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.


Still Thinking About Licensing Paralegals? Hogwash. Old School Thinking.

Winners.don't quitJust about every week, the question of whether to license paralegals comes up. What never comes up is the real "why". Oh sure, you'll hear ramblings on and on as to the pros and the cons. The reasoning includes how paralegals are supposed to come under the supervision of attorneys anyway (as though this relieves them somehow of major responsibility); whether it should be statutory licensing or certification; how it will help to ensure minimum qualification standards for the profession; result in paralegals gaining greater personal respect from attorneys and maybe even result in higher pay. I just read an interesting blog that quoted all of these reasons (http://bit.ly/1GWL6jO) with some good points. However, it missed the main point entirely.

Licensing may establish minimum qualifications, but that won’t necessarily help you land the job. Attorneys will still rely on your resume to identify specific skills and work experience when they’re considering you for a position.

All of this, in my opinion, is hogwash. Yes, my friends. The debate about licensing at this stage in the game is ridiculous. Why? Because it puts the cart before the horse. Before anyone can run off and start yelling, "get licensed! get certification! get registered!" a lot of work still needs to go into the movement. The one thing that is missing?  There are no standard entrance requirements to be a paralegal. And you want to license a field that lets anyone in? Let's license doctors with high-school educations who know medical terminology and somehow wangled a two-year internship in a hospital. Or better yet, let's license attorneys with high-school educations who worked in the firm's mail room, read all the pleadings, took a prep course and passed the bar. Oh, wait a minute. California used to allow that.

Before the big debate on whether to license paralegals, first things first. (Be very clear: I am NOT talking about legal technicians giving services directly to the public. I am talking about paralegals working in a law firm.) Get across-the-board mandatory requirements to enter the field and finally make the paralegal profession a genuine, definition of a profession - not a "para" profession. Just like teaching. There are no "para-teachers". Just like nursing. There are no "para-nurses."  Just like attorneys. Hmmm.....there are "para-legals....." Right now, there are no mandatory requirements for paralegals to enter the field. Every state, every city, every law firm, every attorney, has different requirements as to the responsibilities of a paralegal - meaning the duties they perform. Each one has different standards as to what educational requirements are necessary for hiring. Never mind what the definition of a paralegal is from the ABA or NALA or California. Who is quoting uniform entrance requirements to the field? How on earth can you license something without a base foundation?

So far, there are no uniform mandatory educational requirements to enter the field. On what reasoning can you license someone when anyone, and I mean anyone, who meets years of experience (or not) and on-the-job training (or not and if they do, may be sketchy at best) can get licensed? And mind you, I am at the forefront of two very-well known certification exams: the OLP eDiscovery and Litigation Support Certification Exams. However, these exams are offshoots of sub-specialties and examinations of skills resulting from a particular job, not the job itself.

To answer the question of licensing: This debate has been going on for years. Right now, frankly, this is the cart before the horse. People talk about licensing without any concept of the backlash to the job, the public and the practice of law.

I personally think that the paralegal field will surprise all of us and head towards another direction entirely. It will follow the nursing model. Licensed nurses must still be under the supervision of a doctor. In the same manner, the fact that unlicensed paralegals must be under the supervision of an attorney does not let paralegals off the hook in terms of responsibility. The doctor is ultimately responsible, just like the attorney. Here's how I think it will end up:

  • There are Nurse Practitioners and Physician Assistants who have extraordinary education and experience: Master's Degrees; certifications; entrance requirements to the field; years of experience coming up the ranks; continuing education and more. They are allowed to make a simple diagnosis and write certain prescriptions up to a particular point where they then turn the patient over to the doctor.
  • The Registered Nurse: 4 years of nursing school; a BA degree and internship. They become registered through certain exams and complete an internship.
  • The Certified Vocational Nurse: Nursing school plus a certification exam. 
  • The Licensed Vocational Nurse: Nursing school plus sits for licensing exam. 
  • Nurse's aide: training in vocational school. Each state is different and may have other positions such as Certified Nurse's Aide.

All are under the guidance of the doctor.

The paralegal field will follow similar suit: 

  • The Attorney Practitioner: BA/BS degree; graduate school; 1 or 2 years of law school; able to perform previous attorney assignments: perhaps take a deposition; assess a case; prepare certain documents; appear in front of a judge;  (in King County, Seattle, this has been done with paralegals for years on default judgments and more). 
  • The Certified Paralegal: BA/BS; paralegal certificate; required number of years in the field; plus sits for certification exam.
  • The Paralegal: BA/BS degree plus paralegal certificate.
  • The Paralegal Assistant: An AA degree plus paralegal certificate.
  • The Paralegal Clerk: Either an AA degree, no paralegal certificate or paralegal certificate and no college degree. Cannot move up unless an AA degree and paralegal certificate are reached.

