By: Bob Davidson
The answer may lie in the origin of paralegals.
The paralegal vocation originated about forty-five years ago. During those early years, the word, “paralegal” started to be used. Back then, the legal industry employed women primarily as legal secretaries. The first paralegals were highly and specially trained legal secretaries. So it’s understandable that paralegal is associated primarily with women. There are at least three reasons for that association:
(1) Tradition. Women have traditionally worked in support positions to attorneys;
(2) Paralegal is, first and foremost, a support role to attorneys; and
(3) Few women were employed as attorneys when the paralegal vocation originated.
Since that time, men have become paralegals in increasing numbers – and more and more women have become attorneys – but perhaps because of its origins, the ranks of paralegals are primarily women. Another reason could be that male legal professionals tend to be identified as attorneys, perhaps, again, because of history. I see a sexist element in that.
Example: My first firm had a dress code. Men had to wear suits, which, for newcomers to the office, made their roles indistinguishable. The firm hired a temp legal secretary. This legal secretary, who arrived at the office with a boatload of experience, was respectful to me at first. Her attitude did a 180 when she found out I was (OMG!) a paralegal.
Example: Clients would ask me if I planned to go to law school. The shareholder of my firm thought I should attend law school. I mean, I am a male; certainly I don’t plan to be a “paralegal” all my life! Or else clients thought I was an apprentice learning my trade with “lawyer” being the goal. They did not understand that even for men – paralegal is its own career.
Then there is the psychology, and ignorance, of males working in a historically female role.
Example: Consider that male paralegals are often unfairly branded as failures or losers. Unenlightened people may think male paralegals failed the law school admissions test, or did not complete or failed law school. Compounding the issue is some male (and female) paralegals present with a Juris Doctor degree (“J.D.”). To even sophisticated people a J.D. implies the goal was lawyer. But these people may jump to the conclusion the holder failed the bar exam and is, ergo, a loser.
It is rare, but not entirely uncommon to encounter paralegals that hold J.D. degrees. I have seen J.D. degrees on paralegal resumes. Moreover, not every J.D. holder is an attorney. For example, many J.D. holders also hold Master’s of Library Science degrees and are law librarians.
Example: For whatever reason many lawyers prefer females as their legal assistants. They neither want nor like male legal assistants. Maybe they feel they can press their authority better with women. Maybe they fear males might stand up to them.
Or else they may prefer women’s personalities. An attorney I worked for loved his working relationship with one of his former female paralegals. That individual would rave about her “bubbly” personality. I recall the individual saying she would tell him jokes. Sorry, I don’t do bubbly, but I do my work. And if he wanted a paralegal to tell him jokes he should have hired Tina Fey or Jerry Seinfeld to be his paralegal…
Males are making inroads into the traditional female occupation that is paralegal. The percentage of males employed as paralegals and legal assistants is rising. A 2012 article noted that in 2005 the percentage of males in the paralegal/legal assistant workforce was 10.9 percent; in 2011 it was 15.7 percent – a 44 percent increase during those six years. In 2013, according to BLS data, that percentage had dipped to 13.9 percent. Still, an improvement over 2005, but at 86.1 percent women dominate the ranks of paralegals and legal assistants.
Paralegal remains primarily a female occupation, but as the teacher on the Windows 8 TV commercial says, change is coming.
Finally, in fairness, non-paralegal females in the legal workplace have suffered their share of perception problems that also stem from history and sexism. Female attorneys are often confused for secretaries, librarians, receptionists and…paralegals. Male or female, two wrongs don’t make a right. This antediluvian disrespect needs to abate.
Resources Used For This Post:
Random House Webster’s College Dictionary (1997), at 945 (stating that the word, “paralegal,” came into use during 1970-1975). See also, William P. Statsky, Introduction to Paralegalism: Perspectives, Problems and Skills (4th ed. 1992), at 36 (noting from Webster’s Ninth New Collegiate Dictionary that 1971 was the earliest recorded use in English of the word paralegal)
Brian Craig, Paralegal – more men are making it a career, Globe University Blogs (July 12, 2012) http://blogs.globeuniversity.edu/2012/07/09/paralegal-more-men-are-making-it-a-career/ (citing U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics Labor Force Statistics from the Current Population Survey, Employed Persons by Detailed Occupation, Sex, Race, and Hispanic or Latino Ethnicity, 2005-2011)
http://www.bls.gov./cps/cpsaatll.pdf at 3 (percentage of women employed being 86.1 percent of total employed as paralegals and legal assistants)
Bob Davidson has been employed in the aviation, broadcasting and legal industries. As a broadcaster Bob was recognized with Outstanding Journalism and other awards. In aviation Bob was recognized for outstanding volunteerism. In the legal industry Bob was employed as a paralegal in estate planning, probate and elder law, and in plaintiffs’ personal injury and claimants’ Workers’ Compensation law.
Do you agree with Bob’s assessment? Have another reason to add to the list? Perhaps an interesting story to share? If you have something to say on today’s topic – give us a holler – males and females alike! Hit that comment button.
Be sure to stop back by on Monday, TPSers. We will be sharing what the TPS Founder believes to be the best interview Chere Estrin has ever given. (True story). You don’t wanna miss it.