Tips for the Successful Paralegal

Chris Haycox
August 30, 2011 — 1,342 views  
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A paralegal is a professional who has received enough training to assist a lawyer.  Although, it is important to note that paralegal does not mean the same thing in every nation.  For example, in the US and Canada a paralegal assists a lawyer but is not qualified to give legal advice.  The exception is in Ontario, Canada where paralegals are licensed to act independently of a lawyer.  In the UK a paralegal is a "non-lawyer" who can complete legal tasks that a lawyer would have previously carried out for a fee.  With the exception of those working independently in Ontario, the work of a paralegal and the legality of it, falls directly upon the lawyer.  

A good paralegal should be more than their education.  Our personal qualities that we develop through life, things that seem inconsequential but become core elements of our personality, turn into soft skills.  The presence or absence of well-developed soft skills can mean the difference between a budding legal career and a stagnant one.  Let's use organizational skills as an example.  The ability to organize one's mind and prioritize tasks will translate into an organized work environment, better problem solving skills and more efficient decision making capabilities.  Lawyers rely on paralegals to take charge of cases and implement a concise, intuitive system of access.  Being able to find, index, categorize and keep track of vast amounts of documents and evidence is absolutely integral to the success of the firm.  If the mind is not organized, everything else will fall apart.  

So how does communication relate to a good sense of organization within the domain of a successful paralegal?  Simple!  Organizational skills that have been fully utilized will mean more efficient communication.  Data can be attained faster, either through better research skills or interpersonal communication.  When an individual is a good communicator, they know how and when to listen.  People feel more at ease with good listeners, and will often say things they wouldn't necessarily have planned to say.  Those lucky paralegals who possess both organizational and communication talents are usually also blessed with excellent writing skills.  The two core elements come together in a fusion of thoughtful statements (organization) written in a succinct manner (communication) – and a good writer is invaluable to an attorney.  

Even a layperson will know the importance of technology to any industry, including law.  With the evolution of true office mobility, the job of the paralegal has taken on a new form of flexibility.  Almost any task or form of research can be completed away from the office and without need of a lot of equipment.  For example, the paralegal heads out in search of important documents integral to the case.  He or she locates them, whips the wand scanner and uses the internet fax mobile app to securely send them to the office.  Ten years ago the paralegal would have found the document, had it copied onto paper, returned the original to its source and brought the copy back to the office.  Meanwhile, more time has been taken and confidentiality has been compromised. Being familiar with the latest technology and its usefulness in the profession can sometimes make or break your client, contract or sale.

Integral to the core set of soft skills of a successful paralegal is the ability to be a team player.  The legal profession is made up of nothing but teams.  Every person, no matter if they are a paralegal or a legal secretary, should be prepared to step in and carry out any task no matter how mundane it may seem.  Communication among the team is extremely important, as is the organization of tasks, information, data etc.  The lawyer focuses on the big picture, and the paralegals are responsible for bringing all the details together to create that larger picture.  If a filing deadline is missed, the whole case could fall through.  If exhibits and evidence are not properly catalogued and reported, they may be inadmissible.  If the timeline indicates incorrect court dates, the firm ends up looking incompetent.  Phenomenal communication and organization abilities combined with a team player attitude will earn the paralegal a respected reputation.

It is true the paralegal must possess a keen attention to detail and the attorney sees each case with a wider view, however there is equal importance in the paralegal's ability to see the forest for the trees, as well as the trees.  In other words, their capacity to look at a situation and see both the big picture AND the details is key.  There is obviously no desire to replace the lawyer; however it would be extremely helpful for the paralegal to be able to understand their perspective and perhaps even anticipate their needs.  Use those killer communication skills to apply a bulletproof organization plan and incorporate the latest technology for even more efficiency.  Success will soon follow.

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Chris Haycox