5 key skills attorneys look for when hiring a paralegal

According to the U.S. Department of Labor’s Occupational Outlook Handbook, the employment of paralegals is expected to grow about eight percent from 2014 to 2024.

That means competition for jobs is expected to be strong, with experienced, formally trained paralegals having the best prospects for employment. To stand out in a crowded market like this, it’s important to have the most up to date skill set.

So, what are some of the skills attorneys for when they hire a paralegal?

#1. Effective communicator

Being a paralegal means interacting with a wide variety of people on a daily basis. The ability to communicate well with colleagues, members of the legal community, clients, and pretty much everyone they deal with in the course of a normal day in a law firm is one of the most valuable skills a paralegal can have.

While they might have a great aptitude for legal research or an exceptional eye for detail, if a paralegal does not possess excellent verbal and written communication skills, he or she will likely not be successful at the job.

Excellent communication skills might come naturally to some, while others need to develop these abilities through practice. But no matter how you get them, exceptional written and verbal communication skills are vital to a paralegal’s success.

#2. Independent worker

Although ethical guidelines require that paralegals work under the supervision of a licensed attorney, this is not the whole story. The reality is that after the attorney assigns a task to the paralegal, they are expected to work independently and take the appropriate steps to complete the assignment, with reasonable supervision from the attorney.

Here’s the way it typically works:

A lawyer asks a paralegal to file a case in court. This is what he or she is actually being asked to accomplish:

  • Determine the appropriate court in which to file the claim.
  • Review the file to determine the cause of action.
  • Draft the summons and complaint, along with any other forms required by the court.
  • Finalize the documents and obtain the proper signatures.
  • File the original documents with the court, along with the filing fee.
  • Arrange for service of process upon the defendant.
  • Provide copies of the documents to all interested parties.

Paralegals have a right to reasonable and adequate supervision, but attorneys usually don’t have the time to look over a paralegal’s shoulder, although they should make themselves available to provide guidance when necessary.

#3. Team player

While the ability to work independently is a very important skill for a paralegal to have, it is just as important that they be able to function as part of the legal team. This team typically includes one or more attorneys, paralegals, legal secretaries, investigators, and others. To obtain the best result for the client, all the members of the team must communicate and work well together.

Well-rounded paralegals can contribute a great deal to the team in terms of their technical abilities, client service strengths, multitasking ability, and organizational skills that will help keep the entire team on track. Paralegals often lead the charge regarding tasks such as e-filing, which can change the entire culture of the law firm in terms of time, money, and ease. Paralegals with e-filing experience will continue to be in great demand among attorneys looking for high quality, efficient employees.

Read more: The Instant Expert guide to eFiling

#4. Organized

Being successful in the legal profession relies heavily on the ability to effectively manage a large amount of documents and data, both physical and digital. Most law firms generate a large number of documents, and it’s generally up to the paralegal to take charge of the gathering, sorting, and storing of all the firm’s files and documentation.

Organization of all this information is a major responsibility and helps ensure efficiency when it comes to the handling of cases. The organizational skills of a paralegal directly affect the productivity of an attorney and are also critical to the overall operation of the firm. Being an organizational maven is one way a paralegal can become invaluable to a law firm.

Read more: Productivity and time-management tips for legal professionals >>

#5. Extremely patient

Paralegals are frequently asked to deal with difficult people and their problems. That’s the job. From demanding attorneys, unhappy clients, arrogant experts, unhelpful court personnel, unwilling witnesses, and stressed co-workers, the list of people who can cause paralegals to lose their patience goes on and on.

But being patient doesn’t mean being indifferent. A paralegal who is patient doesn’t sit around waiting for the court or opposing counsel to make a move, but instead continues to work a case from other angles, all while remaining calm. No easy task, but the most sought after paralegals are typically well on their way to mastering this ability.

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What skills do you think attorneys look for when they hire a paralegal? Share your thoughts in the comments!

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2 Comments

  1. Deborah Gabrielson Reply

    This is good, but I think attorneys also value that when there is a meeting or they are communicating the Paralegal is able to give the attorney little insights as to the case, from what they have gathered during filing, in talking to the other counsels and documents during review. Things that again the attorney may not have time for, but needs to know. A good legal assistant and paralegal are invaluable when they can assist their attorneys in saving time, making money and moving the case along.

    1. Richard Heinrich Reply

      Thanks for the comment, Deborah! Great point — a really good legal assistant will know all of the finer details of a case inside-out.

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