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We asked two paralegals in the United States what a paralegal should know before being hired. Both paralegals have extensive experience and provided useful advice for paralegals and students thinking about entering their profession. We hope you enjoy their responses.
As a senior post-conviction paralegal for a small law firm in Richmond, Virginia, and a prior hiring manager, I believe that behind every great attorney is a good paralegal. Before a paralegal is hired, she must know the importance of a good character, exhibit good listening skills and have empathy for the law firm's diverse clientele. The kindness of a paralegal and her gaining insight into the ins and outs of a case are second to none. Paralegals assist their attorneys in litigating cases; they know not only the facts, but also the faces behind the case numbers. From my experience, when a client is able to be treated with respect, regardless of the reasons for needing an attorney, and shown kindness through professionalism, he is then willing to divulge case details to the paralegal without fear of reproach, which then assists the attorney in being able to prepare the best case possible, and also helps the client to know that his case is indeed in good hands.
A good paralegal is proficient and efficient, knowledgeable in case law research, and able to work under the direction of an attorney (even when little direction is given). She exhibits professionalism at all costs, and is diligent in fulfilling her tasks by assisting her attorney in communicating with the courts and clients. Although paralegals are often overlooked, their importance cannot be denied. Their due diligence, unwavering character and heart push them forward, allowing them to support their attorneys and assist the firm's clients to the best of their abilities.
When applying for a paralegal position, it's valuable to obtain some form of degree in the general legal field. In addition, you should have a few years of experience within the legal field of which you are applying. Once you've been asked to come in for an interview, do some research on the company and the attorney you're looking to work for.
To increase your chances of employment as a paralegal, you may want to familiarize yourself with court rules and procedures. Especially when it comes to filing: how many copies to supply and what the filing fees are. In some cases, the court may handle all filings online, and you must be able to file items within the court's online filing system. You must know the timeline of response time and the structure of what items need to be filed in sequence with others. Furthermore, you should understand the concept of legal research and how cases and rules are organized within the legal database or within legal literature.
If you do work as a paralegal, you must calendar all of the deadlines and hearing dates correctly, and should give yourself plenty of time to prepare for upcoming events and double check your work. If you're ever unsure, ask your attorney and never approach your attorney with a question without a pen and paper ready.