The paralegal job description demands excellence because paralegals coordinate so many important activities at their place of employment. People who are considering becoming a paralegal should evaluate whether they have the characteristics to be successful in this demanding but rewarding career. People who work well independently, love the law and welcome responsibility will excel in this challenging and dynamic field.
In addition to having a strong legal background and education, paralegals must possess impeccable organizational skills, investigative skills, communications skills and technological skills. Paralegals must also be able to handle a large volume of activities while successfully orchestrating the smallest details of complex legal communications. Before investigating how to become a paralegal, aspiring students should carefully analyze all potential job requirements. Understanding the demands of the job will help students to evaluate whether they will succeed as a paralegal.
Characteristics of a Good Paralegal
No paralegal job description is complete without understanding the qualities that the best paralegals bring to their positions. Good paralegals are both flexible and able to multitask. As the backbone of a law firm’s operations, paralegals may email a client, research a topic, train office staff and prepare an affidavit all within one part of the day. Therefore, paralegals have to have the ability to not be overwhelmed by the constantly changing demands of their job. Paralegals also have to take initiative and to organize their time so that they attend to their most important priorities.
Paralegals must be detail-oriented, analytical and ethical. In addition to organizing the major activities of their workday, the paralegal job description demands that paralegals conduct meticulous research and prepare accurate legal documents. Organization not only of daily activities but also of the most minute of legal documentation and correspondence are essential skills that strong paralegals will possess. Paralegals must adhere to the highest ethical standards to serve both their employers and their clients with integrity and responsibility.
Conduct Extensive Research and Reporting
A paralegal assists attorneys as they either perform work for clients or prepare for litigation by researching a variety of topics. Paralegals may assist attorneys with basic research by by investigating certain facts and data related to a case. Also, paralegals may search through similar cases to find how courts or other ruling entities decided similar hearings and court cases. In addition, paralegals sift through legal articles, judicial decisions and laws that are relevant to the case and present their findings to the attorney. The ability to navigate legal databases like Westlaw is a crucial element of any paralegal job description.
Writing skills are also an essential part of any paralegal job description. Paralegals regularly prepare reports for attorneys that include the details of their research. Paralegals may also outline the ways that others successfully argued cases in the past so that attorneys can develop their litigation strategy. Attorneys are busy people, so paralegals have to deliver accurate reports that are concise and written in clear language.
Draft Legal Documents
Paralegals draft a wide range of legal documents for attorneys. Documents may include contracts, motions, briefs and legal correspondence. Again, clear and concise writing skills will distinguish the most highly qualified paralegals from their peers. These documents will be viewed not only by employers but also by opposing counsel, judges, mediators and arbitrators.
In addition to preparing documents, the paralegal job description involves tracking deadlines for document delivery. Tracking court due dates and filing deadlines requires a great deal of organization and independence. Attorneys depend on their paralegals to meet deadlines without supervision and to draft high-quality documents without extensive re-writing.
Assist Attorneys During Trials
The paralegal job description includes assisting attorneys during trials. In some cases, paralegals will accompany attorneys to the courtroom and will take extensive notes throughout the litigation process. In many cases, they will generate documents and research reports behind the scenes. Some litigation, like litigation involving corporate transactions, results in the generation of vast amounts of documents and data. Again, organization and the ability to multitask are skills that every successful paralegal must possess.
Paralegals must also have the ability to interview clients and witnesses. As a lawyer’s right hand, paralegals contact expert witnesses, interview clients and take witness statements. Sometimes, clients and witnesses are not forthcoming with information, and paralegals must delve more deeply into statements and ask the right questions to find out key information.
Assist with Preparation of Personal Financial Documents
Preparing personal financial documents is a component of the paralegal job description that often goes unnoticed. Paralegals may prepare tax returns and analyze the tax consequences of business decisions. Paralegals may set up trusts and fiduciary agreements and may even assist with the preparation of last wills and testaments. The extent to which paralegals prepare this sort of documentation depends on their specialization and on their employer’s area of law practice.
Certain specializations, like bankruptcy or probate, will demand more intensive preparation and understanding of personal financial documents. Many paralegals take courses in personal finance to prepare themselves for these tasks. In other instances, lawyers will provide on-the-job training.
Coordinate Other Law Office Activities in Accordance with Paralegal Job Description
Some small and medium-sized firms expect their paralegals to perform office management duties as part of the paralegal job description. For instance, paralegals may be charged with researching and purchasing items for their legal department or firm, including technology and equipment. Attorneys may also rely on their paralegals to train office staff to use the firm’s software, and they may expect paralegals to supervise and coordinate the activities of legal secretaries.
Paralegals often handle finances related to the law office as well as to the litigation of cases. Paralegals may manage case budgets and track office expenditures. Therefore, paralegals must have computer savvy, particularly related to bookkeeping software and spreadsheets. Also, paralegals may maintain large databases of client information and research findings. On the most basic level, paralegals may handle all office correspondence and may field telephone calls for their employers. Again, the extent of office management involvement usually depends on the size of the firm.
The daily work of a paralegal will be fast-paced and will require constant juggling and prioritizing. The level of responsibility is a welcome challenge for some and a stressful burden for others. To guarantee happiness within the profession, aspiring paralegal professionals should carefully examine all of the job requirements related to paralegal work. Also, students should seek out programs that offer internship opportunities. That way, they will have direct exposure to all elements of the paralegal job description.