Are Paralegals Meant to Survive This Decade?

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Is there a bright future for Paralegals?

The Bureau of Labor Statistics is out with their 2020 Occupational Outlook for Paralegals and Legal Assistants.

Bottom line – it’s not a bad time to be in, or to be getting into, a paralegal or legal assistant position*.

Consider these findings:

o Median annual pay is $51,750, compared with $39,800 for all occupations in the US.

o 80% of paralegals and legal assistants earn between $32-82,000.

o The federal government, finance, and insurance sectors pay the most, with a median income above $84,000 per year.

o Employment of paralegals and legal assistants is expected to grow by 10% over the next 10 years, much faster than the 4% for all occupations in the US economy.

States with the most paralegals are CA, FL, NY, TX, and IL. The highest pay for paralegals and legal assistants is in DC, CO, CA, MA, and WA.

Bottom line – it’s not a bad time to be in, or to be getting into, a paralegal or legal assistant position.

If you’d like to “just get away,” consider these top-paying non-metropolitan areas for paralegals and legal assistants:

o Alaska

o Northwest Colorado

o Central New Hampshire

o North Coast of California

o Hawaii/Kauai

Or, the non-metropolitan places where there are the most jobs:

● Kansas

● North Carolina Piedmont area

● Central Kentucky

● Southwest Montana

● Southeast coastal North Carolina

The life of the paralegal is not all rosy, of course; here are a few cautions:

o Stress – The American Bar Association has recently discussed stress as a significant issue for paralegals. Unfortunately, stress among paralegal staff is not as well addressed as attorney stress. Good tools, such as a cloud-based matter management system, can significantly reduce stress among paralegals, especially those expected to bill by the hour.

o Limited ceiling – you very likely never will be the boss of a law firm if you do not have a law degree.

o Respect - routine tasks like repetitive data entry, invoice preparation, entering client and billing information, filing, and document management often fall upon paralegals. A cloud-based document management system can virtually eliminate these repetitive tasks and increase the time you have for higher profile matters.

If you are considering an exit strategy, the US Department of Labor has identified related positions that do not require a JD degree that offer greater compensation, including claims adjusting, mediating and conciliation services.

In the meantime, you can build both your expertise and job satisfaction by becoming proficient in a cutting edge technology, and/or gaining a new certification. Whichever direction you’re headed, the future looks bright for the paralegal profession.

By Aline Martin O’Brien!

Aline Martin-O’Brien has a Masters in Theory and Practice of Procedural Law from the University of Paris: Panthéon–Sorbonne. After practicing as an attorney for many years, she now lives and writes in Florida for Smokeball.

Chere Estrin is the CEO  of Estrin Legal Staffing and MediSums, medical records summarizing.


New LitSupport Survey Shows Managers Get Big Bucks

Survey2The Organization of Legal Professionals (OLP) has been surveying Litigation Support Professionals to uncover interesting insights and valuable facts to help LSPs make the most of their careers.  The survey, sponsored by ZyLab and Career Numbers, is unlike traditional salary and utilization surveys. The survey is left open to regularly update the information and release new and interesting insights.  Additionally, OLP/Zylab will continue to provide free access to the updated results to each person who completes the survey. 

The Organization of Legal Professionals (OLP) is a non-profit organization providing continuing legal education and certification exams to the legal community.  The organization offers courses in eDiscovery, litigation support, project management and other timely topics.  OLP also offers over 40 scholarships per year to long-term unemployed legal professionals. 

The goal of the survey is to empower legal professionals to make the most of their careers by providing personalized career information, giving them better insight into the implications of their decisions. Companies are using data to earn larger profits, sports teams are using data to build better teams, and now it’s time for law firm employees to start using data to make the most of their careers.

The survey replaces generic statistics such as “people with law degrees earn, on average, 20% more over their careers than those with Bachelors degrees” with smart comparisons, such as “people like you (based on your education, experience, career goals, work ethic, and more) earn, on average, 34% more over their careers by attending a top 25 law school program, feel 42% more satisfied with their career, work 6 hours more per week, and feel 14% more stressed.”

The survey has been completed by almost 300 firms across the U.S. 

