I’ve had several interesting conversations with paralegals lately about a variety of topics. I wish we could all gather around the water cooler for a discussion, but since that isn’t possible, I’ll update you here.
At a recent lunch with paralegal friends, we discussed various lessons learned during our careers. We all agreed that when we learned how to take ownership of mistakes, our relationships with our attorneys improved. There seems to be a self-protection gene that kicks in when a mistake is revealed that prompts us to look for excuses. Owning our mistakes and being able to deal directly with our attorneys about how to move forward to correct the problem typically ended better than the scenarios where we offered a dozen excuses or shifted the blame.
Another lesson learned from years of working in law firms is to develop a thick skin. In a busy law office, attorneys don’t have time to walk on eggshells. When we are overly sensitive to criticism or perceived slights, we end up with hurt feelings and miscommunication. Many attorneys, particularly litigators, have aggressive personalities. Paralegals that succeed in these work environments are those who can separate personal slights from constructive criticism.
Finally, we agreed that being territorial over our team or our work is simply not productive. If another paralegal is called on to assist, don’t be a stumbling block. Instead, share your secrets for getting along with the partner in charge of the project. Offer to assist if the project is running into difficulties. Being a team player is a skill that is valued by employers. (Thanks to Stephanie Gillespie at Blue Cross Blue Shield of NC and Jennifer Watford at Young Moore Henderson for sharing their best tips.)
Paralegal salaries and raises
The Paralegal Today salary survey was published in the issue which arrived in the mail in October. Salaries rose slightly in 2012 with an average salary increase of 2.4 percent. Law firm paralegals earned an average of $52,503 and in-house paralegals earned $63,664. Government salaries averaged $59,840.
According to the survey, the greatest salary disparity showed up for those paralegals with 5-7 years of experience. Those employed as corporate paralegals earned an average of $82,000, significantly more than their counterparts working in law firms who averaged $40,567.
Not surprising, the highest salaries were paid at the firms who employed the most people. Sole practitioners paid an average of $39,052 while firms with more than 100 attorneys paid an average of $85,533.
Anna Cates Williams, executive director of the Raleigh office of Special Counsel, notes that the average salary raises offered in 2012 ranged between 2.5 – 3.3 percent. About 30 percent of paralegals earned bonuses and the average bonuses were in the $1,500 and $3,000 range. Williams notes that while the Paralegal Today survey showed higher salaries for in-house paralegals, that is not always the case in North Carolina. She says that sometimes salaries are lower within a corporate setting but the trade-off is often a better work-life balance.
Williams identifies three practice areas as “red hot” for the Triangle – patent, healthcare and corporate compliance. Continued “hot” areas include IP, banking, regulatory, labor and employment and commercial real estate. A practice area moving to “hot” is online gaming. Areas that are cooling include litigation, financial services, bankruptcy, and mergers and acquisitions.
When looking towards the future, Williams notes that while there is a continued focus on increased efficiency and cost-effectiveness, salaries are on the rise. Employers continue to look for employees who can perform blended duties and that competition for the best talent will increase.
Balanced life workplace
Williams also notes that job candidates today are looking for more than just a particular salary. Legal professionals are looking for job security, meaningful work, more responsibility, better training and opportunities for growth among the more traditional benefits often mentioned such as raises, bonuses and personal time away from work.
She says that flexible hours are a big incentive for employees. At Lawyers Mutual, we offer a summer work schedule where we increase our work hours during other days in order to take off Mondays or Fridays during the summer months. We also offer our employees flexible work schedules. Our employees work a range of hours from 7:30 a.m. until 6:00 p.m. This flexibility allows employees to spend more quality hours with their families, avoid traveling to and from work during peak traffic hours, and better concentrate at work knowing their work schedule allows them to meet their personal obligations.
In October, Lawyers Mutual was the recipient of the NC Association of Women Attorneys’ Balanced Life Workplace Award. The Balanced Life Workplace Award is given to an employer that has distinguished itself by establishing policies and practices that assist lawyers in achieving balance between their work and personal lives. Claims attorney Laura Loyek nominated Lawyers Mutual for this award. In her nomination, Loyek specifically addressed Lawyers Mutual’s flexible work schedule. Employers who look to retain their best talent need to think about creative ways to provide employee benefits while best serving their clients.
NC paralegal profiled in national publication
Congratulations to Belinda Thomas for her recent profile in the Paralegal Today article, “7 Alternative Paralegal Careers.” Belinda works in Burlington with Vernon Law. She was recognized in the article for her work as a Social Security appeals specialist, which she does on a contract basis in addition to her full-time law firm position.
Camille Stell is the vice president of client services for Lawyers Mutual. Continue this conversation by contacting her at firstname.lastname@example.org.