Are you interested in the law? You might flourish as a paralegal. Though many people associate the term "paralegal" with "legal secretary," this is far from accurate. Paralegals perform many of the same duties as lawyers, except representing clients in court, signing pleadings, or taking depositions. While a paralegal's work must be reviewed and approved by a lawyer, their work is vital in the legal arena. If you're interested in what goes on behind the scenes of a court trial and you enjoy researching legal topics, exploring paralegal jobs could provide a rewarding future. University of the Cumberlands can help you achieve that goal.
Why Lawyers and Paralegals Need Each Other
So, what can a paralegal do? According to the American Bar Association, it's a long list. In and out of the office, paralegals assist lawyers in many ways, including:
- Reviewing and organizing client files
- Conducting legal research
- Preparing legal documents
- Drafting discovery notices and pleadings
- Assisting with closings and trials
- Interviewing witnesses
- Talking with clients
As a paralegal, you'll have expert knowledge of how the court system operates and understand what information is vital in proving or disproving a case. This knowledge and experience are priceless to a law firm because it helps lighten the attorney’s workload.
1. Make the First Contact with Clients
As a paralegal, you'll often act as a liaison between the client and the lawyer. This is helpful to the attorney and gives the client a familiar face and a voice to call when they have questions regarding their case. You'll likely help expedite communications between other participants in the case, including witnesses, insurance claims adjustors, investigators, and even court officials.
In this role, you'll need stellar communication skills and the ability to help clients feel at ease. Your ability to build rapport with others will factor into your success as a paralegal. The more information you can coax from clients, witnesses, and the like, the more invaluable you'll become to the law firm that employs you.
2. Manage Client Communication
Most clients who hire the services of an attorney or law firm do so because they feel they have no other recourse. However, this doesn't mean they have a keen understanding of the law or what's required of them. This is the job of the paralegal.
In this role, you'll be responsible for supporting clients throughout every step of the process, from first contact to the resolution of their case. This means you'll explain what will happen at each stage. At the same time, you'll actively try to gather as much information as possible from the client and supporting characters.
It's often up to the paralegal to pry information from clients that they'd rather not share. They may be too embarrassed or scared to give a completely accurate account of what happened. As a paralegal, it will be your job to read the room and to find ways of building the trust and rapport required for clients to open up to you regarding essential elements of the case.
3. Provide Case Management Services
There's a lot of work involved in managing a court case. And while it will be the attorney’s job to represent the client in court, it's often the paralegal's job to manage aspects of the case leading up to trial. This may include retaining medical experts, providing them with the necessary information, and facilitating meetings between them and the client. It may also entail managing investigators as they track down reluctant witnesses or prepping the client to testify. Much of the case preparation falls on the shoulders of paralegals. Therefore, you'll need to be able to build relationships, perform expert research, and explain complicated legal terms in an understandable way. This, in turn, will contribute to the best possible outcome for your client.
4. Manage Discovery Documents
Discovery is the process of gathering and sharing information before the trial. Both sides are entitled to discovery documents. This is intended to prevent one side or the other from being surprised in court by witnesses or information of which they were unaware. It helps keep the legal process fair and impartial, as everyone knows what's coming, and both have ample time to explain or refute it. Discovery evidence may include:
- Client or witness depositions
- Written transcripts
- Police reports
- Employment files
Most information pertaining to the lawsuit or case is eligible for discovery. However, there are privacy acts in place that limit what is and isn't relevant. It's up to the paralegal to sort, manage, and prepare these items so they can be quickly produced when needed. Strong time management and organization skills will serve you well as a paralegal.
5. Prepare Legal Documents
Paralegals can also prepare or produce documents related to the legal process, including emails, briefs, agreements, motions, resolutions, and contracts. For this reason, you'll need clear, concise writing skills and an ability to convey information well in written form.
As a paralegal, you will likely perform at least a portion of the investigative services required. This may include:
- Internet research
- Taking photographs of property damage
- Documenting accident scenes
- Retrieving police reports
- Photographing client injuries
- Retrieving hospital records
You'll be responsible for much of the prep work that helps the case proceed to trial. You'll be involved from the beginning through to the end. And your research may even be a deciding factor in whether the lawyer decides to take the case.
7. Conduct Legal Research
Paralegal jobs involve a lot of research. In fact, it may take up the majority of your time. Any research you can conduct is less research the lawyers will have to perform, freeing up their time to work on the legal aspects of the case. Paralegals must be team players willing to work long hours on tasks that are sometimes monotonous to affect a better outcome for the client.
8. Assist with Closings and Trials
Paralegals assist lawyers with closings and trials too. You may be the one who sets up exhibits inside the courtroom or prepares and issues subpoenas. Paralegal jobs include assisting in the jury process as well. You may lend a hand in researching and evaluating potential jurors to help the lawyer decide whether they're acceptable.
After the trial concludes, you'll likely assist at settlement as well. You may prepare documents for signing, create distribution statements, and compose checklists for negotiation. Through it all, you'll continue to act as a liaison between the law firm and all interested parties.
9. Increase the Efficiency of the Law Firm
The overall objective of paralegal jobs is to increase the efficiency of the entire process. You'll be a load lifter, handling much of the preparatory work needed for trial. This helps lawyers and law firms in countless ways. The many tasks you'll perform will all work together to achieve a common goal.
10. Increase Profitability
In general, paralegals assist lawyers every step of the way. As a result, they increase the profitability of the law firm. Cases that are well-researched and well-documented are easier to win. They may lead to larger settlements, which means a bigger slice of the pie for the firm. They may also lead to repeat work from large corporations or organizations.
As a paralegal, you can expect an exciting, dynamic career that's rarely dull. Most of your time may be spent in a comfortable office or courtroom, where you can showcase your skills and specialized knowledge of the legal system. If you think a career as a paralegal might be right for you, we invite you to consider the online Associate of Applied Science in Paralegal Studies offered by University of the Cumberlands in Kentucky.
Our online paralegal associate degree offers flexible scheduling and may help you gain an entry-level position as a paralegal. You'll learn about our judicial and criminal justice systems and gain valuable experience in legal writing and terminology, among other important skills. Call today for more information.