Here are some of the many insights uncovered to date:

  • Nearly three-quarters of Litigation Support Professionals (LSPs) reported being paid an annual salary with the average salary equal to $75,700.
  • The average Litigation Support Manager earns $111,000 per year while their direct reports average $89,300 of total compensation per year.
  • 65% of LSPs received an annual bonus, and a super majority reported that the size of their bonus was based on merit and/or their employer’s success. 
  • The average annual raise was 3.1% this past year, with the highest and lowest earning LSPs receiving the lowest annual raises on a percentage basis.
  • 55% of LSPs agree or strongly agree that their employer’s technology makes it easy for them to do their work well, while 27% say that their employer’s technology is antiquated or somewhat antiquated.
  • Nearly 32% consider themselves satisfied with their positions while almost 30% are dissatisfied with the recognition that they receive.
  • More than half of LSPs believe that their employer’s reputation is within the top 20% of their industry.
  • 55% are satisfied to moderately satisfied with their work/life balance and over 70% are moderately satisfied to satisfied with their boss.
  • LSPs consider on-the-job training to be the most valuable training method, followed by Webinars, Seminars, and then Self-Study.
  • Two-thirds of LSPs are satisfied or mostly satisfied with their career, while only 51% are satisfied or mostly satisfied with their compensation.
  • 62% of LSPs have a private office while 52% have an office window.
  • While less than 10% of LSPs are actively looking for a new job, the majority are open to better employment opportunities.

Summary:  Hot! Candidates are paid well, the work is interesting and while LSP’s do not feel they receive as much recognition as they would like, it appears to be an area of strong consideration for those with excellent technology background even without legal knowledge.

This is a small portion of the insights that are available to participants who have completed the comprehensive salary and utilization survey.  OLP/Zylab will continue to update the information, so check back quarterly for updated reports and new insights. For more information or to participate in the survey, please visit www.theolp.org.  For more information regarding ZyLab, go to: www.zylab.com.


If You're Not Getting Paid Overtime, Are You Owed a Ton of Money?

 

 Man carrying documents I came across this interesting article that, once again, brings up the overtime issue for paralegals.  This issue is so old and so ongoing, I am sure we'll be telling our great-grandchildren about it.

Whether you want to be paid overtime or not, the Labor Department ruled several times over the years, actually, and again in 2006 that paralegals are non-exempt, meaning you are supposed to get paid overtime.

While there are some paralegals who argue that they prefer to have a professional status, I do not know of any paralegal who, once they were getting an additional $300 a week or $1200 a month in salary beyond their base compensation, said, "You know, forget all this.  I want to be called a professional. Take the money away, keep me working 60 hours a week, give me a professional status and reduce my income by 20%." 

For all intents and purposes, the legal community recognizes paralegals already as professionals.  One indicator is to whom the paralegal reports on the organizational chart.  Paralegals are on the attorney side of the chart while secretaries are on the HR or Office Administrator side.

Here is the article as found in the Connecticut Law Review:

Lawyer As Employer: Who In Your Office Is

Entitled To Overtime? 

                          
|                                     T
hose paralegals might not really be exempt employees.

 By ROBERT G. BRODY and SAMI ASAAD

 

In our last article, we provided a self-audit for lawyers to assess their proficiency as employers. The next two articles cover many of the pay-related issues common to law firms. We begin with an overview of federal and state overtime requirements, including relevant exemptions, plus an analysis of one hard-to-classify employee: the paralegal.

As you probably know, the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) and Connecticut’s wage and hour laws require most employees (called “non-exempt”) to receive minimum wage plus overtime at time-and-a-half for all hours worked each week over 40.

Also, employers must maintain records of all hours worked by non-exempt employees. “Exempt” employees are exempt from those requirements. In a law firm, where 9-5 hours are not the norm, it is important to know who is exempt and who is not, especially with rising wage and hour investigations and class actions.

Exemptions

While several exemptions exist under the FLSA and Connecticut statutes, the ones most relevant to law firms are the “executive,” “administrative,” and “learned professional.” As lawyers, we know words have different meaning in the law than in everyday life. So you should not be surprised that under the FLSA, your firm’s “administrative professionals” (i.e., secretaries) are likely neither “administrative” nor “professional” employees. Qualifying as exempt requires passing two tests: the salary test and the primary duties test.

The salary test is usually straightforward: exempt employees in Connecticut must receive a minimum salary of $475 per week. As a salary, it must be paid regardless of the number of hours worked and may be subject to only a few statutorily permitted deductions (e.g., full-day absences for reasons other than sickness or accident).

The primary duties test requires careful analysis and is where many employers make mistakes. To qualify as exempt from overtime, employees’ duties must match those in the statutory definition of “executive,” “administrative,” or “learned professional.”

In general terms (there are extensive regulations), executive employees primarily manage the business, and regularly direct the work of two or more employees. Administrative employees perform office work directly related to management policies or general business operations of their employer and regularly exercise discretion and independent judgment. Learned professionals primarily perform work requiring knowledge of an advanced type in a field of science or learning customarily acquired by a prolonged course of specialized intellectual instruction and study. Lawyers performing lawyer work are a classic example of learned professionals.

