A paralegal can help a firm in many more ways than just the base duties listed on their job description. Much of the work a paralegal does depends on the area of law practiced by their supervising attorney, but if you’re a paralegal who is eager to take on more, here are some great places to start:
#1: Take care of clients
If you don’t already do so, challenge yourself to write, email, or call your attorney’s clients at least once a week, and fit in face-to-face meetings whenever you can. Many paralegals have more client contact than the lawyers for whom they work do, making people skills a vital part of the job description.
#2: Develop ESP
The most sought-after paralegals don’t just wait for assignments to be handed to them; instead, they seem to have extrasensory perception (ESP)* when it comes to their jobs. With the help of this remarkable skill, they are able to correctly anticipate the next move, complete the task, and if necessary, have it prepared and ready for signature.
But it’s not magic. Paralegals who are particularly adept at anticipating what needs to happen in the firm and when are tuned in to what’s happening around them. And they’re invaluable to their office.
*Not a scientific assessment.
#3: Pitch in on paperwork
Even if you have a competent legal secretary on your team, many firms are drowning in paperwork, and even the most organized legal staff member appreciates some help once in a while.
Take a leadership role in wrangling paperwork when you can and create systems that make things more manageable whenever possible.
#4: Be a gatekeeper
Most attorneys have a few clients who just like to call them up to chat. While such conversations are valuable in developing and maintaining an effective attorney-client relationship, they can also take up big chunks of an attorney’s time. Paralegals can serve as a buffer for these chatty clients, and in so doing, allow their attorneys to work uninterrupted, put in fewer hours, and make everyone happier in the long run.
#5: Learn to manage a micromanager
Most lawyers are not very good managers of people. Because they are detail-oriented, they tend to micro-manage everything in their lives, including their paralegals. But paralegals can help break attorneys of their micro-managing tendencies by proving that they are capable of handling the small stuff.
#6: Be tech-savvy
Paralegals are expected to know how to use technology effectively, especially since a lot of attorneys do not. Paralegals who are familiar and savvy with technology are highly trained, sophisticated, and well respected by lawyers and clients.
Get a jump start on becoming tech-savvy and learn more about what you don’t yet know.
#7: Provide greater access to legal services
Paralegals are qualified to handle many of the tasks that might otherwise be performed by an attorney, and their time can be billed out separately to clients at lower rates. For these reasons, paralegals not only make legal services more affordable to clients, they also improve the bottom line of the firm.
#8: Conduct themselves in an ethical manner
Although paralegals are not directly subject to any rules of professional conduct enforced by courts, legislatures, or government agencies, the attorneys they work for are responsible, which means that any unethical conduct by them can have a very direct impact on their supervising attorney’s practice.
“Unethical conduct” in the legal industry can mean many things. Anything from being dishonest about your experience, to providing legal advice, to hiding conflicts of interest. For the sake of their own career as well as the well-being of their firm, paralegals should consider carefully what impact their actions could have.
#9: Perform pro bono work
Paralegals enhance a law firm’s ability to provide more legal services, both paid and pro bono. Besides being a requirement of many bar associations, pro bono work enhances the reputation of a law firm and provides enrichment opportunities for participating paralegals and attorneys.
#10: Be willing to tackle tough cases
If you ask an attorney this question: “What files in your caseload do you wish would disappear?” most would likely give you an immediate answer. But when a paralegal purposely focuses on these somewhat “problem” files, three things are accomplished: those matters keep moving, the attorney’s stress level is reduced, and the paralegal’s own job security increases.
Do you know of other things that paralegals often do? Tell us about them in the comments!