Paralegal Gateway: Paralegals May Be Replacing First Year Associates

According to a press release, Jeannie S. Johnston of is finding that

[T]he inside word from some of the nation’s top law firms is that they actual lose money on first year associates. These firms spend big money on recruiting top candidates and offer large starting salaries only to have them begin work without any applicable experience.

“It takes about another year to train the first year associates. Secondary to this, they are not able to bill out as much time and the firms are actually losing profits.” Johnston goes on to say, “The existing paralegals, on the other hand, can do the exact same work much more efficiently and end up billing almost three times as much in the same day. It just makes more sense to increase the hourly rate of the paralegals and reduce the first year salary of the incoming associates.”

Johnston believes that if this trend catches on, paralegals should see an increase in their paychecks.

This comes on the heels of a post by Melissa H. at Paralegalese noting

Over the past several years, paralegals specifically have been carving out a niche for ourselves in the legal community. We grew out of a need for cost control and efficiency as law firms began competing as businesses. We grew out of a need to bridge the gap between the high and mighty lawyer and the lay people he serves. We stem from the legal secretary, a highly efficient and organized specimen who learned procedural law to perfection until one day someone decided her skills should be billable. We sprung forth from professionals of every field who enjoy the challenges in the law yet choose not to pursue a license. And we are becoming ever more necessary in a legal world fraught with runaway costs, inflated salaries, and increasing overhead. (Emphasis added)

And it certainly seems to address the claim that motivated Melissa to write the post, “This topic stems from a discussion I had this evening regarding paralegals and attorneys. I was told that paralegals are becoming less necessary today because young associates are willing and able to do all their own work.”

There is no doubt that financial considerations have been, are, and will be a major factor in the development of the paralegal profession. However, I would not let this factor blind the legal profession to other factors such as that mentioned by Melissa, “We grew out of a need to bridge the gap between the high and mighty lawyer and the lay people he serves.” If the only factor is cost, then it is possible young attorneys could serve as paralegals if they are willing to take the pay. However, as argued in previous posts, attorneys and paralegals differ in training, experience and skill sets, not just cost. It may be possible for a talented and skilled paralegal to take on many of the tasks of young attorneys since those tasks, e.g., research, are part of the paralegal skill set. The same is not as likely to be true the other way as most young attorneys are ill equipped to “bridge the gap between the high and mighty lawyer and the lay people he serves.” In the end quality legal service requires a legal team with each member of that team trained and competent in filling their role on that team.

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