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A Paralegal’s Guide to Back-office Work

published February 19, 2013

By CEO and Founder - BCG Attorney Search left
Published By
( 35 votes, average: 4 out of 5)
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Anatomy of a lawsuit

When civilization took the step of having judges or local authorities decide matters of dispute, and people stopped using axes and guns and fists to settle their differences, the lawsuit became the way to formalize this battle. Some may frown on analogies to wars, but in fact, that is what disputes would become without litigation. Since litigation is the main focus for a great percentage of paralegals in the country, it is important for all paralegals to understand the anatomy of a lawsuit, from initial interviewing, investigating, and fact finding, to the preparation of demand letters, complaints, and initial discovery, to the flurry of responsive pleadings, answers, and cross-complaints, to discovery motions, depositions, exhibit preparation, and trial preparation. A paralegal can be involved from the first interview to appeal.
A Paralegal’s Guide to Back-office Work

Ideally, the paralegal is brought in as early as possible in the case. The reality is that when you are hired, cases will be in all stages of maturity: just beginning, just ending, somewhere in the middle. It is always important therefore to emphasize qualities like "fast learner" or "quick study" or "eager to learn new material" during the job interview.

Interviewing and Investigating a lawsuit

The initial phase of a lawsuit is spent gathering information, finding facts, determining issues, and orienting the dispute. You sit down and determine all the potential sources of information and evidence. Places, institutions, names, addresses, businesses, and locations will become paramount as you begin to create a fact pattern of information. Paralegals in the beginning of a lawsuit will contact hospitals, law officers, public entities containing records (from heating bills to criminal records), secretaries of state, county sheriffs, attorney generals' offices, businesses, individuals, and any person or entity which could hold information or evidence. Recordkeeping, tracking details, and following through are all important talents to emphasize during the interview.

Skip tracing (the act of finding people who don't want to be found) and directory searching are good skills to have. Fill your Rolodex with phone numbers. In the beginning, get help from fellow workers. Remember, you do not have to reinvent the wheel-people in your firm will have done investigation before, so use them as a resource.

Early on, think about how you will number and classify your case documents. Look at some old case files and study how they have been organized and broken down. Use old systems if they work well. Do not be too much of a pioneer when it comes to file organization systems, but at the same time, if you are in charge and responsible, make your system as effective as possible.

Begin Summaries, Memos, Chronologies, and Docketing Systems There is nothing more visually effective than an early layout or graphic display of a case to give you a grasp of the issues and facts. Do not get too fancy or spend extra money unless requested to, but formalizing and ordering information in outlines, chronologies, simple graphs, and diagrams is a professional and thorough way of grappling with a new case.

Become familiar with your state's rules of civil procedure and discovery. If your firm has a computerized docketing system, insert your case into that system and keep your own docketing file for the case. Go through the complaint and the answer and determine the initial deadlines. As discovery orders are established, enter those dates on your docket; as motions are filed, enter response dates and dates for replies when necessary. Docket for your side and the other side. You should know when they are late! And you most certainly should prevent your side from making late filings by way of friendly memos.

Research and Writing

Your written presentations (resumes and cover letters) become the way you are judged and measured. So, too, your oral presentations (interviews and phone contacts and networking) are statements about you, your professionalism, and your education. In much the same way, your memos, correspondence, reports, and drafting all reflect upon you. People form strong negative and positive images of others before they meet them, by way of their work product. Take care to write clearly and well. Organize your thoughts. Do not carelessly frame your written communications. You will be judged by them.


Create witness files, and file every single communication you have with those witnesses in those files. Paralegals are often asked to meet with clients and assemble all client documents. It is at this time when you will get a look at privileged documents and documents that will fall under relevancy questions.

As documents are produced, you will see an astonishing array of filing that will automatically be created. New rules are designed to simplify document production and discovery issues, but it still lies at the paralegal's door to know:
  • what documents came to us from them and when
  • what documents were not sent to us when requested by us
  • what documents were sent to them and when
  • what documents were not sent to them and why
  • what further information would be important to know

Hopefully, you will be involved in the formulation of the discovery plan. With new rules of discovery on the scene, be aware of local adaptations and permutations in your state and understand the rules regarding discovery. You will be asked to assist in the preparation of requests for admissions, production of documents, interrogatories, and discovery motions. You will certainly be involved in organizing, assembling, reviewing, and labeling documents pertaining to these matters.


Depositions are complicated because you are attempting to stage pretrial get-togethers in which everyone must be represented. Depositions are crucial because they can be used as evidence, and they can be fraught with tension. But when someone does not show up, the pretrial get-together must be canceled, and everyone is irritated. So there is much work for the paralegal here. First, the initial work is all on the phone. Everyone must agree on times and places and participants. Then . . .
  1. prepare subpoenas and notices of deposition
  2. help draft potential deposition questions
  3. attend depositions (if requested) and take notes
  4. get copies of depositions and summarize them according to firm/attorney format
  5. follow up on need for depositions with attorneys as deadlines approach

If interstate travel is involved, all of these previous points become even more problematic. Logistics is everything with depositions. Remember: Original Depositions must be kept and filed for potential use in trial.

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 19, 2013

By CEO and Founder - BCG Attorney Search left
( 35 votes, average: 4 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.