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ImageIn an article titled “In a Pink-Collar Profession, Male Paralegals like Wal-Mart’s Robert Stephens Find Profit”, Anne O’Dell writes about an interview with a male paralegal and discusses gender within the paralegal profession.  The article cites reports conducted by various organizations, including the Bureau of Labor Statistics, NALA, and the Orange County Paralegal Association indicating that 80% to 96% of paralegals are women.  In the study “A Current Glance at Women in the Law 2011 conducted by the ABA Commission on Women in the Profession, statistics indicate that 69% of lawyers are men.  While these studies do not illustrate the attitudes that go along with this inbalance it is clear that there is a considerable gender divide in the legal profession.  Another report conducted by the Bureau of Labor Statistics indicates that at the time of the study 96.7% of secretaries were women.  In this same report of leading occupations held by women most of the occupations were those that deal with taking care of another’s needs.  Secretaries and child care workers were the top two occupations held by women in this 2007 report.

With the traditional view of the paralegal role being that of someone who is the assistant or secretary of a lawyer it should not be a huge leap to believe that the under- utilization of paralegals may be in part due to this view and not that of someone who is a distinct vital contributor to a legal team.  This evaluation of the legal profession is not intended to be an indictment on the legal profession as a discriminatory profession, but is meant to expose the ideology that may contribute to the inability of paralegal’s to break from the stereotypical secretarial borders that have been set within the profession.  This breaking is not for the faint of heart, but will require paralegals stepping up to the plate and asking for more challenging assignments that require the use of a paralegal skill set and not that of a secretary.

Although, the primary objective of a paralegal is to assist a lawyer this in no way means that a paralegal should feed into the lawyer assistant-secretary mentality, but function as one who assists with the delivery of legal services.  To illustrate this point consider the role of a radiologist.  A radiologist assists a doctor by taking images of a patient’s body parts.  The radiologist is not considered or treated like the doctor’s assistant but functions as one who is assisting with the delivery of medical services.  The radiologist provides the doctor with information needed to properly diagnose and treat a patient, but does not value their role in comparison to that of a doctor.

In order, for a paralegal to be treated as a distinct member of a legal team they must discover what they uniquely bring to the table and demonstrate it in an effective way.  Real value can never be demonstrated if paralegals continue to operate within the profession in relation to what are considered to be gender based roles.