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Paralegal Utilization Grows
IPMA’s 2005 survey reveals increased responsibilities for legal assistants.
By Lynn Penkingcarn
March/April 2006 Issue

Increased paralegal utilization in specific practice areas, a decline in para­legal time spent on administrative work and a shift in paralegal training responsibility are some findings from the International Paralegal Management Association’s 2005 Utilization Survey.

Distributed to IPMA’s 474 members, the survey covered professional development, technology use, training, attorney utilization and practice area responsibilities, according to Jennifer Allen and Carol Van Buren, co-chairwomen of IPMA’s Utilization Committee. Seventy-two paralegal managers responded to the survey.

In comparing this survey’s results with a previous survey conducted in 2002, Allen and Van Buren observed some significant changes in the field. “Paralegal utilization rose in the practice areas of intellectual property, real estate, blue sky securities and immigration law,” they said, adding that, “Paralegal time spent on nonbillable admin­istrative work has declined over time.”

A new question added to the 2005 survey asked why attorneys might not properly utilize paralegals. Fifty-three percent of respondents noted that attorneys hesitate to dele­gate work to paralegals to make sure they meet their own billable goals.

The survey also showed a decrease of 14 percent from 2002 to 2005 of firms reimbursing paralegals for obtaining advanced degrees or certificates. “This might be due to firms hiring those paralegals who already possess the advanced degrees or certificates,” Allen and Van Buren said. “In support of this theory, the 2005 survey also found that organizations still generally recruit paralegals who hold four-year degrees.”

In addition to an increase in technology use, the survey revealed shifts in training responsibility. “The responsibility for training in practice areas and for general topics such as ethics and billing has shifted slightly over time from attorneys to senior paralegals and paralegal managers,” Allen and Van Buren said. “Also, more paralegal managers are currently reporting to the managing partner as opposed to attorneys in practice areas. It’s unclear, with so little trending data, whether this represents a shift in organizational structure, but it’s a change we will watch closely.”

Finally, Allen and Van Buren said organizations that conduct orientation seminars for new atorneys on the effective use of para­legals rose by 20 percent in 2005, while those that provide only written materials on the subject declined by 11 percent.

IPMA plans to conduct the utilization survey every two years, according to Allen and Van Buren, who emphasized the significance of the survey. “Our membership has a unique perspective on the subject of paralegal utilization, so we believe it’s important to track the trends as a way to empower our membership to increase paralegal utilization.” For complete survey results, go to www.paralegalmanagement.org.


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