What are the most important paralegal skills a legal professional today must have? In a competitive market, it’s absolutely vital to understand what you need to succeed.
Paralegals are integral to the legal industry, providing vital support to attorneys. With technology transforming the legal landscape in recent years, certain skills have become highly sought after for paralegals.
In-demand skills include proficiency in using legal tech, excellent organizational and multitasking abilities, strong research and analytical skills, and effective written and verbal communication.
Paralegals need to navigate digital documents, manage multiple cases, conduct thorough research, and communicate with clients and colleagues.
In this article, we’re going to examine some of the key paralegal skills that a modern legal professional should have in order to succeed in the environment today.
With the skills that we will discuss, paralegals can stay competitive in the job market and contribute markedly to the broader success of their law firms.
The employment outlook for paralegals, legal secretaries, and legal assistants is positive. Right now — according to the Department of Labor — there are almost 353,000 paralegals in the US, and that’s projected to grow by 14% by 2031. That’s faster growth than attorneys and much faster than the nationwide average of just over 5%.
This should not come as too much of a surprise; law firms are increasingly turning to paralegals and legal assistants to take on many tasks once taken on by junior attorneys, thereby reducing costs and allowing them to charge lower fees in an increasingly competitive fight for clients.
As demand for paralegals grows, competition for each paralegal job opportunity intensifies in turn. In fact, according to Robert Half, Legal employers today are increasingly looking for paralegal applicants to have a much broader range of skills than might have been the case in the past, making it ever more pertinent for paralegals to be aware of what skills they may need to brush up on to succeed.
What, though, are the paralegal skills in highest demand?
We’ve taken the liberty of reviewing hundreds of recent paralegal job advertisements on LinkedIn and come up with a list of the five most requested skills.
There’s now virtually nowhere in the legal industry where you can avoid the need to be at least competent (and ideally hold advanced skills) in a whole range of computer skills. In fact, the demand for technology skills was more prevalent than any other single requirement in the job advertisements we reviewed.
Having a thorough understanding of legal software and platforms commonly used in law firms is crucial. This includes proficiency in case management systems, document management software, electronic discovery tools, legal research databases, and communication platforms.
The majority of job descriptions we looked at specified a high level of competence in Microsoft Office and PDF software, such as Adobe Acrobat. Many also specified experience with practice and case management tools, such as Practice Panther, Clio, and Rocket Matter.
Paralegals with technology competence are capable of efficiently managing and organizing digital files and documents, conducting thorough legal research using online databases, effectively communicating and collaborating with colleagues and clients through various digital platforms, and staying organized in an increasingly digital workflow.
Many adverts for litigation paralegals explicitly called for eDiscovery experience, and several sought out paralegals familiar with tools that sort, categorize, and label electronically stored information such as Nextpoint, Logikcull, and CloudNine.
Technologically sound paralegals can enhance their productivity, streamline workflows, improve accuracy, and provide valuable support to attorneys and legal teams in our increasingly technology-driven legal environment.
This is a highly sought-after skill that allows paralegals to adapt to the evolving needs of the legal profession.
In litigation, perhaps more so than any other area of law, today’s paralegals are increasingly asked to take on the sort of tasks that would previously have been undertaken by junior attorneys.
This means more than ever the skills of a modern paralegal include having the ability and expertise to assist with legal proceedings and litigation.
These skills are essential for supporting attorneys in the preparation, organization, and management of cases in both civil and criminal litigation.
Commonly requested paralegal skills in this regard included experience coordinating witness interviews, organizing exhibits and evidence, preparing trial binders, and assisting attorneys during trial by managing exhibits, drafting witness outlines, and monitoring courtroom proceedings.
Paralegals therefore must be proficient in utilizing various legal databases, online resources, and other research tools to gather relevant information, identify applicable laws, regulations, and case precedents, and support attorneys in building strong legal arguments.
Many job descriptions asked that paralegals have specific experience researching cases using tools like WestLaw and LexisNexis, familiarity with discovery tools and procedures, and the confidence required to interact with clients, vendors, experts, witnesses, and courtroom personnel.
Another critical paralegal skill is the drafting and preparation of legal documents. Paralegals often assist in the creation of pleadings, motions, briefs, and other litigation-related documents.
They must have a strong understanding of legal writing conventions, attention to detail, and the ability to effectively communicate complex legal concepts.
Right now in California and many other states across the US, the courts are making major changes to their case management systems and moving toward online, electronic filing.