The field will stratify according to entry requirements, education, years of experience and expertise which will in turn limit the types of duties a paralegal of certain ranks will be allowed to do. Right now, there is only entry-level, mid-level, senior level and paralegal manager in most firms. Paralegals are paid according to years in the field, modeled after the associate program. They are not paid for performance. Right now, a 10 year paralegal can be performing at the two-year level but paid at the 10 year market level.

 In order to move up, the paralegal will be required to attain more education, sophisticated assignments and years in the field. This is not an unusual concept and in fact, is used in hundreds of other fields resulting in vertical climbs up. Right now, there is virtually no vertical climb upwards for a paralegal. The career path, in most organizations, is horizontal.

Based upon how the field has progressed plus how the public has embraced the use of
paralegals AND the phenomenal growth of Do It Yourself Law, i.e., LegalZoom, the field is headed in an entirely different direction than originally thought.  Plain old licensing is old school thinking in this new norm. No one accounted for huge client push back on outrageous fees nor how LegalZoom changed client thinking. There has to be new, fresh thinking about paralegals and their career paths. There may be some variation on this theme but I'll betcha $.25 cents this is the way it's headed - and trust me, I never go more than $.25.


How Much of a Career Risk Should You Take Switching Specialties?

Question.iStock_000011272724XSmallIt's a sure-footed, absolute and positive, no mistakin' it gamble. Switching specialties, that is. Bored with what you're doing? Fed up with a paltry salary? Peeking over the fence to see who makes more money? Seeking that enigma: better challenge?

Tonya Pierce addresses the topic today. She's making some good points. The main one being: THINK before you leap (and other relevant cliches). Enjoy!

The days of general practice law firms may have passed. Many attorneys are choosing to specialize to be more marketable. Law firms are following suit [pardon any puns] by specializing in one or two areas of law. An attorney who can advertise that he or she is an expert in a certain area has an advantage over an attorney who practices several types of law. In reality, clients who hire an attorney who specializes gets one that has the right experience and most likely, is on the forefront of current laws and trends.

Paralegals are following with some paralegals going into a specialty area directly from school. While this presents some benefits, I am glad that I did not. I worked for a general practice law firm that did mostly real estate and family law but took just about anything that came in the door with a few exceptions.

From working in a situation where I had to think on my feet, find resources, research various areas of law and remain calm while I had no clue what I was doing, I learned skills that have served me very well in my paralegal career.  Later, however, I specialized in bankruptcy law which I found to have tremendous advantages.

Why Paralegal Specialization?

  • Advantage over other applicants. When searching for a job, having a wealth of  experience in one area can give you an advantage over applicants with minimal experience. Attorneys love to hire paralegals who can walk in the door and hit the ground running with very little training. By working in one area, you automatically become a valuable asset to an attorney who is also specializing.

  • Becoming a Certified Paralegal. Several national paralegal organizations [such as NALA and NFPA] offering certification programs have added specialization certification. Achieving certification as a specialist demonstrates that you have attained a higher level of experience and skill giving you a distinct lead over other candidates. 

  • Advantage in certain areas of laws. Some areas of law are very specialized with fewer attorneys (i.e. bankruptcy or intellectual property). Therefore, there are fewer experienced paralegals. I can't even begin to tell you how desirable you become. 

  • Higher salaries. Just as attorneys who are specialists charge higher fees for their increased experience, paralegals who specialize can also earn higher salaries.


Disadvantages of Paralegal Specialization

  • Fewer job opportunities. Depending upon the area of law that you choose to specialize, you may have fewer job opportunities. If you choose an area that is highly specialized such as complex foreign litigation, there are simply fewer job opportunities than those more generalized because there are so fewer attorneys.

  • Disadvantage compared to other applicants. When an attorney is looking for a well-rounded paralegal, you may be at a disadvantage compared to that of a paralegal with experience in several areas of law. Here's where it backfires: You are not as marketable because you have limited your experience to one specific area.

  • Legal trends have a large impact on your career. If the specialized area of law experiences a decrease in business, your career is impacted more severely than a paralegal who has experience in several areas. For example, when bankruptcies dropped by 20% several years ago, bankruptcy paralegals had a very difficult time finding another job because staff was cut. Attorneys began to look for paralegals with experience in other areas to expand their practice.

