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If lawyers at firms use paralegals too little, costs go up

Not only should law department managers lose a little sleep if their key law firms impose billable hour requirements on paralegals (See my post of March 9, 2007 on such requirements), they should also fret if the lawyers they retain do not make effective use of paralegals. The 2005 Utilization Survey by the International Paralegal Managers Association (IPMA) obtained data from 59 US law firms and gives some worrisome metrics.

One question (clumsily) asked “When attorneys in your organization may NOT properly utilize paralegals, why not?” The respondents could choose more than one of the ten choices. Several of the frequently-chosen explanations should bother law departments that are intent on cost control. Three are based on ignorance or mistrust: “Attorneys do not know what paralegals can do for them,” “Attorneys are not comfortable delegating work to paralegals,” and “Attorneys do not understand the value of paralegals.” Between 50 and 65 percent of the respondents selected those explanations.

Two others offend cost control desires: “Attorneys are delegating paralegal tasks to other attorneys or to law clerks” and “Attorneys hesitate to delegate work to paralegals to ensure that they meet their own billable goals.” The last two reasons are awful (and 71% checked the first, while 53% checked the second), because the client is paying attorney rates for paralegal work.