Using Paralegals Wisely - ABA YLD 101 Practice Series

By E. Denard Oates

As a new attorney entering the legal profession, you will spend the majority of your time developing and honing the legal research and writing skills acquired in law school while facing a steep learning curve.  Although new to the profession, you will be expected to work efficiently, thereby adding value to your employer and contributing to the bottom line.  Learning how to use a paralegal wisely can help you achieve such results early in and throughout your career.

A paralegal is defined as “a person, qualified by education, training or work experience who is employed or retained by a lawyer, law office, corporation, governmental agency or other entity and who performs specifically delegated substantive legal work for which a lawyer is responsible” (ABA House of Delegates, 1997).  Therefore, paralegals can perform certain tasks normally performed by a lawyer as long as the work is supervised by a lawyer and not proscribed by law (see for a discussion of “The Paralegal Role in the Legal Profession”).  Such tasks may include interviewing witnesses, performing legal research, drafting pleadings and correspondence, preparing trial exhibits, and drafting legal documents such as deeds, Articles of Incorporation, and Bylaws, among many others.

Regardless of your type of practice, you will find that learning how to use a paralegal wisely is worth the time and effort.  Here are some of the benefits you may find by using a paralegal.

During your first few years of practice, you will develop the lawyering skills and practices that will remain with you throughout your career.  Since your non-lawyering responsibilities during this time are minimal, this is a great time for you to focus on developing your analytical skills and sharpening your legal mind.  By delegating certain tasks to a paralegal, you can spend more time focusing on the issue spotting and analyzing necessary to advise your client in a thorough, yet timely, fashion and become a better lawyer.  As time goes on, you will be able to delineate the tasks that you should perform versus those tasks you should delegate to a paralegal in order to provide an efficient result. 

Quality of Life
If you have not already, you will soon realize that the first few years of practice are not the most enjoyable of times.  However, you may find that you can increase the quality of whatever life you may have by using your paralegal.  Paralegals will be able to minimize your workload when necessary and, at times, help you complete projects in a timely fashion.  Paralegals will also be able to guide you in certain situations as they may have developed relationships with certain contacts or gained insight through experience that you will not be able to find on Westlaw or LexisNexis.  Also, with all the stress that comes with being an attorney, and in particular, a new attorney, it never hurts to have additional support you can depend on to help you navigate your way through the internal politics and unwritten rules of your organization. 

Client Satisfaction
Every attorney has the goal of satisfying the client as clients are the lifeblood of our profession.  A paralegal can serve as another contact for your client whenever you are unavailable, and they can help you produce timely results for your client.  More importantly, the use of a paralegal will allow you to complete assignments at a lower cost for your client, and nothing satisfies a client more than receiving quality legal services at a low cost.

Development of Supervisory and Delegation Skills
Many new attorneys complain about working for senior associates or partners that do a poor job of delegating assignments or the lack of mentoring or quality feedback from senior associates or partners.  By learning how to work with paralegals early on, you can develop those supervisory and delegation skills that will become essential as you make your ascent up the ladder in your legal career.

The Bottom Line
No matter how intense the level of competition or how great the desire to impress supervisors with your legal acumen, as a new attorney, you must always keep in the back of your mind that your work must contribute to meeting your employer’s bottom line.  The use of a paralegal will help you achieve cost-effective results. By using a paralegal, you may feel as though you are giving away work and thereby missing out on the opportunity to be productive.  To the contrary, you will find that you will spend that “extra” time focusing on other issues complementary to what you have delegated to your paralegal.  More importantly, you will find that you are developing the ability to be cost-effective, which will in the long run benefit your client, your employer, and your career.  Plus, you will usually have other work on your plate that requires your attention.

Learning how to use paralegals will help you tremendously in your efforts to add value to your employer and contribute to the bottom line.  So, make it a point to use your paralegals early and often.


Download this article in PDF format |

About the Author

E. Denard Oates is a 2001 graduate of Wake Forest University School of Law and is Counsel for We Energies in Milwaukee, WI.  He can be reached at denard.

101 Practice Series: Breaking Down The Basics

Learn More Order Today

Learn More Order Today