Whether or not you decide to specialize, choose an area that you enjoy. Being a paralegal is very rewarding; however, it can also be very stressful. By choosing an area of law that you enjoy, you will find that during stressful moments you still enjoy your job rather than being filled with dread going into the office each morning. Doing something that you enjoy is much more fulfilling and sustains you during those days when you momentarily wonder why you ever decided to become a paralegal.

Tonya Pierce is a paralegal with over 24 years experience in several areas of the legal field (17 years as a bankruptcy paralegal and trustee paralegal). She regularly writes advice columns for AgileLaw, the industry leading provider of paperless depositions.

If you are seeking to expand your career, you'll need to get continuing legal education. Nothing impresses attorneys more than plenty of quality continuing legal education. For more opportunities, go to the Paralegal Knowledge Institute, a well-respected training organization designed specifically for the paralegal assignment.

www.paralegalknowledge.com or contact me at chere.estrin@paralegalknowledge.com and let's chat about how to be in charge of your future in the paralegal career. 

 


Limited-licensing for Paralegals: It's Finally a Reality

Eye.woman.blueLicensing paralegals has been talked about for years.  And years.  And years.  It’s been pushed back as long as I can remember.  One objection is that paralegals do not practice law and therefore do not need licensing.  They are supervised by attorneys and it is the attorney’s license on the line.

Another issue was there were no standard requirements to enter the field (i.e., anyone who wanted to could call themselves a paralegal) therefore, licensing would have no real meaning.  In California, some years ago, a stab at licensing called for governance not by the State Bar but under the Consumer Protection Board that also licensed dog groomers, manicurists, and similar professions.  The idea wasn’t well received by the paralegal community.

In a new twist, the Washington Supreme Court adopted the Limited License Legal Technician (LLLT) Rule, effective September 1, 2012. Legal technicians are not paralegals.  They are document handlers who provide typing and form-filling services directly to the public for family matters, wills, adoptions, bankruptcy. This rule authorizes non-attorneys who meet certain educational requirements to advise clients on specific areas of law, which have yet to be determined.

With the rule, the Supreme Court established the LLLT Board to administer the program. In late December 2012, the Supreme Court appointed the first LLLT Board, which includes several non-attorneys and a legal educator. The Board must establish an area of the law in which to license LLLTs and seek approval from the Supreme Court for that area of the law within one year.  This includes regulations for professional conduct, exam procedures, continuing education requirements, and disciplinary procedures.

Meanwhile, the California State Bar is taking a hard look at limited-licensing.  According to an article in California Lawyer magazine,the Board of Trustees is considering a  similar program. The licensing program is targeted to legal technicians providing services directly to the public.  At this stage, legal technicians are regulated.  They provide document preparation services directly to the consumer.

The limited-licensing program would provide legal services to the public and allow law students and others who haven’t passed the bar to put their skills to use. Trustee Heather . Rosing said those who can’t afford the services of a licensed attorney are ften forced to turn to non-lawyers because of cost. Although legal aid, pro bono service and court-employed family law facilitators all try to fill this gap, too many people need legal assistance and simply cannot afford it at today’s legal market rates. A
 limited licensing program, in addition to helping clients, would create an avenue of employment
for law school graduates and legal technicians who haven’t passed the bar, board members said. Engaging in limited practice might be an avenue to eventually becoming a qualified lawyer.

“I advocate the position that non-lawyers should not be allowed to serve the public directly,” says Barbara Liss, senior estate planning paralegal in Santa Barbara, California, “unless they (1) have adequate education, (2) have worked for a specified period of time under attorney supervision -- such as a minimum of three to five years, (3) qualify by some form of testing (NFPA, NALA, AAfPE, OLP skills tests already exist which could be conformed as needed to meet this criterion); (4) maintain continuing education (MCLE) requirements that are pre-established and (5) meet bond requirements that are pre-established.

Bonding is not malpractice insurance coverage -- which could be costly, but bonding would provide a modicum of protection for any intentional abuses or improper action by the technician's over-reaching beyond the specified limitations established by the legislation creating the position itself.”

Looking to the future, the role of limited-licensed legal technicians can spill over into the law firm.  Take a look at the Nurse Practitioner.  Medical offices and hospitals offer the Nurse Practitioner  directly to their patients.  Entrance requirements include a higher standard of education and solid experience.  

