Feature Model Practice A New Model
Paragon Legal Group, P.C.
Industry: Real Estate
Principle I: Employment and Compensation
Principle II: Work Life Balance and Career Development
2014 Challenge Submission
Paragon Legal is a unique law firm that was purpose-built to solve the gender equality issues that plague the legal industry. “A New Model” has gender equity at the core of its business, influencing daily decisions regarding how to grow the business, who to hire, what clients to work with, and where to focus time and finances.
New model law firms like Paragon are claiming an increasing share of legal work. Paragon is reviving the pool of practicing female attorneys, enabling women (and men) to practice while raising families. At Paragon, attorneys can elect the number of hours they work per week and where they work. By allowing attorneys to custom-design their schedules, while paying them for every hour that they work and providing them with challenging work at top-notch companies, the firm has significantly impacted who can practice and how they practice.
On the client side, Paragon is providing a uniquely flexible solution to in-house legal departments that typically struggle to address the undulating legal needs of their companies. Events such as attorneys leaving for new jobs, sabbatical, medical/maternity leave, M&A activity, quarter-end sales spikes and the like create short-term increases in legal work. Companies do not want to hire permanent for such short-term spikes, nor do they want to pay outside counsel $500+/hour to handle this work. Paragon is able to leverage its flexible resources to help companies scale legal resources as-needed.
How does this model practice work?
With small exception, Paragon attorneys work a maximum of 40 hours/week, on a set schedule agreed upon between the client and attorney. Schedules are negotiated to allow parents to drop-off and pick- up at school, and attorneys often enjoy the flexibility so that they may attend school performances, etc. All of this allows attorneys an invaluable level of predictability and flexibility that traditional in-house or law firm jobs can’t offer.
Employment and Compensation
Paragon is a flat organization and is solely owned by Mae O’Malley, founder and shareholder. There are no partners or associates at Paragon, and therefore no rewards for working more hours. Attorneys are simply divided into two levels—Senior Counsel (8+ years of relevant experience), and Counsel (under 8 years). All attorneys within their respective levels are paid the same, regardless of age, gender, additional years of experience, or other factors to ensure no discrimination in pay.
Upward advancement is a career path in more traditional law firms. Paragon provides an alternate path, providing lateral movement to new and different projects, focusing on skills development. Many attorneys find it incredibly refreshing that they are now free to concentrate on client service vs. their own career "advancement". For those who do want to advance, Paragon provides opportunities for them to get the skills and experience they feel will be in-demand and counseling to ensure the firm understands and supports their career goals.
Paragon has proven a uniquely effective bridge for attorneys, offering flexibility when their kids are young, and enabling them to transition to highly desirable permanent in-house jobs with Paragon clients when they no longer need the flexibility. Rather than a placeholder or a demotion, Paragon exposes its attorneys to clients and career opportunities they might not otherwise have access to.
“I have the pedigree that should make corporate America swoon… . My downfall was not just my gender or ethnicity but that I had kids before becoming partner.
I admit that, at first, I drank from the Kool-Aid, believing women could work part time, on meaningful work while still participating in their children’s lives AND succeed. And while I conveniently served as the law firm poster child for diversity and work-life balance, my experience was far from the myth exploited by big law…
Paragon has flipped the big law model on its head, placing the utmost value on the quality and skill of its attorneys and the work they do for their clients, and less on qualities easily susceptible to racial and gender bias. For me, that means that I am the driver of my career and success, which I define as doing great work for dynamic clients on a schedule that I control.”
Marta Miyar Palacios, former Senior Counsel at Paragon Legal
"Working as a Paragon attorney, I was presented with the unique opportunity to join highly selective legal departments for long-term assignments… Although a Paragon assignment may not convert into a direct hire position, these assignments give you invaluable exposure that a resume and reference cannot match.”
“The Paragon model also provided me context on the legal team and work environment that I normally would not have under the traditional hiring model. Overall, I believe that Paragon opens up opportunities for legal professionals and helps ensure an overall better fit for both the attorney and employer."
Leola Cox Meiners, currently Counsel at Apple. Leola left her law firm and joined Paragon in hopes of getting more in-house experience.
The percentage of women associates at large law firms has eroded every year since 2010. The National Association for Law Placement (NALP) reported that in 2013, women accounted for 44.79 percent of law firm associates. In contrast, since its inception in 2006, Paragon has been no less than 70% women. Its attorneys on average stay multiple years at Paragon, and typically do not leave the firm until they either no longer need the flexibility that the model offers, or are able to start their own practice.
How can I adopt this model practice in my workplace?
Paragon’s model of allowing custom-designed schedules can certainly be replicated by other services businesses. Success of services businesses with a flexible workforce is highly dependent on correct execution of the model. Expectations in terms of hours, where work will be performed, and the work schedule must all be clearly agreed upon prior to the commencement of services so that expectations are aligned. In addition, service providers must be careful to hire resources who can work effectively and efficiently within a flexible model. The advent and growth of numerous services businesses that leverage a flexible workforce (often predominantly women) prove the viability of the model.