The primary job of a paralegal is to lighten the workload of their attorney. Your paralegal can be an invaluable asset to your practice if you are using their skills correctly. You can have them review and organize client files, conduct factual and legal research, review and summarize discovery, draft pleadings and discovery notices, interview clients and witnesses, and assist at hearings and trials. They can provide more client support so you can focus on the case, and your client will still feel well taken care of. There are specifically banned activities for paralegals, such as giving legal advice, representing a client in court, and drafting a legal document for anyone other than the supervising attorney. Bus & P C §6450(b).
Now that you know what sort of tasks your paralegal can and cannot assist you with, here are some tips to get the best work product from your paralegal:
Provide background information.
Your paralegal cannot read your mind. If you tell them about the case and how this project will fit into the overall dynamic of it, they will better understand their assignment. They may also find something in the discovery that you had not seen or appreciated before.
Always give a timeline on when you need the assignment done and how much time they should spend on the task.
If you are not clear about the priority and deadline needed for the assignment, your paralegal will not know how to fold it into their other case work and give you back something when you need it. You should also tell them how much time they should spend on the assignment. Paralegals bill at a lower rate than the attorney, but they still bill their time. If you set a limit on how much time they can spend, you won’t go over your client’s budget and possibly have to eat those billable hours later.
Encourage them to share ideas.
Your paralegal can look at the case from a different view point than you. Paralegals are investigative by nature. You should encourage an atmosphere that has free and open communication. If they feel that they can share an opinion without criticism they may provide you with some knowledge that may assist the case.
Give them feedback.
After they complete the assignment, let them know how they did and if they can improve on certain parts. Paralegals love feedback. If you celebrate their accomplishments and encourage them they will become more productive and produce their best work.
Work as a team.
Your paralegal should feel like they are a valued member of your team, not just a subordinate who completes tasks. If you work as a cohesive unit, both you and your paralegal will be more productive and successful and achieve the best legal result for your client.
About the Author:
Amy Jo McGuigan is the senior paralegal for Swanson & McNamara, and the paralegal section’s vice-chair.