The state bars implementing the limited-license must be aware that generally, legal technicians have nowhere near the education of traditional law firm paralegals now requiring a B.A. degree and paralegal certificate in many states.

It is not too much of a stretch of the imagination to see that the legal field can leverage the limited-licensed legal technician by creating a new position within the law firm, perhaps a “Paralegal Practitioner.”  This new position can provide upward movement, demand higher educational standards, and provide more profit and better utilization of senior paralegals.  The paralegal position is not going to go away anytime soon. The history of paralegals from day one has been to keep pushing the profession to higher standards.  If executed properly, here’s a great possibility to keep paralegal upward mobility rocking and rolling.  

Only a few days left to register for the eDiscovery Project Management Certificate Program!  Don't miss out on a terrific opportunity to advance your career and move in the right direction.  For more info:  www.paralegalknowledge.com.

 

 
 

 

 

 


Legal Project Management - The Next New Area for Paralegals to Conquer?

 MP900446464[1] It seems that suddenly, law firms have woken to the fact that the corporate world has a whole new technique out there to manage projects.  Simply called Project Management, the area is booming.  And, as always, the legal field tends to be the last to get in on the bandwagon.  But for argument's sake, let's just say it arrived.

Legal Project Management by Steven B. Levy (DayPack Books), is a study in how to manage your case, control costs, meet schedules, manage risks, and maintain sanity.  It's a process by which you can take control of your project.  Prior to the concept of Legal Project Management, there were no standardized methods to manage a case.  However, Project Management, in and of itself, has been around for years in the corporate arena.

Here is a great way for paralegals to pick up yet another useful skill and turn it into a top job.  Project Managers are team leaders who can size up a case, establish a budget for doing so, create the work flow chart and see the project through to the end. 

Levy's book gives you the tools to approach the job.  Since this emerging field offers a powerful new approach to managing a case, it is not an alien discipline, full of jargon and process overhead.  Rather, it's designed for the specific world of legal professionals.  It respects the way attorneys and paralegal work, enhancing their success by playing to their strengths. 

The book is easy to read dispersed throughout with quotes from Shakespeare.  While Levy attempts to explain why those quotes are in the book, it remains a mystery exactly why although it does lend for interesting reading.  Levy explains budgeting, analysis,work flow, execution information radiators, metrics and learning.  It's a whole new world out there in terms of what happens when that new case comes in over the transom.

If you are looking to expand your position, it's time to explore the world of Project Management.  The Organization of Legal Professionals is offering an 8 week on line, interactive, live class on Project Management starting December 15th.  (www.theolp.org).  Here is the perfect way to ensure your value to your firm, learn the skills of the hottest area right now and probably put more dollars in your pocket as a result.

Do remember the history of paralegals:  No one sat down one day and said, "This is a paralegal job description.  Now, let's go get some paralegals."  That's not what happened.  What happened was the position emerged from another position (legal secretary) when attorneys figured out that 1) secretaries could perform higher level tasks and 2) you could bill the client for someone called a paralegal but you couldn't bill for a secretary.  Now, between eDiscovery Paralegals and Project Management Paralegals, the field is creating its own career path.  More power to it.

 


They Shoot Paralegals, Don't They?

Working I was reading The Empowered Paralegal blog the other day and a paralegal was discussing the superior status she thought she had over paralegals who did not have paralegal degrees. In particular, she brought up the Erin Brockovich story and the subsequent movie that was made. Ms. Brockovich, she stated, was not a "real" paralegal because she did not have a paralegal degree.  She went on to state that the duties that Ms. Brockovich performed would never be tackled by a paralegal.  At least, she had never witnessed a paralegal doing what Ms. Brockovich did.

It’s very interesting to listen to the hot debate that the Erin Brockovich role has played over the years. I have heard more paralegals than not state how much they “hate” the role portrayed in the movie. Whether or not you choose to designate Ms. Brockovich as a “real” paralegal, it is very important that today's paralegals understand the history and development of the position.

In the '70’s and ’80’s and far reaching into the '90’s, anyone who wanted to could call themselves a paralegal. At the risk of revealing that I am definitely a member of the Boomer generation, I personally came up through the ranks starting in 1981. There were few paralegal schools at that time. Becoming a paralegal meant, for most, that you would receive training on the job. It is true that some paralegals came through the ranks of legal secretary but those were in the minority. During those times, let’s also understand that certain states, such as California, did not require someone to go to law school in order to take the bar exam. You were eligible if you worked under a mentor but law school was not required. That may still stand today, I’m not certain.

