When I started practicing law, paralegals — broadly defined as specially trained assistants to lawyers — were few and far between. The general consensus in the legal community then was that there was no need to have paralegals doing what associate lawyers could do. As an associate, I spent many hours summarizing documents, digesting depositions, contacting witnesses, and generally doing the kinds of things that are now commonly accepted as paralegal duties. It was part of the training of many new lawyers at the time.
Several years later, the first boom in paralegal employment arrived. This increase in the use of paralegals was not caused by some shift in the thinking of practicing lawyers — in fact, many of them resisted the move toward using paralegals. Instead, lawyers began to use paralegals because their clients demanded it. Clients who had been paying their legal bills without complaint began to pay attention to the bottom line. If the law firm would not lower their fees, clients would find a law firm that would. Furthermore, many corporations took their legal work “in house” to reduce fees.
The downward pressure on legal fees came in the form of a single edict from clients: “We will not pay for qualifications that are not necessary to the legal task at hand.” This meant that associates could no longer summarize depositions at the hourly rate charged by a lawyer when a paralegal could do the same task for about half the cost. Law firms that did not employ paralegals could not lower prices and, as a result, lost clients.
Today, there is the same downward pressure on legal fees. The difference is that lawyers have come to accept paralegals as a part of the legal services landscape. Paralegals allow lawyers to lower legal costs without lowering the quality of service to the client. I know many lawyers who swear by paralegal assistance — as the factor that allows them to practice law efficiently and effectively.
The first paralegals were trained on the job. I was involved in the education of some of those paralegals, and I can attest to the fact that initially, training of paralegals was somewhat haphazard. It was usually directed to the task at hand. Paralegals learned by doing and by making mistakes. This process was sometimes slow and painstaking, but that gradually changed. Now paralegals often come to law firms from schools and institutions dedicated to providing these legal professionals with the knowledge and skills required to be successful immediately.
For all its popularity, there is still much confusion about paralegalism. Much of the information about the profession is targeted to those who have already decided on a career as a paralegal. Students therefore enter paralegal programs with only a vague idea of what a paralegal does. This book tries to fill that gap. I have tried to provide information that you will find useful in deciding on whether to pursue this fascinating profession. Good luck!