In my long career as a paralegal and in paralegal management, I have witnessed first-hand successful working dynamics between attorneys and paralegals. Another word for that dynamic is collaboration.
There are keys to creating a more successful working relationship with paralegals. This blog post will provide some tips on how to create a successful collaboration.
Some basic thoughts: Who is a successful paralegal? When I started my career as a paralegal, someone explained to me that my main job is to make the attorney’s life easier. That recommendation has remained true throughout my career. Most successful paralegals follow this advice. Successful senior paralegals also realize the positive effect of their role in litigation or transactional work and take pride in their contributions to achieving favorable outcomes for the client.
What can paralegals do to make the attorneys’ lives easier? It is simpler to discuss what we cannot do. Paralegals cannot communicate legal advice, enter into fee arrangements, or represent clients in court or depositions. After that, the world is fair game! We can organize document productions, review documents, interact with clients, and organize appellate briefs. We can cite check, fact check briefs, and conduct real-world research. We understand technology so, we can breeze through the intricacies of database structure and management. We can accompany you to court, keep track of exhibits, AND order lunch. If your supply needs are met during trial, it is likely you have a paralegal to thank. Paralegals may make travel arrangements for you and your clients. Paralegals draft motions, deposition notices, pleadings, and other documents. Paralegals arrange for process servers, e-file court documents, and calculate allocation formulas. Corporate paralegals work on mergers, acquisitions, and financings. they also prepare paperwork to form corporations, ensure their corporations remain in good standing, and assist in the dissolution of corporations. Paralegals are knowledgeable about UCCs, bankruptcy, fee petitions, and applications. IP paralegals handle trademarks and copyrights as well as regularly deal with the U.S. Patent Office. Trust and Estate paralegals administer trusts, file documents in probate court, organize estate sales, as well as prepare accountings, simple tax income, and federal estate tax returns. Some paralegal love conducting legal research, while others (like myself) find it deathly boring. Some paralegal careers morph into administrative and management work for a law firm, corporation, or other entity.
As you can see, a paralegal is a jack of all trades in the legal world. And I am sure I have forgotten a wide range of tasks paralegals undertake on a regular basis!
How effective paralegals come to be: Most paralegals complete a formal paralegal education program where they learn not only about the law but also how to do things in the legal field. It is an exceedingly practical education. They learn to cite check, write memos, as well as master the basics of the litigation process, real estate and corporation closings, probate, IP, and corporate legal practice. They learn administrative law and its impact on commercial life. Upon graduation, they find their first legal job and are ready to conquer the world.
Of course, dealing with senior, experienced paralegals is vastly different from managing paralegals fresh in their career. Training and mentoring junior personnel are musts. If your business employs several paralegals, these paralegals or paralegal management may coach the new hires. If yours is a smaller office, training may fall on your shoulders. If you consider the new paralegal as a potentially effective employee, I strongly urge you to spend the time, energy, and capital on proper training. In my own career, it was the associates who trained me. They explained how they wanted the work done and taught me about specific areas of environmental law, such as Superfund, RCRA, as well as the Clean Water and Clean Air Acts. Their instruction was invaluable. The time and effort spent on early training and mentoring cannot be overstated. Both the paralegals and the attorneys will reap the benefits for years to come.
Look at it as akin to how you mentor and train a new associate. You put in the effort and realize a valuable, contributing member of your legal team. The same is true for your paralegals.
What works best to effectively train and mentor paralegals? First of all, involve your new paralegals as soon as possible; the more they know about what you do, the more they understand it, the more helpful they can be. With a solid foundation of knowledge, they are more likely to see the smoking gun if one exists. Paralegals thrive on understanding their cases; they flourish on knowledge and responsibility. We became paralegals because we are interested in the law, the legal process, and service to clients. Attorneys can leverage these strengths to benefit their practice. Paralegals who only do one-off tasks often lose motivation and interest. We want to know how our work fits into the big picture. Let us feel we are contributing! We want to know that the attorney’s success is our success. Copy your paralegals on all case emails, involve them in status meetings whenever possible and of course, answer their questions. As you successfully work with a paralegal, you may experience a real meeting of the minds. A good paralegal becomes a great by repeatedly working with same attorneys or teams. You will develop mutual respect and knowledge. Before you know it, your paralegal appears to become a mind-reader, anticipating the documents you need, the meetings you must schedule, and the exhibits to hand you at trial.