This means that rules and procedures are changing rapidly, often at the level of the county court, resulting in a complex patchwork of rules to abide by.
We noticed a large number of job adverts for paralegals requesting extensive knowledge of court filing requirements, deadlines, formatting guidelines for legal documents, and specific procedures for motions, discovery, trials, understanding of service rules, and experience calendaring litigation proceedings.
Being well-versed in these rules enables paralegals to ensure that all necessary documents are prepared correctly and submitted within the designated timeframes.
Moreover, paralegals must have a strong grasp of the procedural aspects of different types of cases, such as civil, criminal, family law, or administrative law.
Each type of case has its unique set of procedures, timelines, and requirements, and paralegals need to be familiar with these specifics to provide accurate guidance and support to attorneys.
Certainly, these skills have always been the bread and butter of paralegals, but with so many changes underway in the courts, it’s vital to be on top of all the changes if you want to get ahead.
A paralegal’s knowledge of procedure and court rules is instrumental in ensuring compliance, efficiency, and effectiveness throughout the legal process.
By staying up to date with changes in rules and procedures, paralegals can provide valuable assistance to attorneys, help clients navigate the complexities of the court system, and contribute to the overall success of legal cases.
Excellent writing skills are essential to all paralegal and legal assistant positions. Litigation paralegals, for example, are expected to draft correspondence, pleadings, discovery, motions, briefs, legal memorandums, and more.
Of course, paralegals are also the go-to proofreaders and editors for attorneys.
More generally, paralegals can be expected to adhere to legal writing conventions, such as proper grammar, punctuation, and citation formats.
It requires the ability to conduct thorough research, analyze legal information, and present it coherently. Attention to detail is crucial to ensure accuracy and consistency in legal documents, as even small errors can have significant consequences.
Beyond drafting legal documents, paralegals may also need to prepare summaries, reports, and memos. In these instances, their writing should condense complex information into digestible content while maintaining accuracy and clarity.
Since writing is an integral paralegal function, paralegals who master the art of clear, concise, and persuasive written communication will set themselves apart from their peers.
When it comes to making sure that every aspect of a case is prepared, filed, and executed on time, many attorneys would be lost without their paralegal. Lawyers rely on paralegals to bring order to their cases and files.
Paralegals often work on multiple cases simultaneously, requiring them to stay organized and ensure that all necessary information and documents are readily accessible.
Document-intensive litigation, for instance, generates vast amounts of documents and data. Therefore, the ability to sort, index, categorize, order, manipulate, and organize this information is a fundamental paralegal skill.
With so much being asked of today’s paralegals, it can be tough to keep up. Productivity skills — knowing how to prioritize and how to stay on top — are increasingly important. Paralegals must prioritize tasks, set deadlines, and allocate their time efficiently to meet various responsibilities. They need to balance competing priorities and ensure that critical tasks are completed in a timely manner, such as filing court documents, meeting discovery deadlines, or preparing for hearings and trials.
Communication and coordination skills are also essential organizational skills for paralegals. They must effectively communicate with attorneys, clients, opposing counsel, and court personnel.
Maintaining clear and concise communication helps in managing expectations, coordinating schedules, and ensuring that everyone involved in a case is informed and on the same page.
In all, paralegal organization skills encompass time management, file and document management, attention to detail, and effective communication.
By possessing these skills, paralegals can navigate their caseloads efficiently, stay on top of deadlines, access information swiftly, and contribute to the overall success of legal matters.
Paralegal skills are diverse and essential for the effective functioning of the legal profession. Paralegals play a vital role in supporting attorneys, managing cases, and ensuring the smooth operation of legal proceedings.
Proficiency in legal technology is a key skill, enabling paralegals to navigate digital documents, conduct research, and utilize case management software efficiently. Additionally, strong organizational skills are necessary to manage multiple cases, coordinate with clients, and meet deadlines.
They must possess excellent research and analytical skills to conduct thorough legal research, analyze case precedents, and prepare comprehensive reports.
Effective communication skills, both written and verbal, are also critical for interacting with clients, colleagues, and court personnel.
Finally, paralegals need a solid understanding of procedure and court rules to navigate the legal system and ensure compliance. Writing ability is another essential skill, as paralegals are responsible for drafting various legal documents and conveying complex legal concepts accurately.
By honing these in-demand skills, paralegals can position themselves as valuable assets to law firms, attorneys, and clients. Continually updating their skills and staying abreast of industry trends and developments will enable paralegals to adapt to the evolving needs of the legal profession and contribute to successful legal outcomes.
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