The Role of Paralegals in the Trial Process

Paralegals are the backbones of modern law offices. They perform much of the same work as attorneys, except for jobs prohibited under the unauthorized practice of law statuettes. While they are not able to accept clients, give legal advice or represent clients in court, paralegals still play a vital role in the trial process. They are also responsible for keeping law offices running smoothly, especially during the overwhelming litigation process.

In the pretrial phase, attorneys may feel burdened with the numerous deadlines they have to meet or research they must conduct to flesh out their argument. After all, some of the smallest details could determine the outcome of a case. Paralegals step in during this chaotic time to play supportive roles in trial preparation.

They may fulfill various roles and complete a diverse range of tasks, such as organizing files, preparing subpoenas, monitoring deadlines, coordinating schedules and helping to prepare witnesses. Before defendants ever hit the stand or attorneys make their cases, there is a lot of work to do throughout the journey to trial. Here are five steps every litigation paralegal must take to be an effective member of any legal team:

1. Research

Paralegals are the kings and queens of researching. Many of the best cases are built on a firm foundation of concrete information, which paralegals can only obtain through countless hours of careful research. Paralegals are responsible for recording witness statements, conducting case investigations, creating a chronology of facts and organizing all case-related documents.

They also need to gather coroner’s findings, police reports, phone records and all other relevant investigation files. Research only is not enough, however, as paralegals are additionally responsible for storing all of this information in the law office’s electronic computer database so attorneys can access it easily and quickly.

Paralegal researching

2. Create an organized plan of attack

Organization is a key factor in being successful in the pretrial phase. Once the research is complete, paralegals must create a well thought out plan of attack for how the trial will unfold. Paralegals must determine what the team’s objectives are and the role they will play in turning these goals into a reality. When creating this plan, it’s important for paralegals to keep budget, resources and communication strategies in mind.

Every attorney is different when it comes to pretrial preparations. Paralegals must be on the same page as their attorneys to avoid encountering any costly or difficult misunderstandings during the last few weeks leading up to the trial. Significant stress and frustration can derail even the most successful of cases. To stay on track, paralegals should include these two items when crafting their plan:

  • List of key deadlines: Most trials require deadlines to accomplish each task. From submitting evidence to lining up main witnesses, paralegals should create a chart or evolving schedule that outlines exactly when certain documentation or information is due. It might be best to make multiple charts to showcase internal and external deadlines. These charts should also include specifics, such as a detailed description of the tasks that need to be completed.
  • Delegation responsibilities: When it comes to the pretrial process, it’s an all-hands-on-deck approach. All members of the team must have a clear understanding of what is expected of them. This should be a comprehensive list of delegation responsibilities, along with who is charged with supervising its completion. Within this category, it’s smart for paralegals to eliminate what work the team doesn’t have time to do or the resources to invest in.

3. Communicate clearly with your team

Once paralegals have established a plan, they must ensure that all team members are aware of what their role is and what they are tasked with completing. Effective communication is essential to keeping the pretrial process going smoothly. They should hold other paralegals accountable and politely remind them about various upcoming deadlines. Paralegals should also update attorneys regularly about the progress of the case to keep everyone in the loop.

The development of internal and external communication strategies is essential to a successful litigation journey. Not only should law offices be on the same page, but paralegals must be in constant communication with witnesses, judges and other members of the court. Written correspondences, such as emails, are best for keeping track of the flow of information and eliminating the potential for confusion.

4. Know the courtroom and the people in it

Every judge is different, just as no two attorneys are the same. Before any legal team sets foot in the courtroom, paralegals should gather as much information as possible about their presiding judge. This is because most judges have a set of written and unwritten rules they expect people follow in their courtroom. If attorneys or paralegals are not aware of them and break them, they may encounter difficulty during the trial.

Other judges may be more understanding or patient, yet it’s vital for paralegals to do their research beforehand to prepare their team for what kind of judge they might encounter. They can learn from others who have been in their court or study past cases to see how judges tend to rule or what their specific quirks might be. Paralegals should speak to court reporters, bailiffs, and other necessary personnel in order to gain a full picture of what they should expect going into the trial. It’s always better to be over-prepared than underprepared.

Empty courtroom

5. Prepare a trial survival kit

Once team members have met all the pre-trial deadlines and are familiar with the court personnel, paralegals should create a trial survival kit. As mentioned previously, it’s always wise to have as much information as possible when going to trial. This kit should contain readily available contact information in case key witnesses or experts prove to be difficult to track down. Other necessary gear may include audio and video equipment, display boards and maps. A few additional basic items paralegals may find helpful include:

  • Extra legal pads and pens.
  • Cart for transferring files.
  • Chargers for laptops, tablets and smartphones.
  • Portable easel for demonstrative exhibits.
  • Petty cash.
  • Water, mints and snacks.

People looking to make a career change or further their career advancement opportunities should consider George Washington University’s online Master’s in Paralegal Studies. As one of the few paralegal master’s degrees in the country, the program will equip current or future paralegals with the skills, experience and knowledge they need to succeed. Contact one of our representatives today to learn more about our intensive curriculum offerings.

Sources

https://www.nala.org/sites/default/files/MAY_JUNE_F%26F_VOL_XLII_ISSUE4_Survival_Kit.pdf

https://www.paralegals.org/files/Paralegal_Responsibilities.pdf

http://paralegaltoday.com/issue_archive/features/feature1_ja03.htm

http://www.theparalegalresource.com/articles/view.php?article_id=13987

https://www.thebalance.com/the-role-of-the-litigation-paralegal-2164625

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