chevron-down Created with Sketch Beta.
March 11, 2024

A Day in the Life of a Litigation Paralegal

Nita Serrano, ACP, FRP, AACP, member of the ABA Standing Committee on Paralegals Approval Commission and Litigation Paralegal at La Cava Jacobson & Goodis in Tampa, Florida.

I have been a litigation paralegal since 1995. No two days are the same, but I do a lot of the same tasks on a daily basis.

I start my day by checking my emails and either taking care of the task or creating a reminder for another day. I use Microsoft tasks and create a task reminder with the email as an attachment. Then I move on to my task list for the day. Most days, I have subpoenas that are ready to be served, so I get them out of the way by having them copied and making the envelopes or fax coversheets.

I sort my physical inbox by cases and, again, if there are items that I can deal with at that time, I handle it, so I only touch the document or email once.

I keep a list of all of my upcoming trials, mediations, and depositions (plaintiff, our client, and experts). I also have a system to review each case at least monthly and, each week, I review a portion of my cases. I also prioritize my daily tasks based on 1. Cases set for trial, 2. Cases set for mediation, and 3. Upcoming depositions. My case list is in Excel, and I have a column titled “Last Reviewed” to ensure that my cases are reviewed at least monthly.

For new cases I review, I perform a background check on the plaintiff(s) and client. I start with Westlaw PeopleMap and prepare a memorandum to my attorney. I search the local court dockets for prior lawsuits and criminal records. If the plaintiff has a criminal record, I order certified copies of felony convictions and any convictions for crimes involving dishonesty. I also perform social media and Google searches. For existing cases, I review discovery responses and medical and billing records. I update the medical chronology, medical expense summary, and employment chronology. As I review records, I flag important records and save them in a “Key Documents” folder for potential trial exhibits. These might include a prior accident, similar injury, or a note that says, “I went skiing last weekend and fell, injuring my shoulder again.” At the same time, I note new providers and last treatment dates, so that I can subpoena updated records.

During my review, I send updated records and depositions to experts, if we have retained any, so that they always have the most current records and information. I prepare any pleadings that are due within the next two weeks, which could include discovery responses, witness lists, exhibit lists, expert disclosure, pretrial conference order, or jury instructions.

Approximately 45 days before mediation, I request updated medical, billing, pharmacy, and employment records as well as updated lien information. I also review the plaintiff’s social media pages to see if they have posted anything about their injuries or the case and save screenshots and a PDF of their profile page.

I meet with my attorneys at least once a month to review cases and identify new experts, additional discovery, and more. We meet on cases set for trial more frequently to discuss upcoming trial deadlines, scheduling of trial witnesses, expert availability, potential motions in limine, or Daubert/Frye challenges.

Inevitably, one of the seven attorneys I work for will need something right away, whether it is retaining a new expert or obtaining additional records or supplemental discovery requests. Sometimes, I will jump on it and get it out of the way and, other times, I will ask if the task can wait. If it can wait, I create a task out of the email and schedule it to address at a later date. 

We do general casualty defense, so I have had a traffic fatality overnight or in the middle of the day that requires me to locate news stories, perform a background check, or locate possible surveillance video from surrounding businesses that may have captured the accident.

For cases set for trial, I request updated records more frequently than other cases. I also start a master witness list so that, when our witness and exhibit lists are due, I have already identified several witnesses. I identify trial exhibits as the case progresses and create a “trial exhibit folder” in which to save the materials. As we get closer to trial, I start redacting the records and narrowing down the trial exhibits to what we will actually use at trial.

Approximately 30 days before trial, I prepare any necessary trial subpoenas and have them served. I reach out to our experts for their availability to attend trial, including preferred days or times, so that any problems can be addressed during the pretrial conference. I ensure that they have everything they need for their review and trial appearance.

I create a litigation notebook, typically before the plaintiff’s deposition, that includes key pleadings, interrogatory answers from all parties, medical chronology, medical expense summary, photographs (if applicable), and any relevant, case-specific documents. This notebook is then updated for mediation and any major hearings, such as motion to dismiss, motions in limine, or Daubert/Frye motions. Once set for trial, the trial pleadings are added, and it morphs into a trial notebook. On large cases, motions in limine and pending motions are in a stand-alone notebook.

At the end of the day, I review my emails, respond to anything urgent, and create tasks for things that can wait until another day. I clear and organize my desk and physical inbox. I can work with my desk in chaos but cannot come into the office in the morning with a mess on my desk. It totally throws my entire day off. I am a little OCD when it comes to my desk.

As paralegals, we need to be flexible and adapt.

As paralegals, we need to be flexible and adapt.

I have a great working relationship with the attorneys I work with. When I start working with a new attorney or legal assistant, I always schedule a meeting to go over what they like done on their cases, how they like things done, and how I work my cases, so that we are all on the same page. This way, when I ask them what the deadline or turnaround time is, they know why I am asking. 

To save time and work efficiently, I use Quick Parts in Word and quick steps in email to quickly create frequently used documents and emails. I drag and drop emails to create and schedule tasks. When I go to trial with my attorneys, I use an out of office notification so that people know I am at trial and will not respond to emails right away. While at trial, I will review emails during breaks, if possible. I will respond to emails I can address right away and delete junk emails.

I have had days where I walk into the office with a plan on what I will get done that day, but someone has an emergency or rush task that needs to be completed right away. I jump on the task, get it done, and then reorganize/reprioritize my day and tasks.

As paralegals, we need to be flexible and adapt. Being organized and flexible is key as a paralegal because some days you will jump from task to task or case to case, depending on what is going on in that case that day. I use checklists and reminders to track things to do on my cases. When I have an urgent task that I need to deal with, I complete it and then refocus on my priority list for the day. 

I create my own reminders for trial deadlines to give myself plenty of time to retain an expert for an expert disclosure and prepare our witness and exhibit lists. I have a reminder to prepare a file for mediation to ensure that I have requested updated treatment, billing, employment, and lien records.

I typically eat lunch a little later than 12:00 and use that time to read Facts & Findings or a legal blog. My caseload is around 110-120 cases, and I rarely work overtime, unless I am preparing for trial or in trial. I attribute that to being well organized and prioritizing my daily tasks in addition to my attorneys knowing how I work. 

Reprinted with permission of Nita Serrano, ACP and NALA – The Paralegal Association. This article originally appeared in the Quarter 1 2024 Issue of FACTS & FINDINGS, the quarterly journal of NALA. Inquiries should be directed to NALA, 6450 S. Lewis Avenue, Suite 250, Tulsa, OK  74136, or by email to [email protected].