Eight Skills Successful Paralegals Use Everyday

According to the American Bar Association, paralegals are critical to building an effective law team. Paralegals help lawyers complete their work while maintaining ethical standards, and they must perform this duty carefully and in unison with their peers. Paralegals juggle multitudinous tasks in an organized manner and possess strong information technology and research skills. To complete their work, they must communicate their findings effectively in verbal and written format.

The Modern Paralegal

Paralegals help lawyers complete their daily work; however, their responsibilities stop where law practice begins. Paralegals are accountable to the National Association of Paralegals (NAP) and the American Bar Association (ABA) and it is these two organizations that define the paralegal role. Firms require paralegals to obtain proper education and training to fill their positions, but more importantly paralegals require specific soft skills.

Maintaining Integrity in the Field

Law associations, firms and the judicial system hold individuals who work in the legal field to high ethical standards. As is the case with lawyers, paralegals have a fiduciary duty to make decisions that will result in the best possible outcome for their clients. This applies even if the law staffer comes to the conclusion that the best choices for the clients are not necessarily the best choices for the firm. As a legal professional, paralegals must remain fully transparent in all their work with their employer and the client. Theft, duplicity and falsehoods in this work environment are taboo. Additionally, when a paralegal makes an error or omission, they must completely and swiftly divulge this fact to the interested parties. Work as a paralegal is a continuous exercise in honesty.

Skill 1: Keeping the Facts in Order

Paralegals are meticulous and make sure that they execute all tasks precisely and accurately, while lawyers focus on the overall case. A lawyer or firm may charge a paralegal with anything from citing past cases for reference to arranging supporting exhibits for trial. It is the paralegal’s responsibility to make sure that all the decisions their office makes are verifiable and based on current facts. A small misstep can ruin a case or contract. Fully handling a task is as important as veracity in the law environment. In some instances, an omission can have the same impact as a mistake.

Skill 2: Working as a Team

The ability to work with others is a critical paralegal trait. Legal matters are often complex and require teams to handle the workload. Due to the limitations the law places on the work a paralegal can complete, they must always under close supervision with licensed lawyers. The paralegal completes tasks that are too numerous for the counsel to complete alone. In effect a paralegal is an extension of the lawyer and their right hand at the firm. While performing these duties, paralegals are the face and voice of the parties they are representing. Furthermore, the firms count on the paralegals to coordinate with the other team members to ensure a positive client outcome. A qualified paralegal can only do these things if they work well with others.

Skill 3: Juggling a Mountain of Information

Paralegals must successfully manage several activities at once. At any given time, a paralegal may work on multiple cases, contract negotiations or assignments. They will have to make decisions in a dynamic environment where circumstances can change instantly. The paralegal has to continuously decide what tasks take priority over the others. Therefore it is critical the paralegal manages their time effectively. In addition to having several responsibilities at once, a paralegal may have to complete work for several staff members at the same time.

Skill 4: Keeping It All Together

Law, by nature, is a chaotic business. Some cases involve developing solid evidence from many abstract, intellectual concepts. Other cases require paralegals to find patterns and evidence in a mountain of documents. The paralegal must have the skills necessary to pool together data and facts that will lead to a positive outcome for the client. They must also have a way to access this information on a whim and present it logically when necessary. Whether the paralegal has to complete this work manually or digitally, they will need strong organizational skills to complete their projects successfully.

Skill 5: Technology in the Legal Field

As with most contemporary jobs, technology skills greatly enhance a paralegal’s employability. A paralegal may use technology such as:
• word processing
• spreadsheets
• telecommunication equipment
• databases
• presentation software
• legal research applications

The paralegal may use these resources to perform several different tasks within the firm such as administration, finance or compliance responsibilities. Technology is so important to contemporary law practice that technology use in the law environment has created the need for new law business units that focus specifically on information technology. Some firms have dubbed these departments as legal technology departments or e-discovery units. Depending on their standing at the firm, a paralegal may also have to decide exactly what technologies their firm uses.

Skill 6: Finding the Facts

Effective paralegals exhibit mastery in research. In addition to understanding how to navigate relevant case histories, paralegals must have skills using credible Internet sources. For example, legal professionals highly regard Westlaw and Lexis/ Nexis as credible case reference sources. The paralegals must have skill in understanding and interpreting these citations as they apply to current case work. They must also have skill in locating and retrieving highly sensitive documents such as medical records. Paralegals are also adept at tracking evidence and even people.

Skill 7: Putting It on Paper

Excellent writing skills are critical in the paralegal field. Paralegals must effectively communicate the information they retrieve. The information is not only viewed by their peers, employers and possibly the clients; judges also view paralegal communications, which may ultimately end up in the permanent case record. A firm may charge a paralegal with writing agreements and contract drafts. In this instance, it is critical that the paralegal have a thorough understanding in these areas. The work that paralegals complete is the foundation for the firm’s final deliverables.

Skill 8: Communicating Results to Others

Paralegals must have the skill to communicate their ideas effectively. They may have to consult with a client, reach out to information sources or record witness testimony. Face to face meetings comprise most work a paralegal performs. Paralegals gather requested information from many sources and report relevant information back to the lawyer they are assisting. To complete this work, paralegals must connect with others with skill and comfort. They also have to explain relevant laws to these parties in common terms. As a paralegal, these individuals must understand how people think and communicate in ways that everyday people can understand.

Paralegals assist lawyers in their daily tasks while they maintain the same fiduciary accountability as their senior peers. They work in teams while they meticulously complete these tasks. Paralegals manage many assignments while maintaining an orderly workflow. With technology, they can relay their findings to others in a clear and concise manner and help their firms win the day.

Sources

http://www.theiop.org/careers/become-a-qualified-paralegal/am-i-suited-to-being-a-paralegal.html

http://www.americanbar.org/groups/paralegals/resources/information_for_lawyers_how_paralegals_can_improve_your_practice.html

http://www.agilelaw.com/2015/08/5-most-important-paralegal-traits/

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