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The Paralegal Profession Baggage

published February 06, 2013

By CEO and Founder - BCG Attorney Search left
Published By
( 8 votes, average: 3.9 out of 5)
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The paralegal profession can be tremendously challenging, time-intensive, and rewarding. But above all else, it involves a great deal of hard work. If you’ve been involved with the legal profession in any capacity for any length of time, you'll surely agree that paralegals and legal assistants do the bulk of the work around most attorneys' offices.

The Paralegal Profession Baggage

Attorneys who work in small, midsize, or large firms must have the knowledge, training, educational background, and professional expertise to attract clients and settle their cases, but the day-to-day, "grind-it-out" paperwork and client management are usually handled by the paralegal staff.

For example, it should come as no surprise that many successful personal injury attorneys follow a "formula" that applies to nearly all clients. A number of the largest and most prosperous law firms specializing in personal injury cases spend an enormous amount of money on radio and television advertising spots, all designed to generate client interest and increase word-of-mouth referrals. Under the right economic and creative circumstances, these targeted ad campaigns can bring in dozens of new clients every week. And from the first moment the client enters the office until the time when the case settles, he or she is guided down a well-paved "road" by the attorneys and their paralegal support staff.

Typical car-accident personal injury law offices offer "one-stop" service, meaning that they will handle everything, from the client's medical bills and auto repairs to the rental car payments, insurance company negotiations, demand letters, and settlement packages. Except for providing the necessary information and completing a pre scribed medical treatment program, the client has few worries.

The attorneys and their paralegals in these large, efficient personal injury firms have handled hundreds of similar cases and can take the client from start to finish just by following the same procedures and plugging in the same formulas. Preparing forms, establishing procedures, and creating prepared letters in advance leaves very little to chance or staff haphazardness. By following these time-tested proce dures and using so-called boilerplate documents to settle the case, paralegals can handle most of the work right up to the moment when the attorneys step in to finalize everything to the satisfaction of both sides.

So if you are new to the paralegal profession, here's an important piece of advice to consider as you go through this article: read, reread, and reread again. Mark important words for future reference; use a yellow mark ing pen on the more significant sections; take print outs and generally treat this article as your own personal desk reference. The time you save by following the procedures and techniques suggested here is not just your own; it belongs to your boss, your clients, and the firm you work for.

This article will not turn you into an attorney or a private investigator. Rather, it will teach you to use already existing resources to gather information critical to the success of your cases.

If you have been in the paralegal profession for a while, you may be quite familiar with some of the information discussed here. Some of the ideas and concepts may work well for you and others may not. Only your experience can tell you what to do. Rest assured that this article will not suggest you do anything unethical, or worse, illegal. Feel free to choose what you can use. Your career development begins from your first day on the job and never ends.

Additionally, if you're an experienced paralegal, the best way to enhance your sense of professionalism is to help less-experienced paralegals to catch on. You should know by now that the legal field can be extremely stressful, time-pressured, and unnerving. Faced with a large caseload, demanding attorneys, and rattled clients, the job can seem twice as difficult to a new paralegal.

If you can offer additional shortcuts, time-savers, and helpful ad vice about office management (and office politics), case-handling and case-management shortcuts, client relations, and attorney-paralegal protocol to the newer members on your staff, please do so. To quote the appropriate Latin phrase, Qui docet, discet, which means, "They who teach, learn."

This article is created with a hope that it will reach paralegals at all levels of job experience and training. Whether it's used as a guidebook for people new to the profession or as a refresher for senior paralegals, this article is intended to educate everyone who reads it.

Read the text with your own law office in mind. Take some of the key concepts and really study them. You'll know what you can use immediately, and you'll apply it to your own needs and your short- and long-term goals. Remember that some of the material may not apply to you immediately, but no one can say you won't change firms, change legal specialties, or go in a completely new direction somewhere down the road.

Studies tell us that the era of the so-called 10-year employee is on the downswing. One, three, or five years from now, you may have already gone from a real estate law firm to a personal injury office to a criminal defense specialist. The beauty of the paralegal profession is its inherent flexibility. If you know a little bit about a lot of diverse legal subjects, you're clearly a more valuable commodity to a law firm looking to expand its paralegal force.

Be flexible and open-minded as you study this article. Take what you can use now, file the rest away in your head, and refer to it again as you grow and develop in your career. Keep your Paralegars Desk Reference handy at your desk so you'll know how to go about finding the information you need.