What About Paralegals?

Consider a paralegal with a two-year legal studies degree and eight years of experience in legal research and analysis. Ninety percent of the paralegal’s time is spent analyzing facts, identifying the legal issues involved, and then providing an interpretation of the law in memorandum format for attorneys to review. Although attorneys suggest deadlines, the paralegal works very independently.

Ten percent of the paralegal’s time is spent reviewing new materials, analyzing costs of current resources used in the department, drafting plans for cost savings for the department, training various personnel on the use of legal resources and legal research in general, and performing other miscellaneous tasks. Exempt? According to a 2006 opinion letter by the U.S. Department of Labor, the answer is no.

The Labor Department first evaluated whether the administrative exemption applied and found the work was not “directly related to the management policies or general business operations” of the firm. Examples of qualifying work include tax, accounting, auditing, and human resources activities. Thus, administrative work is different from the “production” work of the business. Since what the paralegal did was part of the firm’s “product,” it did not qualify as administrative.

Also, there was no discretion in “matters of significance” such as the formulation, interpretation, or implementation of management policies or operating practices. The Labor Department stated, “It has long been the position of the [department] that the duties of paralegal employees and legal assistants generally do not involve the exercise of discretion and independent judgment of the type required by the administrative exemption.”

Are Paralegals ‘Professionals?’

Citing a specific regulation on paralegals, the Labor Department found the learned professional exemption generally does not apply because although many paralegals have four-year degrees, “an advanced specialized academic degree is not a standard prerequisite for entry into the field.”

One bit of good news is paralegals with “advanced specialized degrees in other professional fields [e.g., law, science, or medicine] and [who] apply advanced knowledge in that field in the performance of their duties” may qualify as learned professionals. The regulation provides as an example an engineer/paralegal providing “expert advice on product liability cases or to assist on patent matters.”

Incidentally, although this did not come up in the opinion letter, paralegals might meet the executive exemption if they are supervisors (supervising at least two employees) and spend the majority of their time doing this.

Conclusion

If you just realized your 60-hours-a-week paralegal is non-exempt, you’re probably wondering what to do. Employers in similar situations have used several approaches, but suffice it to say, this must be handled delicately.

In close cases, minor changes in duties may satisfy an exemption. However it is likely the paralegal will need to be reclassified. In that case, how you communicate the change can help minimize exposure.

Also remember not to create a “smoking gun” by documenting possible violations. Consider working with employment counsel to develop the best strategy for your specific circumstances. •

Robert G. Brody is the founder of Brody and Associates LLC, and Sami Asaad is an associate with the Firm. Brody and Associates represents management in employment and labor law matters and has offices in Westport and New York City.

LitSupport Salary Survey: Do Paralegals With Tech Skills Earn More?

339055g26uicqq4[1] OLP invites you to participate in the first Litigation Support Salary & Utilization Survey to provide legal professionals with unparalleled insight into salary and career performance information.  We’re committed to helping people make the most of their careers, so we will provide a free salary survey to give you inside information about your market value, directly from your peers.  
              

  This same set of data is used to help legal professionals make more informed career decisions.

           Most employees don’t have the information they need to make informed career decisions.  While there are plenty of opinions, anecdotes, and generic statistics, there hasn’t been a place to turn for personalized career information based on data and facts.

                OLP’s goal is empower people to make the most of their careers by providing personalized career information, giving them better insight into the implications of their decisions. 

“In this field, you can get more information on a book to read, a car to buy or food you eat than you can on the very career that pays for everything you have or do.”
               
               
For example, the survey will replace generic statistics such as “people with paralegal certificates earn, on average, 20% more over their careers than those with Bachelors degrees” with smart  comparisons  (based on your education, experience, career goals, work ethic, and more) earn, on average, 34% more over their careers by attending a top 25 paralegal school, feel 42% more satisfied with their career, work 26 hours more per week, and feel 14% more stressed.” 

                Companies are using data to earn larger profits, sports teams are using data to build better teams, and now it’s time for legal professionals to start using data to make the most of their careers.

     OLP has partnered with CareerNumbers.com, an innovative company providing sophisticated salary surveys to the community.  CareerNumbers partners with leading organizations that want to provide their members with free data-driven career and salary information. Employees appreciate that surveys are simple and easy.  The surveys also provide powerful multi-dimensional reporting tools that puts the full-value of the information back into the hands of the people and partners that helped us obtain it.

