Message from the Executive Committee
Defense Digest, Vol. 23, No. 2, June 2017
By Christopher E. Dougherty, Esq.,
Marshall Dennehey’s Force Multipliers—Our Paralegals
In the past few years, our firm has received notable recognition for the quality of our defense.
We have been recognized by Corporate Counsel in 2014, 2015, and 2016 as one of the law firms used by Fortune 500 companies most frequently. American Lawyer Media named our firm’s Health Care Department as the best in Pennsylvania in 2013. In 2016, American Lawyer Media recognized our firm’s Professional Liability/Health Care Departments as the best litigation departments in Pennsylvania and our Appellate Advocacy and Post-Trial Practice Group as the best appellate practice in Pennsylvania.
Many of our individual attorneys receive statewide, regional and national recognition for the quality of their work. One hundred and thirty-eight of our attorneys are Martindale-Hubble AV Pre-eminent rated.
Twenty-five of our attorneys have been recognized by U.S. News-Best Lawyers in America for their achievements in personal injury litigation, including nine attorneys who, since 2012, have been recognized as “Lawyers of the Year” in the area Personal Injury Litigation – Defendants.
One hundred and seventy-one of our attorneys have been listed with Super Lawyers in Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Florida, Ohio, New York and Massachusetts. A select group of attorneys are fellows in the prestigious American College of Trial Lawyers, the American Board of Trial Advocates and the Litigation Counsel of America.
These firm and individual accomplishments are not attained alone. They are made possible by the exquisite support provided by litigation administrators and paralegals.
I am confident that every attorney in our firm who is supported by a paralegal would agree that they could not obtain the favorable settlements, earlier and more favorable resolutions, and excellent trial results without the dedicated efforts of their support staff and paralegals.
While paralegals are not new to Marshall Dennehey (our CEO, Tom Brophy, began his career here as a paralegal), their numbers have increased quite dramatically over the years. Twenty-five years ago, we employed perhaps a handful. Ten years ago, we had 70. Today, we have 110 paralegals.
More important than this numerical growth is the vital role they provide as we deliver high-calibre litigation defense to our clients.
The growth in our paralegal head count is attributable in part to insurers and clients demanding that more litigation tasks be handled by paralegals. In larger measure, however, this growth has been spawned by our recognition that paralegals are true “force multipliers”—their contributions to our trial teams yield a stronger defense.
This enhanced awareness of our paralegals’ value is natural when one considers the expertise and professionalism that these men and women possess. Their collective skill has led to increased usage of paralegals at trial with considerable success.
Because our paralegals work so closely with their trial teams in investigating, discovering and preparing trial defenses, they have become effective assistants at trial with exhibits, witness coordination and, of late, handling the presentation of case-in-chief and cross examination exhibits via state-of-the-art trial technology.
Last year, our paralegals successfully assisted our attorneys at trial in Harrisburg, Scranton, Philadelphia, Erie and Roseland. Because we train our paralegals on how to use Summation, Trial Director and other trial presentation media, our clients derive significant cost savings when our paralegals assist in court in lieu of vendors. Our clients and insurers now more frequently approve their appearances, appreciating the added value their intimate familiarity with the case brings.
Three of our paralegals are Nurse Analysts—RNs and BSNs—and they provide enhanced health care-related expertise across the firm when needed. One of our paralegals is a Construction Analyst who is currently pursuing a Master’s of Science degree in Construction Management in his “spare time.” His enhanced expertise will allow us to parlay that expertise firmwide in the defense of complex design professional and construction defect litigation.
With the explosive growth in our SIU practice, we promoted one of our paralegals to the position of SIU Analyst. She now helps manage SIU operations and processes firmwide to include the key responsibility of ensuring client guideline compliance.
Linda Barron, our Director of Paralegal Services, and the Assistant Director, Eileen Strzyzewski Smith, are passionate about enhancing capabilities. They criss-cross our 20 offices to provide annual training on new software and hardware technologies, ethics, social media, research tools and skills, and current legal developments. As n practitioner blessed to have been supported—and continue to be supported—by exceptional paralegal support, it is inspiring to observe how motivated our paralegals are to improve their skills.
It is also exciting to see their powerful initiative. In a recent legal malpractice case, one of our paralegals mined metadata in accident scene photos—without a request or any prompting—and she found that the photos were not taken on the date of the accident. It led to plaintiff’s counsel dismissing the case with prejudice. Paralegals in our Long Island office actually co-founded a paralegal association which now serves the greater New York City region.
One other meritorious trait I see in our paralegals is their fortitude. Many of our paralegals remember when the Department of Labor (DOL) characterized them as “exempt personnel” and they could work on cases as attorneys do without having to clock in/out of the office.
When the DOL re-classified them as “non-exempt personnel,” this change imposed constraints unique to them—i.e., support busy litigation practices with trial scheduling deadlines, capture their productivity, and juggle important personal responsibilities—all at the same time. While attorneys receive media attention, client recognition, and industry accolades, our paralegals labor outside of the limelight.
I make my last observation for our industry colleagues.
More self-insureds and insurers mandate that routinized legal tasks be handled by paralegals. When our paralegals diligently execute those tasks, too often they observe their time being written off as “administrative,” “duplicative” or “excessive.” Their frustration mounts from having performed legitimate work that is required to be performed by them, only to be challenged later when an invoice for their hard work is presented.
Our firm is completely in sync with industry objectives to contain legal spend. To attain that objective, however, our industry needs skilled defense attorneys and paralegals handling their cases.
Current industry literature supports the fact that large law firms experience a high degree of paralegal attrition. Fortunately, our attrition rates are nowhere near national averages. We are, however, very attentive to the unique challenges civil litigation paralegals face day-to-day, and to any internal paralegal attrition.
Only with well-trained and experienced attorneys and paralegals can cases be worked up efficiently and appropriately and be well-positioned for a valued resolution. Our clients and insurers should recognize that over-aggressive scrutiny and reduction of paralegal time entries will continue to prickle paralegal morale and drive paralegal attrition toward positions in corporate law departments, banks, insurance companies and plaintiffs’ law firms where that additional pressure does not exist.
This isn’t a Marshall Dennehey problem--it is a defense industry issue. Defense paralegal expertise and experience helps deliver positive case outcomes—a “win-win” for us and our clients.
In closing, and on behalf of senior management and our attorneys, we extend our heartfelt appreciation for the dedication, loyalty, and commitment our paralegals provide to our firm and to our clients.
What success we attain as a firm is made possible by their many and varied individual contributions.
*Chris is a shareholder, the Director of the Professional Liability Department and Chairman of the Board of Directors. He can be reached at 215.575.2733 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Defense Digest, Vol. 23, No. 2, June 2017. Defense Digest is prepared by Marshall Dennehey Warner Coleman & Goggin to provide information on recent legal developments of interest to our readers. This publication is not intended to provide legal advice for a specific situation or to create an attorney-client relationship. ATTORNEY ADVERTISING pursuant to New York RPC 7.1. © 2017 Marshall Dennehey Warner Coleman & Goggin. All Rights Reserved. This article may not be reprinted without the express written permission of our firm. For reprints, contact email@example.com.