Paralegal schools were also rare in rural areas. This is one reason NALA was formed – to provide education. There was no Internet nor online courses. Even in Los Angeles, a major metro city, there were only three primary paralegal schools for a very long time – UCLA, CalState L.A. and UWLA. Some “match-book” cover type schools popped up. But what was worse? Learning on the job or plunking down good money for a school that also taught you how to be a bartender.

In 1980, I started out as a paralegal in Seattle for $1500 a month. I did have some legal secretary training. I got my first job at a prestigious small firm. I was trained on the job like anyone else. The administrator hired me because, at that time, I was in the theatre. He happened to have seen one of my shows, so he hired me. True story. Later, I moved to Los Angeles and got a job in a large, prestigious entertainment firm that handled the A list. Working with movie stars was an everyday and common experience.

In that role, I was very active becoming the firm’s first paralegal administrator. I recall that some of my assignments included meeting a cargo plane at LAX and working with customs to board the plane in search of fake ET dolls. (Really!) I was sent to the bottom of a famous L.A. hotel in search of evidence for a case. I waded through muck, spiders and ankle deep water in search of the “hot” documents. I went to Georgia to a carpet mill in the middle of nowhere in search of evidence. In Seattle, paralegals were allowed to go before the judge on certain non-contested matters. The first judge I went before put our case over when it was apparent the other side was not showing up. Apparently, the defendant’s counsel had decided to go moose hunting. The judge thought that was a perfectly good excuse not to attend court. Meanwhile, I was always taught by the best attorneys, attended seminars, read books, and learned my job as it pertained to the firms in which I was working. And that’s the key element here – education as it pertained to the firms in which the paralegal worked.

To put down those paralegals who literally blazed the trail for other paralegals while the education system was in its infancy is a travesty. Passing a paralegal course does not ensure that the paralegal will be a good paralegal. Passing the bar does not mean the lawyer will be a good lawyer. It only means that they have studied and should possess core competencies.

It is interesting that years and years later, I make my living in continuing legal eduation. I am a very strong advocate and a firm believer that paralegals should not be paralegals without first obtaining an education in paralegal studies. Good paralegals without the academic training came up the hard way - no schools available, on-the-job training, no real job descriptions.  They worked hard to make this new profession work. They took it among themselves to develop good assignments, they trained attorneys how paralegals could be used, they started paralegal associations (I was one of 8 co-founding members of the International Paralegal Management Association - IPMA); and they worked hard getting the word out about this new position. To discredit your history and those paralegals is a travesty. Remember, it took California 10 long hard years to get AB 6450 passed. That law now requires mandatory education for paralegals.  However, when it passed, it still grandfathered in those without the required education.

As for Ms. Brockovich, not once in the movie was she referred to as a paralegal. Was she rough around the edges? You bet. Was that taking literary license in the movie? For those of us who haven’t met her, we don’t know. Was she then and is she now called a paralegal? No. Was her purported $2 million bonus a “percentage” of the settlement and ethics violation as some charge? Now, we really don’t know, do we? In California in the ’80’s and decadent ’90’s, paralegals at some firms were given large bonuses. (The firm I was with in 1986 was giving out $20,000 – $30,000 bonuses – and that was 1986 dollars.) Truthfully, none of us know except Ms. Brockovich and her boss, Mr. Massry, what that bonus was based upon nor how it was calculated. We only know rumors. If there was any impropriety, I am quite certain the State Bar of California would have stepped in.

Some paralegals have made up a story about Brockovich, believed it and made it their truth. It’s not that this message is defending Erin Brockovich. It’s that those paralegals flouting their Masters, A.A.'s and B.S.’s in Paralegal Studies claiming they are better than those without have no respect for the trailblazers that came before them. It’s disrespectful and an arrogant slap in the face to the thousands and thousands of paralegals who came before them. Things have changed and improved but only very recently. Those paralegals without the schooling are the very same paralegals who pushed for more acceptance,professionalism, better training and education for all paralegals nationwide. The least we can do is honor them.


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!




Paralegals in China: Profession Develops from Toy Scandal

The toy recalls coming out of China apparently have more consequences than U.S. citizens seem to realize.  According to an article written in YaleGlobal online, not often noted in the uproar was that the toys shipped from China are mostly made by Hong Kong firms using cheap labor in China. Their factories in China make toys for big brand-name companies such as Mattel and Disney based on designs that the American corporations provide.