               OLP’s goal is to help people make the most of their careers by empowering them to better understand themselves and the types of opportunities that are available to them. 
               
                The best way to achieve this is by providing deeper and more meaningful career data. You probably haven’t struggled to access valuable and relevant information for other decisions such as buying a car or even a book. However, when it comes to one of the most important components of your life, your career,there is a consistent struggle to find the information you need to make informed decisions. OLP wants to help solve this  problem for legal professionals because there’s no reason that, as a society, we should have more valuable information about the books we’re buying than the careers we’re living.

Participate in the survey today.   Survey data is free to participants.  It’s anonymous and confidential. Don’t get left out!

Go directly to the survey:    www.theolp.org.  Use invitation code:  Estblog.


New Survey Shows Paralegal Salaries Going Down

Chasing dollars  
Not so good news out here in the paralegal world. The new 2010 Salary Guide from Robert Half Legal just published, shows that paralegal salaries are dipping. The salary guide is a review of actual starting salaries in 2009 and an extrapolation of these trends into 2010. 

Salaries have dropped from between .02% and 3.7% nationwide.  Senior Paralegals (7+ years) are experiencing a decline from -02.% to -2.8% in large law firms.  Salaries in large law firms for seniors ranged anywhere from $60,750 - $83,500 but are expected to drop to $59,750 - $80,500 in 2010.

The largest declines in salaries seem to be for midlevel paralegals (4-6 years experience) in small law firms of 2.5% or from $38,500 - $51,000 down to $37,750 - $49,500.  The junior paralegal (2-3 years experience) seems to be suffering the most with a drop of 3.7% or from $32,500 - $41,000 to $31,000 - $39,750.  The salaries represented are national figures.  The guide does give a formula to calculate salaries for your region.

The only category that seems to be barely touched are midsize law firms (35-75 attorneys).  These firms show 0.0% - 0.6% decline.

Of course, we have all heard about the drop in attorney salaries that range anywhere from 0.3% - 5.4%. Starting salaries for 1-3 years in a large law from went from $117,500 - $150,750 to $106,00 - $147,750. Even administrator/office managers were affected dropping 0.7% - 3.1%.

In-house paralegals and attorneys were also hit with paralegals seeing a decline of 0.6% to 1.7%.  Senior in-house paralegals dropped from $53,000 - $80,250 to $52,750 - $79,000. So if you thought you might be safer in-house, maybe not.

Trends cited in law firms include offering alternative fee arrangements, improving service levels and fortifying in-demand practice areas.  Corporate legal departments are remaining selective about the projects assigned to outside counsel and performing more work in-house.

Skills and expertise in demand include delivering client services in more cost-effective ways. Case management software most in demand appears to be case management, e-discovery and e-billing software such as Attenex, Concordance, iCONECT and CT Summation.

If you are seeking employment in 2010, be sure not to overshoot your mark but by all means, don't sell yourself too short.  Bear in mind, however, it's virtually impossible to take a huge drop in salary and then expect to move on after that at the salary you were making two jobs ago.  Be smart about taking a new position but don't be so smart that you go hungry!




"Job satisfaction is high in the paralegal field"

Another gem of an article from LawCrossing which reports very good news for paralegals:

"Many paralegals entering the workforce these days have high expectations. Steady salary increases, expanded workplace challenges, and broad benefits packages all contribute to robust paralegal employment opportunities and job satisfaction.

"The paralegal profession is hailed as being one of the fastest-growing industries of the 2000s, and according to an NFPA compensation and benefits survey, paralegals seem to enjoy their work. Nearly half of those surveyed rated their job satisfaction as high or very high. Only a small number (10%) of paralegals rated their job satisfaction as being low, and an even smaller number (3%) deemed it very low. There are fewer experienced paralegals switching jobs, supporting the notion that most seem to be happy with their current employment situations."

Be sure to check out the hepful links at the end of this article...


"Classify paralegals as professionals, not administrative staff"

So, is this a welcome statement from Altman Weil & the Law Department Management blog? I think so!

"Classify paralegals as professionals, not administrative staff, so you can pay for appropriate quality

"A good point made by a consultant, James Wilber of Altman Weil, appears in InsideCounsel, Feb. 2007 at 54. Wilber has observed that 'often corporations classify paralegals as administrative staff, with salaries too low to attract highly trained professionals.' He makes the logical recommendation: redesign the salary structure so that paralegal positions – at least senior level paralegals – are in the higher salary band of professionals. Even a few thousand dollars a year more makes a big difference in the quality of paralegal you can then attract." [Emphasis added.]