Thursday, March 28, 2013

Yahoo: Leave Paralegals Alone!

Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer made headlines recently when she ordered employees who had been working from home to start showing up at the office. She cited the benefits of collaboration and face-to-face interaction.

According to the American Time Use Survey—2010 Results, USDL-11-0919 (U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, June 22, 2011), 24% of employed Americans reported in recent surveys they work at least some hours at home each week.

The idea of working virtually, not commuting every day to an office where the interruptions and crises never end, is becoming more and more popular, though it may experience a slight hiccup in light of Yahoo’s ban of virtual work.

As Yahoo CEO, this shift is certainly within Mayer’s authority. Her job is to improve Yahoo’s bottom line and if she believes this move will do that, it is her responsibility to make it happen.

While Yahoo employees may not be happy with the decision, they do need to remember it’s not about them but, instead, about the company’s financial success.

Mayer’s policy may be right for Yahoo but not for everyone in the workforce, particularly those in the legal profession. The deciding factor should be the type of work being done at home.

San Francisco State University management professor John Sullivan said Mayer's conclusion about the benefits of collaboration is right, if the focus is on innovation.

"People who work from home are less innovative--but much more productive, Mayer said, citing studies on the subject. "If you want innovation, then you need interaction," he said. "If you want productivity, then you want people working from home." (Emphasis added.)
Many paralegals are now working at least part of their week at home. Working from home allows them to set their own schedule, meet their family’s needs, and add balance to their lives. There is a savings of the time and cost involved with commuting, a professional wardrobe (who doesn’t dream of working in sweats and slippers?), meals and daycare.

This can be incredibly successful for paralegals. Why? When your work focuses on drafting pleadings, planning discovery, conversing with witnesses, or preparing for trial, your job is all about efficiency and productivity, not on innovation. This applies to paralegals in all facets of legal work, from mergers and acquisitions to estate planning and probate to corporate record keeping, etc.

Further, the paralegal’s work is measurable in that billable hour goals and deadlines must be met. With the technology available today, the difference between the paralegal working down the hall or the paralegal working 20 minutes (or 20 states) away is minimal.

Another point is that many paralegals interact with clients around the world, necessitating communications in multiple time zones. If you work for a large corporation in Delaware and you need to hold a conference call with clients in Dubai, it is difficult to make that work in the traditional law firm setting. It would not be difficult to make that effort from home while the rest of the family is sleeping. You would be clocking the same number of hours (perhaps more because of the minimization of interruptions) but in a different setting.

However, there is a lesson to be learned from Ms. Mayer’s message: working from home is not about you and making your life easier. It is about your employer’s bottom line. If you approach your employer about this work shift, do not focus on how nice it would be if you could be at home when your children get off the bus or when your spouse finishes his shift at 2:30.

Instead, be ready to prove that your working from home will be a benefit to your employer:
  • You may get more done than if you had to get dressed, commute to the office, put in 9 hours, and commute back home.
  • You may be more productive because extra time chatting with co-workers or being interrupted by co-workers will be practically eliminated.
  • You will have long stretches of time to concentrate.
  • The result will be increased profit to the firm and, perhaps, decreased costs. All you need is a good Internet connection and privacy and can be as productive as in the office.
Out of sight, out of mind? Working virtually can be a win-win situation for both you and your employer. There may also be a downside: if you are not meeting face-to-face with your supervising attorney and co-workers, will you be forgotten? Passed over for bonuses and raises? Hopefully not, but this may require some extra effort on your part to be sure you are still connecting and communicating with them. You must be willing to appear in person for client meetings when necessary, for strategy planning, and, of course, to assist at trial.

Working virtually is a trend that is here to stay. Employers are going to have to face this and make adjustments. You can advance this transition so long as you do not focus on you but  are willing and able to demonstrate that this shift is in your employer’s best interests.

Do you work from home? How is that working for you? Do you see benefits for both you and your employer? Please leave a comment -- I'd love to hear.
© 2013 Vicki Voisin, Inc.  Do you want to use this article in your newsletter, ezine or Web site? You may do so so long as you include the following attribution language:
Vicki Voisin, "The Paralegal Mentor", delivers simple strategies for paralegals and other professionals to create success and satisfaction by setting goals and determining the direction they will take their careers. Vicki spotlights resources, organizational tips, ethics issues, and other areas of continuing education to help paralegals and others reach their full potential. She is the co-author of The Professional Paralegal: A Guide to Finding a Job and Career Success. Vicki publishes Paralegal Strategies, a weekly e-newsletter for paralegals, and hosts The Paralegal Voice, a monthly podcast produced by Legal Talk Network.
More information is available at where subscribers receive Vicki's 151 Tips for Your Career Success.


DDTPLS said...

I have worked from home but only in the evenings or weekends when I have taken work home so I could concentrate on it without interruption. In my current job, I am the sole legal assistant in the legal department of a union so I am need at the office during office hours to hold the fort down. Also, I need to check incoming mail and faxes as I am the only person who would recognize something that is time-sensitive.

Anonymous said...

I work from home every Friday. I have been doing this for the past 8years without a problem. I get more work done in 3hrs working from home then I do working 8hrs in the office. I tend to save the tasks that require a great deal of concentration (w/out deadlines) for Friday. Work life balance is one of our values and we live it everyday.

Unknown said...

When I work from home, I actually work. The phone is not ringing and distracting me from what I need to do: be a Phoenix Arizona Paralegal. I know that not being in the office too much can be a problem, it can also be a problem when I don't work from home enough.

how to become a paralegal said...

I am just starting my paralegal career, your website is a great source of information for me. Thank you!