In the past few years, there has been a lot of buzz in the legal community about paraprofessionals and the ways they can enhance a law practice. For the uninitiated, a legal paraprofessional is someone who is trained to perform certain legal tasks but who is not licensed to practice law.
Of course, we should take a moment to distinguish between a paraprofessional and a paralegal. While paralegals are obviously a type of paraprofessional, the paraprofessionals we are discussing in this article are a bit different. For example, they are typically trained to perform a limited set of tasks within a law firm. They haven’t necessarily received the level of education and training of a paralegal, nor are they always certified by any governing body.
Nonetheless, paraprofessionals can be trained to perform any number of key functions within the law firm setting and can bring great efficiencies to the practice. Below we’ll discuss how paraprofessionals can impact your practice and when you should consider bringing them into your workplace.
How paraprofessionals can impact a law firm
One of the greatest things about paraprofessionals is that they can be deployed to perform just about any task. Ultimately, their job is to support the attorneys in the firm. So, perhaps one good way to approach the idea of hiring paraprofessionals is to ask yourself what daily tasks you need to make more efficient.
For example, the State of Arizona has a program that certifies legal document preparers. These are not people who perform research or contribute to the substance of your document. Instead, they are highly proficient at making documents appear the way they should. This is especially critical when it comes to pleadings and other court documents that need to be formatted in a particular manner.
No attorney or paralegal needs to spend time preparing a response template for each set of discovery. Clients don’t want to (and shouldn’t have to) pay an attorney’s or paralegal’s hourly rate for such work. Thus, if you have a high-volume litigation practice, it probably makes sense to bring on someone who specializes in and focuses exclusively on preparing these types of documents.
Comprehensive data entry blended with exacting document standards makes electronic court filing an ideal place to use paraprofessionals. It’s also one of the areas in which you can accomplish greater efficiency by outsourcing rather than finding someone to work in-house.
Document specialists like those of One Legal’s Concierge team, for example, have spent years focusing on legal documents in relation to a court filing. This gives them insight into what the court wants and what you as the filer needs when it comes to submitting documents. Learn more>>
Firms that have a busy trial practice might also consider a paraprofessional who specializes in trial preparation. Someone who is skilled in things like organizing exhibits, creating PowerPoint presentations, or pulling jury instructions can be worth their weight in gold as the trial date approaches.
Inventories and research
In a wills & estates practice, a well-trained paraprofessional might be the perfect candidate for taking asset inventories. They might also prepare the initial templates for trusts, wills, and other estate planning tools.
A real estate practice might use a paralegal to perform title searches. They might also research property boundaries, encumbrances, histories, and the like. The possibilities are endless.
Finally, almost any practice can benefit from a paraprofessional who simply manages all of the law firm’s vendors. Any time you can provide vendors such as process servers, temp agencies, legal database providers, or private investigators with a non-attorney point person within the firm, your practice has just become more efficient.
Of course, don’t forget that consolidating your vendors also inherently boosts efficiency.
When to hire paraprofessionals
The answer to this question will be different for every firm. The process of discovering how you might use a paraprofessional, however, is the same. Ask yourself:
- Are there any high-volume, low-substance tasks that are currently being handled by attorneys or paralegals?
- If so, you should consider whether those tasks could be assigned to a paraprofessional.
- Is it a good use of the attorney’s or paralegal’s time to perform those tasks?
- If not, and if the task can be ethically performed by an unlicensed professional, it may be time to hire and train a paraprofessional. This will also free up attorneys and paralegals for more substantive work.
- Is it fair to bill the client for the attorney’s or paralegal’s time to perform that task?
- If not, then attorneys and paralegals must spend non-billable time handling the task themselves or the firm can hire a paraprofessional so the others can spend the bulk of their time on billable work.
- Are we willing to take the time to fully train a paraprofessional?
- While some paraprofessionals will come to the firm with some background and experience in the task at hand, they will still need to be trained in your firm’s unique needs and specifications. If you can’t commit to provide thorough training, you’re unlikely to get the most out of your paraprofessional.
Paraprofessionals can be a true asset to any firm so long as they are hired with the goal of firm efficiencies front and center. Perhaps it is time to sit down with your team and discuss whether your firm can benefit from hiring one or more specialized paraprofessionals.