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Stabilizing the ripple effect – published in The Lawyers Weekly Magazine July 27, 2012

Are you maximizing one of the most cost-effective revenue generators in your law firm? I am referring to law clerk services. If you have not taken a good look at the revenue potential of law clerk services, you are not alone. Commoditization of law clerk services is a growing trend to deliver efficient low-cost legal services through fixed fees, alternative fee arrangements, and blended rates to law firm clients.

To learn more, read my article below published in the Canadian Lawyers Weekly Magazine, July 27, 2012.

Stabilizing the ripple effect incorporating law clerks into your practice

Stabilizing the ripple effectCost-effective paralegals fill firm’s integral needs
By Catherine D'AversaJuly 27 2012 issue
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Law firms are under pressure to reduce the cost of services and provide more competitive fees and alternative fee arrangements. As a result, the way legal services are delivered is changing; in particular, more work is being moved to paralegals.

Traditionally, paralegals have been relied upon to prepare and file forms, complete repetitive, fundamental documents and conduct various searches. Today, paralegals not only fulfil those needs but have become an integral part of the lawyers’ practice, providing skilled and cost-effective services.

Paralegals are educated, trained professionals who, like lawyers, practise in various disciplines such as real estate, corporate, tax, matrimonial, personal injury, wills and estates. They have become essential members of the “legal team.” This may mean working with a single lawyer or practice group.

Law firms and legal departments generally have more partners/senior lawyers than associates. With limited junior lawyer support, paralegals often take on the role of an associate in order to deliver lower cost services.

In some instances, partners and senior lawyers may feel there isn’t anyone to delegate the work to, either because associates or paralegals are too busy or there may not be the right skill level or experience. They also may feel that delegation and supervision is a burden and that handing off the work is not efficient; they may feel: “I can do it faster and it will be cheaper.”

When a lawyer integrates a paralegal into his/her practice and the hourly rates or costs are blended, the team is able to deliver efficient, cost-effective services. This enables legal departments to reduce costs and law firms to offer competitive alternative fee arrangements and fixed fees to their clients.

Every few years as associates move on to more sophisticated work, the continuity of services to the client is reduced or interrupted because the partner or senior lawyer will need to introduce a new associate to his clients or work. When paralegals are incorporated into the team, the lawyer can deliver increased continuity of legal services resulting in greater client satisfaction.

Law firm clients and large corporations are aware of the value paralegals bring and expect this resource to be utilized to keep costs down.

In order to incorporate paralegals into your practice efficiently, ensure that you team up with the right paralegal for the specific work or project. This may mean that you work with paralegals who have various skill sets.

Allocate the work to the appropriate skill level of paralegal. This will ensure that the work will be completed in an efficient and cost-effective manner. For example, if you assign low-level work to a senior paralegal, the cost may be too high for the type of work. And if you assign sophisticated work to a lower cost paralegal to reduce the cost of the work, that paralegal may not have the skills to complete the work in an accurate, efficient manner, which may result in either the lawyer or senior paralegal amending and finalizing the assigned work.

Ensure instructions are given clearly, preferably in writing to avoid miscommunication.

Include the paralegal on appropriate communication throughout the assignment. Educate the paralegal on client business and needs. This will enhance the paralegal value to the client services.

The paralegal may have conflicting deadlines. By negotiating deadlines, you will ensure that the work will be done on time.

Keep the paralegal informed of changes and new information during the project/assignment so that the paralegal has all the information necessary to complete the work assigned efficiently.

Give administrative work to your assistant, not the paralegal. Include paralegals in large transaction and project legal teams.

By effectively incorporating them into your practice, you will benefit from an increase of productivity in your practice; be successful in meeting client deadlines and expectations; provide continuity of legal services; provide competitive alternative fee arrangements and legal project fees; increase efficiency and revenue/profitability in your practice; improve client service standards and client satisfaction; and reduce cost of legal services.

Catherine D’Aversa is president of Legal Resource Consulting and works with law firms and law departments to increase revenue and profitability of law clerk/paralegal resources while reducing costs. She can be reached at 416-988-3989 or 905-764-3989 and catherinedaversa@gmail.com.

Please let me have your comments.  I look forward to reading them.

About Catherine D'Aversa

As President of Legal Resource Consulting Inc. (“LRC”) Catherine D’Aversa is engaged by law firms, government legal departments and corporate in-house law departments to improve paraprofessional skills and services using extensive skills developed over more than 32 years in the legal industry. LRC analyses and assesses paraprofessional services within its clients’ organization and provides recommendations on structure, technology, systems, processes and management to improve services standards, productivity and profitability. LRC acts as Project Manager to implement recommendations to enhance paraprofessional skills and services to better meet lawyer and client needs while increasing revenue. LRC delivers professional development workshops on topics such as Docketing Strategies, Practice Management, Practice Development, Project Management, Strategies for Productivity & Profitability, Working as a Legal Professional and Legal Writing and Reporting. Catherine is a contributing author of several legal books and a regular speaker and commentator at business seminars and conferences.