A desire to help others and interest in the law is not the only thing that will make you a truly exceptional paralegal. It takes a lot of hard work to succeed, but it also takes a set of skills that make one candidate stand out amongst the rest in the work environment. These qualities are what attorneys look for when hiring that one person who will be considered their right-hand man.
Organizational skills are key. Paralegals handle the majority of the paperwork and files involved in each case, and if these are not kept in an organized and efficient manner, that reflects badly on the attorney. In family law matters, attorneys rely on their paralegals to accumulate evidence on the marriage assets and debts, all of this information needs to be collected and entered in accurately in order to divide property with the dissolution of marriage. No attorney wants to come to court missing a vital piece of evidence because something was misplaced from the file. Further, being able to stay organized while working on several files at once is important as paralegals are expected to maintain a log of their time spent on each case for billing purposes, but also, paralegals are expected to be able to work on more than one case each day. Being able to pull a specific case out at a moment’s notice is important as many emergencies pop up in cases that require immediate attention. Not being able to locate the file or put aside the other work you are completing does nothing to help the attorney in the long run.
The attorney needs to be able to get a hold of the paralegal, as does the client. Being available in the office is of great importance. Clients regularly contact the paralegal as the main point of communication and it is important that line of communication remain open. Attorneys also need to be able to reach their paralegal in the office during business hours should they need a document sent to court or filed immediately or a client contacted on an emergency basis. If you are not able to be available, keep that line of communication open. Be sure to let the attorney know you will not be available rather than simply not being available with no notice.
Be dependable. You are considered the attorney’s “right-hand,” and he or she needs to know that you can be relied on when push comes to shove. The attorney needs to know that if you are given a task, that task will be completed in a timely manner and also correctly and professionally. It might seem like a small thing, but the ability to proofread and spellcheck your documents before submitting them to the attorney goes a long way.
If any confusion exists about a task you are given, be able to speak up and ask for clarification. This requires a level of confidence and assertiveness that cannot be taught in the classroom. You may feel that an attorney will not want to be bothered with a question, but that minor interruption pales in comparison to a major error in an assignment, negatively affecting a case.
The ability to be empathetic and understanding with clients is of importance as well, especially in family law matters. Attorneys rely on referrals, and no one will want to continue working with an attorney’s office or refer someone to his or her attorney after having a negative experience with the office staff. Keep in mind that to that person their legal case is the most important thing in his or her life and it should be treated as such by everyone in the office.
These skills are not necessarily ones listed on a résumé but are shown through the work product produced by the paralegal. Actions speak louder than words, and these skills, shown through your actions, will go a long way.
Center for Advanced Legal Studies: http://www.paralegal.edu