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You may assume that your paralegals are are a great bargain, considering the large amount of grunt work they complete. But are you utilizing your paralegals' skills in the right way?
Remember that paralegals are professionals, not just glorified secretaries. By maximizing your use of paralegals, you'll improve your bottom line, make clients happy, and take a significant amount of the work off of your shoulders.
Here are five strategies to get the most out of your paralegals:
Lawyers are, of course, allowed to bill for the services that paralegals perform. Note that they can be billed at market rate rather than the actual cost to the attorneys. Assigning certain billable tasks to paralegal frees can increase your time and can also make the client happy. In today's belt-tightening environment, clients don't want to pay senior associate rates for legal research.
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.
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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.
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.
If paralegals are billing hours -- and are asked to meet billing targets -- then they should also have bonuses. 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.
Editor's Note, August 11, 2015: This post was first published in August 2014. It has since been updated.
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