Pulling needles out of haystacks...

Saturday, March 04, 2006


While I’m technically back on my blog, it may take a while before I really get up and running. I have a lot of catching up to do, after being away for so long. While feverishly working “under the hood” on my blog, getting everything set up, I ran across some really neat new tools, including Blogjet, which I am trying for the first time with this post. More later.

Friday, March 03, 2006

Paralegal Autonomy...it's a good thing

According to a January 2003 article in the Silicon Valley/San Jose Business Journal, a nationwide survey showed that paralegals are receiving a new level of respect in the workplace. "Forty-two percent of lawyers polled said they believe that within the next 10 years legal assistants will have more professional autonomy than they do today." This is welcome news for the independent-minded paralegal. While the definition of what a paralegal is and does varies widely from lawyer to lawyer and firm to firm, my experience has been that most lawyers and law firms fail to fully exploit the paralegal as a profit center. Stating the obvious, our salary and benefit expectations and demands are substantially lower. We don't require expensive bar association memberships, malpractice insurance, expense accounts, perks, prestigious office space with a view, plush office furnishings, and a support staff. Yet (under attorney supervision, of course), paralegals can do, and do, a lot of the daily work that used to be done by attorneys. No new news there.

So, what exactly is "professional autonomy," as it relates to the role of the paralegal? In my view, it means a paralegal whose daily duties and assignments are independent from the work being performed by the attorney-boss at any given time -- as opposed to the role of the legal secretary (what are we working on, today?). This is not to slight the legal secretary -- not by a longshot. I came up through the ranks as a legal secretary, before paralegals even existed, and I have the utmost respect for their particular knowledge, skills, and talents. What I'm talking about is the experienced paralegal who knows how to manage a case and move it along, with minimal guidance from the attorney. In addition to taking specific assignments from attorneys, the professionally autonomous paralegal makes recommendations for case management (such as documents to be obtained, discovery to be conducted, internal deadlines to be set, etc.), and then sees that those self-designated assignments are carried out. In order for a paralegal to truly achieve "professional autonomy," and maximize firm profits, though, I believe the paralegal must be provided with some type of support staff. This could be as simple as access to a typing pool to assist the paralegal with routine correspondence or time entry, or even a paralegal assistant. I once worked for an insurance defense firm that utilized the paralegal-paralegal assistant method to great effect. Assistants to paralegals were hired fresh out of paralegal school, to train alongside experienced paralegals (PAs billing at a slightly lower rate than paralegals). In time, the PAs advanced to full-fledged paralegal positions, and the cycle continued. I think this is a great solution to the dilution of the profit margins of producers (paralegals) by (a) requiring that they personally send every fax and stamp every envelope, or (b) providing them with support staff (overhead).

*Edited and reprinted.

New blog

Okay, so I'm trying to get back into blogging, after being away for 3 years (light years, in the blogosphere). I last surfaced via my old Radio UserLand blog, but being dissatisfied with the lack of aesthetically pleasing templates, I decided to switch to Blogger. So, here goes . . .

About Me

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Lafayette, Louisiana, United States
Paralegals are masters at "pulling needles out of haystacks," which usually starts with a pitchfork and ends with a magnifying glass; this blog humbly seeks to provide tools somewhere between the two, and serve as a helpful resource for paralegals and other legal professionals.
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KiMformation by Kim Plonsky is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 License.