No mention has been made of the many hundreds of thousands of Chinese workers who labor under dangerous conditions, making toys and many hundreds of other kinds of export products. If lead paint is used, workers are the ones exposed to lead hour after hour. In numerous industries, all too often workers are exposed to noxious fumes and dangerous machinery. They are poor migrants from China’s countryside, and they endure work days averaging 11 hours, six to seven days a week, to earn take-home pay of $100 or less a month.

Most of the CSR (corporate-social responsibility) programs have made little headway in improving the conditions of workers who contract occupational diseases or are injured. Bosses simply discard most of them with scant compensation. Traumatized, they are in need of legal, moral and financial support. To secure adequate compensation requires them to run a gauntlet of legal procedures they can ill afford.

Increasingly, they have begun turning to people similar to themselves who have become paralegals. Many of these are former workers who had been injured or contracted occupational diseases and sued their bosses for compensation. After settling their own cases, they began helping others to do the same, and over time they have become increasingly conversant with the law and legal proceedings. In the Pearl River Delta region alone, there are now some 500 such paralegals, known in China as “citizens’ agents.” To support themselves, most of them charge a percentage of the compensation when a case is successful. Some register as a legal counseling service; others attach themselves to law firms, and yet others set up NGOs, (non-governmental organizations) though normally these need to be disguised by being registered as businesses.

By 2007, these citizens’ agents had become successful to the point of arousing open hostility from some manufacturers, and they had come to the attention of the provincial government. The authorities started to clamp down on their activities by disqualifying them from providing legal representation.

Huang Qingnan, a paralegal who headed a labor NGO, was brutally attacked in broad daylight by two thugs, who inflicted a number of vicious stab wounds. One of his legs was repeatedly hacked at and almost severed. At the time of writing, Huang is still in critical condition, and if he survives, may lose his leg. Huang was already badly scarred and deformed due to an industrial fire, which had led him to become a paralegal.

The assault against him followed on the heels of two recent daytime hooligan attacks against Huang’s NGO office. In the first of these, as a warning, several men destroyed the NGO’s doors with iron bars. In the second incident, a larger group of thugs wielding steel poles smashed the office and its equipment and threatened workers there seeking legal aid, while several local policemen looked on.

The brutality against Huang could herald the beginning of a new stage in the Delta’s labor history. It also puts new pressure on the major multinational corporations whose brand-name products, such as iPod, are produced in this area. The corporations do not want it said that their brand-name goods are produced in a lawless, repressive environment. The toy recalls may be only first of the publicity nightmares the companies will need to fend off.


"Keeping Current Can Be Hard to Do for Law Librarians"

I bet! In fact, I've often thought that being a law librarian would be a most interesting job. Just think about everything you would learn!

"Librarians are curious people. We like to skim magazines and books, we like to surf the Web and we have some interest in a lot of topics. A former co-worker used to say that librarians are 'trivial' in that we are always picking up trivia -- a definite asset when one needs to keep current in their profession.

"I was familiar with blogs, wikis and social software before I wrote 'The Many Hats of a Law Librarian: Part 3.'

[snip]

"So, keeping current has two parts: awareness of new or changing resources/activities and appreciation of possible uses or impact in your institution. Or, there may not be a use in your library. Mash-ups look to be a fun technology, but I do not see a need for it at my institution at this time. Law firm librarians may find it more interesting.

"Keeping current is not just for technology advances, although technology does drive much of the change and activity. My 'Hats' series [of articles] is an attempt to describe how the Internet and electronics have impacted and continue to impact our profession. Our traditional hats as modified by technology means current awareness crosses more lines and covers more topics than ever."

Author Tricia Kasting is a reference/government documents librarian at Hofstra University School of Law's Deane Law Library in Hempstead, N.Y.


"Delegation Day in the Law Firm"

Found this interesting post at the morepartnerincome blog which is sponsored by Juris,Inc.:

"Hildebrandt’s Rees Morrison passes along a simple but clever technique for encouraging attorneys to improve efficiency by finding delegable tasks for non-lawyer members of the team.  The idea comes from the corporate world but should work to everyone’s benefit in a law firm as well. The law department asked its attorneys collectively to identify 20 activities that the lawyers were doing but that could be handed off to paralegals, administrative assistants or other support persons.

"The panelist sharing the law department’s experience noted that staff members were energized by the initiative. What attorneys were happy to hand off was refreshing and challenging to others.  Given the results, the department expanded its goal and accomplishments well beyond the original 20 activities."

Recommend reading this entire post "about how to do things better" by author Tom Collins, founder & former President of Juris, Inc.