Mentors and Mentoring

As a paralegal professional, your employment entails many diverse duties and responsibilities. Your role largely depends upon the type of law practiced at the office where you work. Small firms may handle any case that comes in the door. Midsize firms may specialize in one kind of law and may in fact be quite well known and successful at it. Larger firms may offer a diverse range of legal services with a bank of specializing attorneys.

Your job duties largely depend on the law firm. Some firms spend a significant amount of time preparing for and completing major trials. Other firms may rarely appear in court, choosing instead to settle nearly every case.

If your firm is heavily involved in trial work, you'll probably spend most of your time in court, filing writs, briefs, and motions or helping the attorneys prepare for court. In other firms you may be asked to offer administrative support and help run the whole office in a smooth and orderly fashion. You may be asked to offer limited legal assistance to clients in standard divorce cases, bankruptcy, pro bate, etc.

Some firms hire paralegals strictly to help with legal research. Still others use paralegals mainly in a production role:
typing and editing briefs; preparing contracts, wills and trusts; tracking the bill able hours for each case; and managing the filing systems.

Whatever your role or duties, the best way to establish yourself as a true paralegal professional is to seek out mentors. The dictionary defines mentor as a "wise counselor or loyal advisor." The concept of business mentors has really become popular only in the last ten years.

The idea first involved new managers and executives who looked for support, advice, and wisdom from colleagues with more time in the field. Mentor relationships offer younger or less experienced employees a way to learn the system and grow and develop as professionals in a way not unlike the apprentice-journeyman relationship you might find in a construction trade.

In your context, the right mentors can give you careful direction, choice assignments, and even occasional protection during rampages by angry senior partners.

You should look to build two types of mentor relationships, one with an attorney in your firm and (if you work in a firm with a big support staff) one with another paralegal. Each person can help you do your job more effectively by offering advice about the work from his or her own perspective.

The attorney can help you identify the issues to focus on with a particular case, how to solve a complex problem, and most importantly, what the other attorneys need from you for everyone to work more effectively.

Attorney and paralegal mentors can help you understand the corporate culture by offering suggestions concerning office politics, potential "danger zones," and the overall direction of the firm. This information can be priceless for you because the more you know about working effectively with the different personalities in your office, the easier your job will become. Some attorneys want minimum help from you but maximum paperwork in the file. Others may want large amounts of help from you, including research, brief preparation, and trial help. It pays to know how to give the kind of assistance that makes you valuable to individual attorneys and to the firm.

If you work in a large to midsize firm staffed with several paralegals, it helps to choose an appropriate mentor from the group. The best way to begin any mentor relationship is from a position of total honesty. There is nothing wrong or dishonorable about finding an experienced, compatible paralegal colleague and saying, "I like the way you do your work. Can I get some help from you when I have a problem with a case, a client, or someone in the office?" As with your attorney mentor, your paralegal mentor doesn't have to be your closest friend in the world, your symbolic shoulder to cry on, or the subject of hero worship. You should always maintain a dignified, professional relationship while in the office.

What if you are the senior paralegal in your office? What if every one comes to you for help and advice? What should this suggest to you? In terms of the paralegal mentor, if you don't have one, be one.

Make yourself available to new office staffers, new attorneys, and new paralegals whenever you can. Give advice, give direction, and make yourself completely irreplaceable and invaluable to the firm.

Alternative Summary

Harrison is the founder of BCG Attorney Search and several companies in the legal employment space that collectively gets thousands of attorneys jobs each year. Harrison’s writings about attorney careers and placement attract millions of reads each year. Harrison is widely considered the most successful recruiter in the United States and personally places multiple attorneys most weeks. His articles on legal search and placement are read by attorneys, law students and others millions of times per year.

More about Harrison

About LawCrossing

LawCrossing has received tens of thousands of attorneys jobs and has been the leading legal job board in the United States for almost two decades. LawCrossing helps attorneys dramatically improve their careers by locating every legal job opening in the market. Unlike other job sites, LawCrossing consolidates every job in the legal market and posts jobs regardless of whether or not an employer is paying. LawCrossing takes your legal career seriously and understands the legal profession. For more information, please visit

published February 06, 2013

By CEO and Founder - BCG Attorney Search left
( 8 votes, average: 3.9 out of 5)
What do you think about this article? Rate it using the stars above and let us know what you think in the comments below.