3 Key Benefits of Proper Paralegal Utilization for Law Firms
“A lawyer’s time is their stock and trade.”
Law firms across the country are woefully underutilizing their legal paraprofessional support staff. During the process of handling a legal matter for a client, there are many tasks that a licensed attorney is either overqualified for or has support staff equally qualified for yet spends his or her time working on them. This negatively impacts virtually all aspects of a legal practice, but the financial effects are most severe.
Higher hourly rate
Consider the following example:
Work Week Scenario One:
|40 lawyer hours at $200/hour
|20 paralegal hours at $75/hour
|Invoiced Hours: 60 Total
Now, assume the lawyer learns how to expand the role of the paralegal and, as such, is able to shift a substantial portion of the work to the paralegal through appropriate utilization.
Work Week Scenario Two:
|20 lawyer hours at $300.00/hour
|40 paralegal hours at $75.00/hour
|Invoiced Hours: 60 Total
Many times, attorneys fear that putting a substantive legal task in their paralegals’ hands will take more time than if they were to complete the assignment themselves. While that often will turn out to be true, as evidenced in the scenario above, it would nonetheless result in the lawyer saving the client money while at the same time raising their hourly rate a full $100.00/hour! That is a win-win solution.
If the lawyers in both scenarios above billed a total of 1,800 hours for the entire year, look at the difference in their annual revenues:
|1,800 hours at $200/hour
|1,800 hours at $300/hour
Larger volume of work
The benefits don’t stop there. Due to ideal support staff deployment, the lawyer in scenario two would be able to take on a much larger volume of legal work. Assuming for illustrative purposes an attorney in scenario one would spend eighty hours total on a his/her average client file while the attorney in scenario two would spend forty. That would permit the attorneys to take on 22 v. 45 files respectively.
The problem in creating the model scenario is twofold:
First, it requires attorneys to keep themselves updated on the latest trends in paralegal utilization. Unfortunately, most attorneys focus professional development on their areas of legal specialty and respective MCLE requirements, and not on learning how to best use their support staff. Indeed, when asked, many attorneys will flat out admit they have no knowledge that the American Bar Association has an actual manual for the proper utilization of paralegal services.
Second, it requires support staff of the very highest competence, which unfortunately rarely gets supported. Continuing education and training requires a significant investment on the part of the attorney and/or law firm. While law firms are typically supportive of continuing legal education for attorneys, they often baulk at the prospect of sending a paraprofessional to any form of continuing education. The result is a support staff that becomes increasingly difficult to utilize properly. The paralegal will spend more time completing administrative tasks then substantive legal work while the attorney will be forced to take on increasing amounts of work that otherwise could have been more appropriately delegated. Often times, the law firm will eventually part ways with staff member only to start over with an entry level recent paralegal graduate. The cycle can be frustrating and certainly costly to the practice in the long run.
Finally, a law firm that supports paralegal professional development, certification, or both will not just reap benefits on monthly invoices. The practice will be able to gain a distinct advantage in another major business building area: Marketability & Client Intake
A law firm employing certified paralegals can advertise that their firm staff, both attorney and paralegal, possess the unique competence, specialization, and experience needed to handle even the most complex legal issues and cases. For example, in New Jersey there are currently over 100,000 licensed attorneys. Of the tens of thousands of paralegals in the state, there are less than three hundred certified paralegals. Despite the fact that certification is not required for paralegals in many states, a law firm that supports their staff pursuing credentials will create a huge building block in their attempts to distinguish their specialization from the rest of the ruthless competition that’s out there.
Year-to-year, as we are constantly assessing the bottom line or our practices and looking for avenues to improve intake, billing, client satisfaction, and office morale it might make sense to begin looking towards support staff. It is there that a legal practice will likely find many opportunities for significant improvement.