Let Us Talk About Inclusion & Belonging – Q4 2022 Facts & Findings
The term paralegal must not be used as a pejorative. When the likes of infamous media personality, Keith Olbermann, publicly refers to a female U.S. Supreme Court Justice as the “paralegal,” we have a problem. Our entire industry has a problem, especially with inclusion. These types of comments further perpetuate a “second-class citizenry” or “caste” system for paralegals and other legal professionals.
Inclusion in the context of diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging (DEIB) means being valued. In researching online paralegal community groups, horrific tales involving paralegals enduring verbal tirades hurled at them, and sometimes including objects such as staplers, telephones, and papers, by attorneys, are all too common. More stories about low compensation and grueling hours sadly pepper these online forums. It makes one wonder: where is the respect for dedicated, highly trained legal professionals? Is this how to make paralegals feel valued in their workplace?
Amidst The Great Resignation, or The Great Reshuffling, paralegals have taken part in the mass exodus in search of workplace environments that value DEIB. Because of this, the talent war for
skilled legal professionals is now fiercely competitive.
And, curiously, the lack of inclusion of paralegals is also evident in the DEIB data collected and reported across the legal industry. Author John Y. Myung in his article, It’s All in the Planning – Building a Strategic Road Map to Diversity, Equity and Inclusion, published by the Claims and Litigation Management Alliance (CLM) magazine, writes: “It will be important to gather and analyze the demographic data of the employees of the firm, including non-attorneys, to be truly inclusive. Demographic data should include historically underrepresented individuals, including women, people of color, LGBTQ, and individuals with disabilities” [emphasis added]. Myung goes on to cite the Leadership Council on Legal Diversity (LCLD). Yet, the LCLD addresses diversity as it relates only to lawyers.
Further, the Institute for Inclusion in the Legal Profession (IILP) published the IILP Review 2019-2020: The State of Diversity and Inclusion in the Legal Profession. The data reported only included information related to lawyers. This trend continues in the 2021 National Association for Law Placement (NALP) Report on Diversity. Where is the data for legal professionals who are not lawyers?
A Law Week Colorado article titled, In Legal Profession, Not All Roles Created Equal, states: “According to [Bureau of Labor Statistics] BLS data from 2019, paralegals and legal assistants have the starkest difference from lawyers in gender makeup of the professions. The statistics show women make up just over 36% of all lawyers, but nearly nine in 10 paralegal or legal assistant positions are women. Racial differences are noticeable but not nearly as large: The data shows 77.1% of paralegals and legal assistants are white compared to 86.6% of lawyers.” The disparate gender data reported by the BLS that nearly nine in 10 paralegals are women makes compensation and pay equity even more important, especially with such a data void that exists. Why does this
matter? According to the Narrow the Gap website: “Women who worked in legal occupations made 55 cents to the dollar men earned in 2020. That’s $1,023 out of a weekly paycheck, which means she got paid $53,196 less doing the same job in 2020. This wage gap has widened two cents from 2011.” In another article by Shirin Ali, it is noted that female-dominated careers pay less as the gender gap persists, with the author writing: “Jobs that employ a larger share of women pay lower wages even after accounting for characteristics of the workers and job, like education, skills, and experience.”
This year, the NALA National Utilization & Compensation Survey included questions about demographics that will provide more data and insight about the paralegal profession. Hopefully, this will be a big step forward in collecting DEIB data specifically for our profession.
Having access to industry benchmarks provides a resource for paralegals to advocate for themselves. Additionally, the data and information are useful for law firm and legal department leadership to set meaningful DEIB goals, ensure equitable compensation, and promote a truly inclusive workplace for all legal professionals to feel respected and valued.
Kristine Custodio Suero, ACP is an award-winning legal professional, a published author and a highly sought-after speaker. A true servant leader, she has led the San Diego Paralegal Association and California Alliance of Paralegal Associations as President. Kristine teaches legal courses for a local San Diego paralegal program and lends her time to the program’s advisory board. Kristine is the Chair of the NALA Diversity, Equity & Inclusion Committee and a past member of the NALA Professional Development Committee, Continuing Education Council and former Ethics Chair. Kristine is a Senior Paralegal/Business Development Director for Butterfield Schechter LLP and may be reached at email@example.com.