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All that was missing was soft music and candlelight. Fourteen UC-Berkeley grads were on a date of sorts — invited to Fenwick & West’s Palo Alto headquarters to be courted by Gordon Davidson, the firm’s chairman. Davidson’s mission: Try to woo as many of the students as possible to come work for the firm as paralegals. And like any good suitor, he sought to impress them with a little PR about the firm’s more attractive attributes. The UC-Berkeley grads then got one-on-one interviews with several corporate partners and were even feted at a sports bar across the street. Such are the lengths firms are willing to go to get legal support staff on the payroll. Though competitive for years, the market for paralegals and legal secretaries in the Bay Area has exploded in the last 18 months. Just how hot is it? Most firms have boosted pay, and some are offering support staff signing bonuses, law school tuition, investment opportunities and flexible work schedules to attract qualified candidates. “It’s become crazy,” said Cheri Vaillancour, director of human resources at Fenwick. “I had lunch with a counterpart from a competing firm, and we were marveling that we’ve never seen it like this before.” Not surprisingly, secretaries and paralegals say they welcome the boost in pay. However, some complain that their salary increases pale in comparison to those of associates and argue that they should receive a bigger piece of firm profits. Nevertheless, they say the recognition is a boon to their profession. “Over the course of the last three to four years, paralegals have become valued more by clients as well as associates,” said Gigi Carcamo, a Fenwick paralegal. NEW PERKS Fenwick’s recent attempts to lure support staff seem to bear out Carcamo’s point. Aside from the session for paralegals, the firm held an open house two weeks later for legal secretaries. Both events were a hit, the firm says. Twelve of the 14 Cal graduates attending the paralegal event accepted job offers at Fenwick. And 14 of the 34 secretaries who attended the secretarial job fair have submitted r�sum�s. “The one thing that was so neat” about the open house was the participation of the firm’s attorneys and paralegals, Carcamo said. “You could see [the paralegals] treated with respect and as equals.” Money also helps. Carol Kearney, of the recruiting firm Kearney Boyle & Associates Inc., said legal secretaries with five years’ experience are now making an average of $50,000 to $55,000. Over the last two years, secretary salaries have increased an average of 10 percent, Kearney said. Paralegals start out at $25,000 to $30,000 and eventually can top $90,000, if they have expertise in patent and trademark and corporate securities work, Kearney said. At Brobeck, Phleger & Harrison, the salary for paralegals ranges from the mid-30s at entry level and can go into the high 80s or 90s, according to Brobeck executive director Abe Isenberg. The salary for legal secretaries ranges from the mid-40s to the high 60s or low 70s “for very experienced secretaries in a specialty practice,” Isenberg said. Thomas Cushing, of the recruiting firm Cushing Bicksler Group, said signing bonuses were introduced a year ago, and the practice has increased in popularity during the last six months. Brobeck, for example, has offered signing bonuses that range from $5,000 to $15,000, but Isenberg said such bonuses are “the exception more than the rule.” This year, several California firms extended participation in stock investment plans to their staff. They include Brobeck, Phleger & Harrison, Wilson Sonsini Goodrich & Rosati and Fenwick & West. Cooley Godward opened its stock investment plan to senior and specialized paralegals, patent agents and staff directors. Fenwick also may be unique in offering its paralegals financial assistance for attending law school. Two years ago the firm began offering paralegals up to $40,000 in tuition reimbursement. Vaillancour said the firm is now talking about extending the benefit to all staff members. Thus far only one staffer, Brian Colucci, has taken advantage of the benefit. Colucci moved from a paralegal position and now holds the post of communications manager while attending the Santa Clara University School of Law. Other firms also offer limited tuition reimbursement. For example, Wilson provides college course reimbursement up to $3,000 annually. While several firm managers declined to say what they pay their staff, they said they are constantly revising their salary structure to keep up with the market. Keith Wetmore, managing partner of Morrison & Foerster’s San Francisco office, said around one-third to one-half of the firm’s secretarial staff recently received salary increases. Despite the increases, MoFo has faced turmoil over pay for secretaries. Early in the year, as associates reaped big salary increases, David Reitz, a MoFo secretary, publicly campaigned to get the firm to extend similar pay hikes to support staff. Reitz, who left MoFo in May, sent Wetmore a memo — signed by about 50 MoFo secretaries — asking the firm to review all staff salaries. Reitz, who worked at MoFo for six years, contends that there are compensation disparities among secretaries. He requested a 30 percent raise over his $54,000 base salary. When the firm declined, he quit and now works for a software manufacturer. “I caused a little bit of furor,” Reitz said. But, he added, “It’s exactly what associates did in getting their salary bump.” MORE THAN MONEY Secretary Lynne Azevedo, a 12-year MoFo veteran, said secretaries have not been compensated for taking on additional work and responsibilities. But she said she expects that will change given “the current situation where people are speaking up for themselves.” Whatever rumblings there may be over salaries, Azevedo said she loves her job and has no desire to leave MoFo. She also points to non-monetary benefits the firm offers its staff, including a flexible work schedule. “Anyone who wants an alternative work week can get it,” she said. For some, such fringe benefits are nearly as important as salary. “Salary is only one facet of a job,” said Kathy Dor�, who has been a secretary at Fenwick for 17 years. “There are other benefits and things that aren’t tangible, like the environment, the camaraderie.” Fenwick secretaries play an active role in helping establish the firm’s culture. Five years ago, at the encouragement of partner Jacqueline Daunt, secretaries created a legal support forum and set up task forces on recruiting, training and development. One of their goals is to change the perception that people have about the profession. “Secretaries are not seen as being a viable career option, as an area where you can grow, be enriched and make money,” Dor� said. “We would like to reach beyond the legal field — such as to high schools — to give a different view of this career path.”

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