Paralegals need to understand how to manage electronic information timely and efficiently.  

Cost is one of the biggest obstacles. Clients analyze bills to reduce costs and look for opportunities to leverage flat fee and volume pricing. Paralegals with knowledge of a variety of technological tools and processes and who efficiently utilize technology in a defensible manner, thereby reducing firm and client cost burden, are indispensable.”

Can’t get training? Carter says, “ASK! ASK! ASK! Many firms are highly encouraged by paralegals who are working to advance their technology knowledge. Demand is high for tech savvy paralegals. There are numerous free or low cost online webinars such as those offered the Organization of Legal Professionals (OLP) and seminars, Lunch and Learn sessions offered through International Legal Technology Association,(ILTA),  International Practice Management Association, (IPMA), Women in eDiscovery, and paralegal associations.”

Garcez recommends, “Many corporations like Kcura, Lexis Nexis and other review providers have free webinars. Look at vendor websites. They post articles and advertise free seminars. You are the gatekeeper and should speak the same technical language as litigation support to ensure that the case will run smoothly."

As a litigation paralegal, Garcez says, “Relativity is arguably one of the most coveted, web-based eDiscovery mechanism that any vendor or law firm may currently use.  Its growth is exponential, with more vendor providers and enterprises demanding an extensive knowledge. As a paralegal, learning more about Relativity will accelerate your career.”

What about the hybrid position sweeping the country in smaller firms - the paralegal/legal assistant (legal secretary)? According to Chris Donaldson, President of Los Angeles based, Career Images, “This new position combines paralegal and secretarial technology skills in all specialties. The paralegal/legal assistant performs duties that are billable and non-billable.

They may have some minimum billable requirement, draft legal documents, interface with clients and perform duties that cannot be billed such as travel arrangements, scheduling depositions and calendaring. The position can pay up to $85,000 - $90,000 for someone with incredible technology skills at some boutique and mid-size law firms. “However,” says, Donaldson, “be aware these are top salaries and growth potential might be limited.”

A litigation paralegal/legal assistant should know: Adobe Professional; Best Authority; Forms Workflow; MacPac; OmniPage; Roxio; MS Word 2010 (proficient TOC/TOA user) and MS Office 2010; WorkShare Compare; Bates labeling w/Copy Desktop Pro; Win AIR Forms; calendaring w/MS Outlook and CompuLaw, AIA Forms, CAR Forms,  Groupwise E-mail, Automated Judicial Council of California Civil Jury Instructions (CACI), LexisNexis® Research, and LexisNexis® File&ServeXpress, Concordance, Summation, Relativity, Proforma (Legal Solutions), Finereader-OCR, Carpediem, PowerPoint, Excel.

Being familiar with certain technologies can change your career path. To say that paralegals do not need to be expert legal technologists is like saying a pilot does not need to understand wind currents, just how to get from Point “A” to Point “B.” Increasingly so, our trips from Point “A” to Point “B” are involving technology and can even be driven by technology. Give yourself the continued boost you need – stay on top of legal technology, now and throughout your unceasing successful career journey. 

Chere Estrin is CEO of Estrin Legal Staffing; President & Co-Founding member of Organization of Legal Professionals (OLP, a non-profit specializing in online training for attorneys and paralegals in legal technology; CEO of an online paralegal training company, Paralegal Knowledge Institute, She is a former Paralegal Administrator at two major firms and an executive in a $5 billion corporation and a career coach at Legal Careers Rx. (view free You Tube videos on Legal CareersRx on writing dynamic resumes.) Chere has written 10 books about paralegal careers including The Paralegal Career Guide 4th Ed., and has been interviewed by the Los Angeles Times, Newsweek, ABA Journal and other prestigious publications. She is a recipient of the Los Angeles Paralegal Lifetime Achievement Award and the New York City Excellence Award. Talk to her at chere@estrinlegalstaffing.com

Do In-House Paralegals Get More Respect?

Man looking sidewaysAretha Franklin sang to the world about it. The subject is included when employees, girlfriends, wives, husbands, boyfriends, grandmothers and pets are asked how they want to be treated. I’m talking about respect.  R-E-S-P-E-C-T, as Ms. Franklin would put it.

            In my travels across the country as a paralegal educator, speaker, author and staffing expert, I noticed a difference between the temperaments of law firm and in-house legal department paralegals. 

        Was I imagining it or did most in-house paralegals seem more at peace, less stressed, easier to get along with while law firm paralegals seemed tougher, ready for battle, and a tad more defensive, a bit more caustic?  Assuming my observations were on track, what propelled this subtle but noticeable personality variation?

            After talking with literally hundreds of in-house paralegals about their work environment, I realized they may be getting more respect. Why?  What could possibly be different?

            I went to several knowledgeable sources to find out.  Marnie Carter, a seasoned San Francisco Paralegal Manager, experienced in both in-house legal departments and major law firms, filled me in. “In-house paralegals do receive more respect from attorneys and staff in-house because the law firm hierarchy does not exist. The corporate environment is a division of management versus staff. Many of the paralegals are classified as "paralegal" but the delineation between junior, mid and senior is not so structured as in the law firm.  

            The elevated treatment is due to a better understanding of the paralegal's role. Attorneys leave law school and start work in a firm without exposure or training as to the paralegal's role on a case team. This lack of understanding of a paralegal's duties, can on many occasions, lead to an under- utilization problem without the advocacy of a paralegal manager. 

