In a previous post, we examined the skills that attorneys look for when hiring a paralegal. Now we’re exploring the traits that paralegals need to look for when deciding to work with an attorney.
As a former paralegal, my legal background provides me with valuable insight into the industry. In the 10+ years I worked in law firms and legal departments, I learned some things about the traits that a supervising attorney needs to have to forge a solid working relationship with a paralegal. Here are some of my observations:
Working for an experienced attorney has many advantages, particularly if you’re looking to expand your skill set. Although there are no guarantees, a veteran attorney will typically:
- Have a reasonably heavy caseload that should keep you busy and your job security intact.
- Provide you with adequate supervision.
- Understand how to utilize a paralegal most effectively.
- Provide you with challenging work that will allow you to grow in your position and within the profession.
Consequently, many paralegals prefer to work with an attorney who has at least a few years of experience under her belt.
Practical communication skills are essential for attorneys, and also a vital component of a productive paralegal-attorney relationship. Because attorneys and paralegals often don’t speak the same language and don’t think the same way, listening skills for both are also critical.
To make a capable team, a lawyer needs to give direction to a paralegal, the paralegal needs to accept it, and both need to make their expectations regarding communication known.
As one of my former paralegal colleagues once said about her supervising attorney’s lack of communication skills, “I’m not a mind reader. I need a little direction once in a while.”
Organization is a key skill for anyone who works in the legal industry, but especially for attorneys. Near the end of my paralegal training, I asked one of my professors for advice about what to look for in a supervising attorney. He replied, “During the interview, if you can’t see the lawyer behind the huge pile of paper stacked in front of him on his desk, my advice would be to keep looking.”
Competent attorneys know that some form of structure is needed to run a successful practice. If you are a paralegal who is willing to help provide that framework, your services will be enormously valued.
#4: Time management
Because the bulk of an attorney’s job revolves around multiple deadlines, time management is critical. Early in my paralegal career, I worked for a “serial procrastinator.” Although this attorney was dedicated and hard working, he had one bad habit: waiting until the last possible minute to complete virtually every task, even things that could have been completed well in advance.
While his approach might have given him an adrenaline rush, it resulted in unnecessary overtime and more than a few frantic trips to UPS for costly Next Day Air service. Most paralegals want to work for an attorney who can prioritize, own her schedule, and delegate accordingly.
All attorneys must keep abreast of changes in the practice of law, including relevant technology, or “maintaining competence,” according to the ABA. I once worked for an attorney who had no interest in technology.
He kept his appointments on a paper desk calendar, did his research at the law library, and wasn’t even sure how to turn his computer on. He had me print out all his email messages out so he could write his responses on them (by hand), and open his email to type in his replies, repeating the process whenever he got another email. Not exactly a recipe for efficiency.
My advice: work for an attorney who embraces technology. Everyone will get a lot more done and a lot less time (and paper) will get wasted.
Unfortunately, no attorney, whether they possess these traits or not, is going to be perfect 100 percent of the time, since most law firms and legal departments are known for being busy, high-pressure environments where tempers often flare.
As a paralegal, you will need to learn how to work effectively with your boss and earn their respect. However, if the relationship doesn’t work, no matter how hard you try, it might be time to move on.
Do you know of other traits to look for when contemplating working for an attorney? Tell us about them in the comments!