Simmons_Richard_2016When was the last time you were a minion?

If you are a typical reader of The Lawyer the answer is probably a long time ago, if ever. Even as a lowly trainee or pupil you were one of the favoured children: the future of the business.

This week’s cover feature, however, looks at the law’s less favoured children – the proletariat of the profession – paralegals.

Our survey into paralegal life received more than 1,000 responses. The headline result: paralegals do much the same work as trainees and are increasingly doing the work of qualified lawyers yet see no reward for it, either in their pay packets or through career progression.

While great news for firms looking to keep costs down, long-term this is a problem.

Training contracts are not going to dramatically increase in number. The legal services market is evolving. Paralegals and other types of non-qualified fee-earner are only going to get more numerous. They will need a proper career framework; the profession as a whole has yet to come up with an attractive one. Our survey shows that only 9 per cent of paralegals see the job as a desirable long-term career.

That’s the big-picture challenge that firms must address. On a micro level, there’s the question of how lawyers treat paralegals on a day-to-day basis. While true horror stories are not the norm, perhaps the most telling anecdote is the experience of the paralegal referred to as “one of the minions” in a meeting. It was a passing remark, no doubt meant in jest and not malicious, but to a young graduate struggling to make their way in the profession such comments cut deep. And they are not uncommon.

It’s not that paralegals are mistreated so much as treated with casual indifference. Often the job is fine – it’s feeling like a nobody that stings, especially when you’re highly qualified (86 per cent of paralegals have a degree, our research shows) and working as hard as everyone around you. How sharper than a serpent’s tooth it is to have a thankless boss.

It would be easy to dismiss this as the entitled whine of the ‘special snowflake’ generation. But like it or not, this is how many paralegals feel. And for firms that claim to value their employees, those feelings need to be addressed.

Equally, it’s tempting to reassure yourself that all this applies to other firms, other teams. Surely your paralegals are all happy, right?

Maybe they are. Maybe you’re one of the good guys. But give it some thought. Embroiled as you are in the stress of your own job, do you take your paralegals for granted?

They’re not idiots. And they’re watching you.