Your law firm has paralegals, but are you utilizing your paralegals' skills in the right way?
You do know that paralegals are professionals and not just glorified secretaries, right? Ensuring that you're maximizing your use of paralegals is good for the bottom line, makes clients happy, and takes some of the work off of your shoulders.
Here are five strategies to get the most out of your paralegals that may pay off for you:
1. Utilize Billable Hours.
Lawyers are, of course, allowed to bill for the services that paralegals perform. They can be billed at "market rate" rather than the actual cost to the attorneys, points out The Legaco Express for Paralegals. Assigning certain billable tasks to paralegals frees up your time and also makes the client happy. In today's belt-tightening environment, clients don't want to pay senior associate rates for legal research.
2. Utilize Billable Work.
Is your paralegal doing what is technically called "legal secretary" work? If so, you're losing out. Traditionally, the firm cannot bill the client for time spent by legal secretaries, according to the ABA's Law Practice magazine.
Legal secretary work consists of typing, mailing, and answering the phone -- in other words, something any secretary can do. Paralegals, on the other hand, are empowered to do more, like conduct research, prepare discovery, and interview witnesses. If you've assigned a paralegal to a task, make sure it's something a paralegal should be doing, not something a secretary should be doing.
Want to spend more time practicing, and less time advertising? Leave the marketing to the experts.
3. Professional Development.
In many states, paralegals aren't subject to continuing education requirements (in others, like California, they are). But that doesn't mean paralegals shouldn't receive more education and professional development.
Professional development expands the range of a paralegal's skills while ensuring that they're up to date on the most current happenings in a given practice field. It also gives paralegals opportunity for growth within the firm, which makes them happy, and happy employees are way better than depressed ones.
4. Get Them Organized.
Make sure your paralegal department is organized, and while you're at it, create a position for a paralegal coordinator, suggests Steve Lewis of Ostrow Reisin Berk & Abrams. The coordinator -- like an HR just for the paralegal department -- will be responsible for hiring, training, and retaining paralegals, as well as arranging all that professional development we were just talking about. The paralegal coordinator will also take feedback so that paralegals know they're being heard.
5. Bonuses and Perks.
If paralegals are billing hours -- and are asked to meet billing targets -- then they should also have bonuses, too. One law firm in Arizona instituted such a policy, creating high morale and low turnover, according to Law Office Manager. The same law firm also granted perks to paralegals, like flexible start times and giving paralegals secretarial support. (Remember: Paralegals aren't secretaries.)
- ABA Model Guidelines for Utilization of Paralegal Services (American Bar Association)
- Your Paralegal or Legal Assistant: What's in a Name? (FindLaw's Strategist)
- 10 Things Every Attorney Must Do Before Hiring a Legal Secretary or Paralegal (FindLaw's Strategist)
- 3 Tips to Work With Legal Secretaries So They Don't Hate You (FindLaw's Greedy Associates)