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Most law firm staff themselves carry the idea of a caste-like hierarchy or division within law firm premises where lawyers stand at the top and the law firm staff are at the absolute bottom of the pyramid. Sometimes, I feel, it is their own convictions that keep them at the bottom. If you are ready to blast the caste and assert your rights for all the hard work that you do behind the scene then read on.
There are both highly paid and highly regarded legal staff as well as hard working and poorly paid legal staff. The general law staff is taken for granted in an office corner. While lawyers, even novices are visible and earning high, law firm staff who do no less work than regular lawyers are paid a pittance. But is it the lot of every paralegal, or desk clerk who works in a law firm? Definitely not.
Many experienced law staff are highly regarded throughout law firms, and both their work and advice respected. Law firm owners see these people more as internal strategic business partners, even more important than the regular lawyer. And as a result, such law staff end up in being better paid and more respected than their diminutive counterparts. So, what's the trick of the trade? There are none. But there are principles to learn the trade. The glass ceiling cannot be broken by tricks of the trade but only if you know and practice the trade itself. For that you need to change a lot of things and need to start working and thinking in a new manner.
Though only lawyers handle, or are allowed to handle, court pleadings, direct client interaction and legal consultation, law firm staff do a great amount of work in preparing cases for trial. The research the case, arrange the facts, uncover strengths and weaknesses of the case, find out relevant stare decisis , help with depositions, prepare affidavits and do almost everything that a lawyer does, except where a lawyer's license is required. In many firms, paralegals or law firm staff prepare even most of the primary drafting of documents like contracts and mortgages. However, most of there work goes unrecognized, and it falls upon the law firm staff themselves to change their lot. It does not require a revolution. But it does require clear establishment of goals and working towards them in a methodical manner.
It is your job to elevate yourself and your work to a position where the law firm owners start viewing you as an internal strategic partner, and you will find your world changing. Every lawyer, working in a law firm is essentially a business partner. If you want to elevate your status within a law firm hierarchy, without being a lawyer, then the first thing you must learn is to think like a business partner. This is not possible if you continue with a fixed mindset and concentrate only on your run-of-the-mill office tasks like maintaining records and making phone calls etc.
The secret is still the same as in all other fields. Do superlative work. Help novices and senior lawyers alike. Apply your mind and come up with innovative suggestions that find acceptance and appreciation. Do everything within a limit, and don't be pushy or overdo things where people start viewing you as an irritant always at the door with unwelcome suggestions. Maintain your self esteem and dignity. Be punctual, and deliver. But also break out of the mindset that your only position is in a dark corner of the office. Many law firm staff are in the limelight as far as the internal workings of their firms are concerned. That should be your goal. Other things like money, will sort out by themselves.
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