When it comes to the legal profession, most people think of lawyers and judges. What they probably don’t think about are all the people who make things happen behind the scenes. One of those people is the paralegal. The paralegal is essentially the backbone of any legal operation, whether in the office or the courtroom.
Paralegals perform an invaluable service to their employers and to the communities in which they serve. Although they go relatively unseen in the public’s eyes, they are very much at the forefront of any legal operation. Without them, legal offices would struggle to keep up the workload.
What is a Paralegal? What do they do?
First, regarding the paralegal job description, they are not lawyers. They cannot argue cases in a court of law nor can they dispense legal advice. To do so would require extensive legal education and training, including the passing of the Bar Exam.
However, the paralegal job description includes most of the day-to-day tasks once done by attorneys. Due to ever increasing caseloads within our court system, there became a need for a professional class of legal workers who could perform these daily tasks. That is where the paralegal comes in.
Paralegals primarily perform the function of being a legal assistant to attorneys. They execute a wide array of services to support those attorneys. Working side-by-side with employers and clients, they deliver a valued and meaningful service. The paralegal job description often includes:
Interviewing clients and witnesses—A paralegal may conduct follow-up interviews with witnesses and clients after the attorney has determined the legal issues at stake in an initial consultation. Many times, the paralegal will be present to take minutes to summarize the testimony. A paralegal can also spend time trying to locate potential witnesses to corroborate information.
Conducting legal research from case law, statutes and legal publications—Preparing for court proceedings is a large piece of the paralegal job description. They must perform extensive legal research of laws, legal decisions and articles in professional journals. A paralegal may find themselves spending many hours in a law library.
Preparing court documents and drafting legal correspondence such as contracts—A paralegal will spend a substantial portion of their workday writing legal briefs, complaints, subpoenas and deposition orders. A paralegal will become familiar with the various forms that must be filed with the courts during the progression of a case. Filing court documents in a prompt manner is an important part of the duties.
Help gather relevant evidence for presentation as exhibits in a court of law—Court proceedings are considered a “search for the truth” and documents and evidence that are relevant are vital to a jury to find the truth. A paralegal will continually assist the case lawyer in maintaining and organizing relevant evidence for presentation in court. Sometimes there will be a paralegal present during a trial to help the attorney with evidence and documents.
Law Office Administration—A paralegal job description includes most of the administrative tasks of keeping a law office functioning. They will find themselves fielding telephone calls, and maintaining the office files in a paper and digital format. A paralegal will spend part of the day scheduling appointments with clients and other attorneys.
These are just some of the daily tasks expected of a paralegal as they help lawyers prepare for trials and depositions. Because of the ever increasing demand for legal services, tasks once reserved for lawyers has become a unique profession all its own, which alleviates day-to-day attorney workloads so they can do what they do best—litigate.
Skills of the Paralegal
Many of the skills required come from experience and education. There are some skills that are innate to each particular individual. A paralegal must be able to handle deadlines, which requires them to be highly organized. Deadlines are a crucial part of the legal system. Unmet deadlines can result in the dismissal of a case, which could cost a law firm monetarily.
They must be able to handle pressure in a variety of situations. While deadlines and multitasking can create stress, dealing with clients and witnesses can be a very emotional experience for those asking for justice. Discretion is a must for the paralegal when dealing with clients and attorneys.
The world of the paralegal is not a dead-end career. It is a highly prestigious and worthy field of endeavor. The training and experience in this area make a paralegal an indispensable part of the legal profession.