Monday, July 29, 2013

My former life as a Paralegal

Every so often I think about my first post-college job as a Project Assistant at BigName Law Firm 1.0.  This position was created by the paralegals because they wanted someone to offload the non-billable work they had to do so they could focus on the more substantive legal work they were given by the attorneys.  There are a lot of problems with that last sentence.

The first is that the firm was so growing so large that the substantive legal work rarely trickled down to the paralegal level.  Maybe it did before the Project-Assistant-Era, but it certainly didn't after that.

The second problem was that there wasn't a lot of up front training investment in PAs.  Most of the non-billable work was not the repeatable, learn it once and do it every day type of stuff.  There was some of that of course, but most of the things they wanted to give us required more time to explain it than to do it yourself.  And if it was something you weren't going to do again for six months, it almost didn't make sense to teach a PA because they were not gonna remember it in six months and you'll have to teach it again.
Quite a bump from two decades ago

The paralegals were so busy with their real work that they didn't have time to train us, and that wasn't baked into their job descriptions.  Even if it was, I’m sure the threshold for catching on would be very small.

On top of that, the position didn't pay very well yet they got either fresh out of college, or still students as job candidates.  In other words, you put fairly smart people into a mind numbing job with no chance of advancement and eventually entropy takes place.  Now I will be the first to admit that I had the wrong attitude and outlook for a position like this.  Beside my own personal issues and shortcomings, I just didn't understand how Corporate America worked.

 I think I was from the future because I really liked to leverage technology to make life easier and I worked with people who feared technology because it was new and scary.  Looking back, I acknowledge that I did have what would be perceived as a bad attitude.  I think my intentions were good but my execution and communication were poor, which is always a bad combination.

The era of PAs being non-billable didn't last long.  Someone figured that since we were billing for some of our work, why not give us a billing requirement and have us bill for all of our work.  In a way this was good because it made the PA position evolve into more of a junior paralegal position.  But in many other ways it was bad.  Remember the substantive legal work mythical unicorn beast I mentioned.  If very little trickled down from attorneys to paralegals, how much do you think trickled down to PAs? 

In hindsight I wish I had been smart enough to keep my head down, use the paralegals as Attorney Shields and go to g-school a few years sooner. 

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