Could paralegals be the solution for law firms facing financial decline?
For the last eight years the legal management consulting company Altman Weil has issued a survey to hundreds of law firms across the country to gauge current trends and changes in the legal market. This year, survey findings revealed several discouraging conclusions:
- The recession stunted the growth of the market demand for legal services. As a result, firms remain apprehensive about profitability growth.
- Larger firms, in particular, have a superfluous number of lawyers on staff, many of which are underutilized. By overstaffing high-salaried lawyers, firms incur unnecessary costs.
- Most firms admit ongoing struggles to enhance efficiency of legal service delivery.
With so much pressure to increase profitability, some firm leaders are starting to replace lawyers, especially first-year associates, with paralegals.
Consider this: Last June renown New York-based law firm Cravath, Swaine & Moore made headlines by hiking up their starting salary for first-year associates to an astounding $180,000/yr., triggering other big name firms across the country to follow suit. On the flip side, the salary aggregation site payscale.com reports that the average paralegal salary in the United States is currently $44,579/yr.
Since paralegals can generally complete the same tasks typically assigned to first-year associates, law firms can dramatically cut down on staffing costs by hiring more paralegals instead of additional fresh-faced lawyers. Saving money by using this staffing modification tactic also provides the added benefit of lowering client rates.
As for the productivity issue, when asked what their firm was doing to increase the efficiency of legal service delivery, 37.8% of Altman Weil Flash Survey respondents replied they were “shifting work from lawyers to paraprofessionals.”
But that’s not all. According to an October 11 article published by Pittsburg Post-Gazette, in some firms, paralegals aren’t just snagging jobs from lawyers but from secretaries as well. If so, the time for paralegals to shine may have finally arrived.