Whether you are drafting your first cover letter, or you are looking to maximize your usefulness for your current employer, we have you covered with this list of 15 skills that are most sought after in today’s paralegal.
As a paralegal you might not be representing anyone in court, but not a day will go by when you do not have to contact a client, allocate tasks to other team members, or update a lawyer on the status of a matter.
The value of clear, friendly and to-the-point verbal communication cannot be overestimated, and is one of the skills most valued by employers.
No matter what field of law your work in, document drafting responsibilities almost always fall to the paralegal first.
A good grasp of syntax, grammar and punctuation, as well as the ability to structure your thoughts clearly will give your employer the confidence to let you communicate with clients and tackle important pleadings and correspondence.
The average law office is a place where huge reams of paper disappear and never sees the light of day again. Unless you have the luxury of a job in a workplace that has gone digital, be ready to be a filing god (or goddess).
Lawyers and law firms rely on paralegals to know where things are. You are the last line of defense against the paper jungle, and if you can’t find that really important letter from a client that came in last week, chances are that no one else will either.
Time Management Skills
Good time management means that you get things done on time (preferably early). It also means that you help your lawyer and your team to get things done on time.
Managing your own schedule and that of your lawyer should be a priority, and if you can demonstrate your ability to achieve this (no-one is saying it is easy), you can transform a chaotic, stressful work environment into a significantly more productive one.
Knowledge Of Specific Field
Most paralegal positions do not demand a specialized knowledge of any particular area of law, but that does not mean that you should not brush up on your knowledge before your interview or your first day on the job.
At least a cursory knowledge of the field, including key terms, documents, laws and processes is essential. Beware of being a burden that needs teaching, and try to become an asset that can start adding value to the team immediately. In addition, the industry as a whole is becoming more specialized, so having knowledge of specific fields will certainly increase your value.
Despite the paper jungle comment above, law firms today depend on technology just as much as they depend on coffee. At the very minimum you need to know how to use words processors like MS Word, as well as PDF and Excel.
Try and familiarize yourself with a corporate size printer before you start working too. You also need to know how to use search engines, and will become increasingly attractive to employers if you have experience working with document discovery and review systems, billing systems and document management software.
Paralegal jobs are simply not cut out for hermits, or for abrasive personalities.
Being easy to work with, a good communicator, and capable of delegating and working with others to meet deadlines is a must have skill. You may also be called upon to interact with vendors, contractors and other partners.
Be open to hearing other viewpoints while maintaining your own best instincts.
When you work as a paralegal you quickly become familiar with the never-ending to-do list. Managing that to-do list is your job, and it almost never means starting from the top and working downwards.
Knowing what is important is sometimes difficult when first starting out in a new job, but being able to make decisions about what tasks most need doing will save you many a late night at the office trying to finish what is urgently needed for that inquisition tomorrow morning.
Detail Orientation Skills
Whether it is correcting spelling in draft correspondence, checking figures in transactions, or even spotting the inconsistencies in medical reports, law almost always comes down to the details.
Get used to checking, double-checking and triple-checking everything, and you will become an indispensable asset to your team.
Knowledge Of Court Procedures & Rules
Most lawyers do not have time to file documents with the court, or double check to ensure that service of documents takes place as it should. Furthermore, they usually only have the time to explain the process once.
Save yourself from making mistakes or asking the same question ten times, and do some research. Learn how to file documents, what information needs to be included, and the requirements for correspondence with clients and other lawyers.
Keeping a professional demeanor at work and behaving ethically is essential to upholding the standards of the paralegal industry as a whole, and to maintaining the reputation of your employer.
Unethical behavior and misconduct is taken very seriously in the legal profession, and it is important to familiarize yourself with these standards and always adhere to them.
One of the unspoken rules for paralegals is that they must always be one step ahead of the lawyer they work with or their team. That means knowing the schedule inside out, filing documents as soon as they come in, having a client’s file ready for your lawyer to skim at least thirty minutes before a meeting.
If you want to be a great paralegal, you need to anticipate the needs of your team.
To continue on from the point about foresight, the ideal paralegal will also show some initiative in getting things done.
Although there are some tasks that should never be done without a lawyer’s approval (sending advice to a client for example), only completing the work that you are assigned can have an awful effect on workplace productivity. If you see that something should be done, or if a problem needs solving, show some initiative and fix it.
Most employers will appreciate that paralegals have a life to lead outside of the workplace and will do their best to accommodate that.
That being said, there will be times when normal work hours simply will not suffice to prepare for trial or complete document discovery within a given timeframe. At these times a little flexibility will go a long way.
If you have all 15 of these skills accounted for, you will be ready to take on the challenging, fun and rewarding world of paralegal-ling. If not, now is never too late to get started on transforming yourself into the ideal paralegal.
Please include attribution to jplps.com with this graphic.