I am often asked about the differences between being an in-house paralegal and a paralegal in a private law office. One of the main difference is the fact that the client is the firm. The lawyers in a corporation represent the firm. This is actually a difficult concept to get used to.
As in-house paralegals, most of our work is pretty mundane. There isn’t a lot of variety. Most of our day is spent either responding to subpoenas, demands for documents, third party request, request for financial information from the various government entities, responding to tax levies, etc. The work is varied but it tends to be routine. There is the occasional exciting case but that is not not the norm.
As in any law office each paralegal has one or two specialities. Some handle all the government subpoeanas, some handle third party subpoenas or demand for documents (most of you are very familiar with these…. these are the requests that you send us when you are getting discovery together for your cases). As I have mentioned earlier, as in-house paralegals we (I’m an in-house paralegal) are hired by the firm and therefore the firm is our one and only client. When the legal department receives a request for the government (SEC, FBI, etc…) obviously, we want to cooperate as best as we can and as expediently as possible. The paralegal in this position is normally the one who has the most tight deadlines as obviously the government is working on time sensitive matters. Normally, these requests are very routine but there is the occasional time when we, the paralegals, are asked for information that we may have never heard of or are not even sure they exist. In these particular cases we can go outside of the legal department and find someone in the business (one of the other employees of the firm) who can explain what a particular report is and how we can get it. We have to be careful as to not share the content of the government request because, remember, the client is the firm and we are still bound by attorney client privilege. Under no circumstances should you ever get another employee, a business, involved in a conversation with a requesting party.
Operational people can be very technical and some have a hard time explaining what things are and how they work to someone who does not know the systems. To make matters even more complicated, outside parties often do not know what it is that they are looking for and therefore, cannot formulate the questions or the requests in a manner that we understand what they are looking for.
In an in-house department we are a team and that is what I try to instill in my paralegal team. Use everything at your disposal when you are responding to any type of request. Use the knowledge of other paralegals before you go outside of the department where, without meaning to, you may say something you are not supposed to be saying or share some information that you are not allowed to reveal. If the above fails, then I suggest you go to the requesting party. Try to find out what it is that they are looking for. Sometimes, if you know what the case is about you can make suggestions as to what types of information would best assist the requesting party. Sometimes the requesting party may be asking for something that at first glance looks really easy to produce. However, when you really think about it, it may take days, sometimes even months to be able to create a report that would extract the information being requested. However, there may be something else that could respond to the question just the same without wasting so many hours of manual work.
Moral of this story: Use your team. Share your story. Be aware that different people working on different issues may have another perspective which may help you produce the desired results.