TO: District Court of Cleveland County, State of Oklahoma
RE: Paralegal’s role in large and small law firms
What is the role of the paralegal in a large law firm compared to a small law firm?
Largest difference between the large and small firm is the number of paralegals a firm employs and the tier of responsibility and pay grade attached to the positions.
Statement of Facts
In the large law firm, the interview took place with a level IV paralegal. A level IV paralegal in this firm is the highest level paralegal. The interview in the small firm was with an attorney. A paralegal in both firms have the same basic tasks to accomplish and as a standard practice. All paralegals must know the basics in preparing in a uniform fashion documents for production, how one must organize documents, proper labeling of files, creating and editing correspondence, cite checking, brief writing, organizing exhibits in briefs, preparing courtesy copies for the judges, developing an extensive and thorough trial exhibit list (Pamela Evertte Nollkamper, Fundamentals of Law Office Management: Systems, Procedures, and Ethics 58 (4th ed. 2009)) .
In a larger firm, the paralegal with the different levels of responsibility take on tasks that build the work product of lower level paralegals. The higher the level the paralegal is, he or she tasked with mentoring newer or less experienced paralegals. Paralegal managers are the highest-ranking paralegals in the firm and supervise all the paralegals as a department. In a smaller firm, an attorney has the task of managing the paralegals.
Larger firms can pay a higher wage to the paralegals and offer them more benefits such as personal offices, mentoring, less restrictive dress codes, a full array of tools and technology to complete the tasks in the most efficient manner possible. Smaller firms may look towards the temporary agencies to find their paralegals and hire them on a temporary basis, often for 90 days to determine if they are a good match to the rest of the firm. The smaller firms do not offer a formal mentoring program but will expect paralegals with more time at the firm to ‘train’ or ‘mentor’ the new hires. The attorneys at the smaller law firm allows the temporary service work on the initial hiring paperwork, background checks, and set the pay scale for the paralegal. The smaller firm does not often have the same tools and technology on the scale of the larger firms but feel they can offer the paralegal enough to get their job done.
The two interviewees were asked the same questions about hiring practices, job descriptions, benefits and perks, tasks outside the traditional role of a paralegal, supervision, promotion opportunities, salaries, length of employment, and overall job satisfaction as a paralegal and of their paralegals. The answers had a lot in common and in the areas with the largest differences, it often came down to the profitability of the firm related to its size.
Hiring practices in the larger firm done in house from the very beginning of the candidate search. Senior paralegals and paralegal managers hire the new paralegals. Small firm used a temporary employment service to save time and hassle when hiring paralegals.
The tasks were entry level upon hire as a level I paralegal but increased in tasks and responsibility with each promotion. The tasks assigned are to assist in hiring paralegals, supervising and mentoring in addition to working with the attorneys on assigned cases. The small firm does not have paralegals do supervision tasks of other paralegals but the duties of the paralegals encompass many tasks given to the paralegal to relieve some of the burden on the attorneys. If the attorney needs assistance in accounting paperwork, he or she may assign it to the paralegal.
The large firm can offer more perks for the paralegal to make the candidate feel appreciated and compensated for the responsibilities placed upon them. The smaller firm can offer more flexibility in how the work is completed. The smaller firm offers flexible hours, work from home in some cases, and an understanding of how critical the paralegals efforts are in successful resolution for the client.
The larger firm generally has the tasks defined by the level the paralegal has obtained. The larger firm also has a significant number of support staff to assist the paralegals in their tasks. The smaller firm often has the need for the paralegal to take on additional responsibilities outside their normal ones. The decision to take on the additional tasks is beneficial to the entire firm.
The job satisfaction of the paralegal in the larger firm is quite high. She had worked in mid-sized and a small firm before and found the differences between the three very significant. The smaller the firm the more they believe the appearance of being a larger firm matters. However, she found that the things like dress code do not really matter as much as having paralegals given all the tools and support needed to be successful. The smaller firm believes the paralegals are not as satisfied in their jobs due to the smaller salaries and fewer benefits. The attorney believes that as long as the firm remains small, more attention to the bottom line happens, meaning smaller salaries and fewer benefits.