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We asked attorneys and paralegals throughout the country what questions a paralegal should ask before being hired at a law firm. They provided straightforward and useful advice that a potential paralegal should ask their employers. We hope you enjoy their responses.
Probably the most important question a paralegal, and frankly any potential employee at a law firm, should ask is 'why did the [the lawyer who the paralegal will be working for] get into law/this type of law.' Typically the best people to work for are the ones who enjoy their jobs and don't just do them for the money. Grumpy people are not good bosses. Paralegals often have a rough time because they are expected to work long hours and learn very quickly. A bad boss can be the difference between heaven and hell so find out how passionate the lawyer is and you'll find out if it's a good fit for you!
-Michael Chasin, J.D., M.B.A.
Co-Founder - LawKick http://www.lawkick.com
Here are a few questions a paralegal should ask:
Who had this position before me and what were the qualities about them that you found most valuable?
How are paralegals assigned work?
What is the firm's philosophy regarding technology?
Is the paralegal program a profit center?
Have paralegals been promoted into other positions within the firm?
Tell me the level of assignment for a (entry) (mid-level) (senior) paralegal.
What is the ratio of paralegals to attorneys?
Where do I go if I have questions?
Do paralegals work with senior partners?
(For in-house legal departments): How many paralegals have been promoted to Vice-President?
(For in-house legal departments): Does the legal dept. work separately from other departments?
Does the firm handle pro bono work? If so, are paralegals involved?
Can you describe a typical assignment?
If the senior partners retire, does the firm carry on?
Is there cross-training available in other specialties?
Why and how long has this position open? How many people have had this position in the past 5 years?
How is my performance evaluated?
What are the most important duties in this position?
President and Co-Founding Member
The Organization of Legal Professionals www.theolp.org
What is the anticipated turn-around time for the majority of the projects that I will be assigned to complete?
Are there any expectations for me to contribute to the firm in non-traditional paralegal roles? Such as, assisting with marketing/client generation efforts; management/training of new employees; etc.
Note: I have formed these questions from the perspective of a solo practitioner/small law firm. Often, paralegals working in such work environments take on a greater role in the overall firm's management and success.
-Nesha Q.S. Wright
The Spencer Wright Law Firm, LLC www.spencer-wright.com
As a former paralegal, I worked for a variety of different lawyers, and my role varied slightly for each of them. Case size, deadlines, and availability of support staff all affected my duties, but honestly the biggest factor was my superior's personality. Some lawyers just have different expectations than others. One attorney basically asked me to do everything for him short of show up in court. Another mistook me for her secretary, and had me making copies and indexing pleadings.
If you're a paralegal who's on the job hunt, make sure you address expectations. This is crucial. In the interview, ask an attorney what he or she would require from you during a typical case. Check that your ideas align with theirs. Normal duties include drafting discovery, preparing motions, creating exhibit tabs, etc. If possible, talk to other paralegals at the firm to get a clearer, and perhaps more accurate picture of the paralegal job. If you're still uncertain, consider the size of the firm. Smaller companies with less staff will most likely ask you to do more critical, high-level tasks. Meanwhile larger companies may off-load more tedious research on you that would otherwise go to a secretary or file clerk, at least in the beginning.
Along these lines, you should ask about hours. Most firms will easily consume forty hours per week, and ask for overtime. This is ideal if you're eager or looking to make as much money as possible. But keep in mind that burn out is not uncommon. To some degree, you're doing the work of a lawyer, putting in similar hours, but getting paid less. If high quality of life is a priority, you might want to avoid a firm with massive cases (and big firms in general).
Will this position have room for advancement and, if so, how much?
Without question, the biggest dissatisfaction expressed by potential new paralegal hires with previous legal employment is a lack of 'who is in charge' in the previous office and a lack of ability to advance his or her career.
LawCrossing is great at picking up all of the legal listings everywhere across the internet. I could have gone to three different sites to search, but you had them all on your site. That was extremely helpful. LawCrossing is a one stop shop!