            Most in-house counsel previously worked at a law firm where they received paralegal support. They understand the duties and value a paralegal brings to the team. When the attorney transitions to an in-house counsel role, they are able to better leverage the responsibilities of the paralegal as there is an understanding of paralegal.

Michele Suzuki, an in-house paralegal at MicoVention, voiced her opinion based on her healthy experiences.  “I worked exclusively for law firms for 20 years,” she says, “and always felt that many of the lawyers treated their secretaries better than the paralegals.  I wondered sometimes if they felt like we were taking their billable hours away, perhaps feeling like they had to compete with us in a "dog-eat-dog" world.  When I switched to in-house corporate, I noticed an immediate change.  For one thing, corporate work is not a war between litigants, but rather people working together to make the corporate "machine" function effectively and efficiently.” 

            Ah.  The “for the corporate good” theory.   She may be on to something.  The usual set-up in a law firm is that each partner or team almost operates their own fiefdom whereas in a corporation, members of the team pull together for the corporate good, a critical factor missing in many law firms.        

            It isn’t always that way.  Peggy Williams, a veteran paralegal in Orlando, Florida and formerly with an in-house legal department of a national insurance company, was in disagreement.   “From my experience with working in an in-house counsel office, I receive more respect working in a traditional office. When I did work in-house, I was given traditional paralegal tasks but treated and thought of the same as a legal secretary.  The secretaries seemed to hold more rank and respect in the office.     One of the biggest differences is that we were not allowed to attend trial as a paralegal.  We were allowed to watch one day of testimony but give no assistance to the attorney.  At the firm I work for now, it is expected that I go to trial, assist in all preparation and sit at the table.”

            What about social interaction?  Personally, I recalled a terrible caste system within major firms.  Attorneys would work alongside with paralegals until 3 a.m. but rarely ask them to go to lunch. In fact, you could burn the midnight oil with attorneys but you really couldn’t eat with them.  This, in part, was due to perception.  If an attorney wanted to become a powerhouse, it was much better politically to be seen with a heavily influential partner or an up-and-coming associate rather than eat with the rank and file.  Was it the same in corporations? 

            Having more social interaction between paralegals and attorneys could be a factor of sheer numbers.  Beth King, RP, a senior paralegal at Vestas in Portland, Oregon, feels there are often more lawyers in a law firm, “so the lawyers talk more among themselves.  But, legal departments, with smaller attorney numbers, rely more on one another within the department for brainstorming and these relationships tend to build respect.  The lawyers actually get to know you better.”

            However, I still needed some verification, so I created a survey, “Do In-House Paralegals Get More Respect?”.  Over 550 respondents voiced opinions with 58.6% currently working at in-house legal departments and 75.9% having worked in both corporate legal departments and law firms.

            An overwhelming 49.5% stated in-house attorneys treated them with more respect.  Only 24.4% stated they were treated equally in both environments and a mere 14.1% said they were treated with more respect in a law firm. 

             Comments regarding how paralegals were treated by attorneys varied from: “Gained more respect with more experience”; “Experience varies from attorney to attorney; “There are varying degrees of "respect" to “There are more controls on attorneys with temper problems in-house than at a firm.”   And finally, the diplomat who stated, “As with all professions, there are people who treat you with respect; I don't find it tied to being in a law firm or an in-house legal department.”

              Given an opportunity to give advice to a job seeker, a staunch 42.7% said they would recommend an in-house legal department over a law firm or government agency.  A small 5.2% said they would advise someone to get out of the field.    

              And what do attorneys think?  I went to Kevin Cranman, General Counsel for Ericsson in Atlanta who said,  “A properly skilled paralegal with appropriate experience can compliment and support an attorney's practice - in law firm and in-house environments.  Just like any professional, the individual paralegal earns respect by doing good work efficiently. 

                Once the paralegal has proven herself, attorneys will trust that person to support projects and do sophisticated work. There is a time and place for an attorney to do 'XYZ' and paralegals do 'ABC' analysis, but a capable paralegal can provide great value to an attorney and an organization by providing good work product, handling much of the drafting and conferring with the attorney on specific issues, and permitting the attorney to leverage her/his time on projects or with clients better."

                I guess what Mr. Cranman is saying is that if you’re good, you’re good and that in and of itself should command respect.  Somehow, folks, I’m going to have to agree. 

            Chere Estrin is the CEO of Paralegal Knowledge Institute, CEO of Estrin Legal Staffing;  She is President & Co-Founding member of the Organization of Legal Professionals (OLP). She has written 10 books about legal careers including the Paralegal Career Guide 4th Ed., and hundreds of articles.  Chere has been interviewed by major publications such as The Los Angeles Times, Newsweek, ABA Journal and many other publications. She has been an exec in a $5 billion Fortune 1000 corporation and Paralegal Administrator in two major firms. She is a Los Angeles Paralegal Association Lifetime Achievement Award Recipient and New York City Paralegal Excellence award winner; Inc magazine finalist and Los Angeles/Century City Women of Achievement Recipient.; Co-Founding member of the International Practice Management Association. Check out her career coaching at Legal CareersRX.net and You Tube Videos at Legal Careers RX.  Talk to her at chere.estrin@paralegalknowledge.com.