What Makes a Good Paralegal????

Today I was asked a great question by one of my readers. “What makes a good paralegal?” Hmmm, simple question and yet I have no words to explain it. Imagine me at a loss for words.

I don’t want to leave this reader thinking that I am ignoring the question. So I kept thinking about this most of the night. So far this is what I have: in my humble opinion… Ok, not so humble. Being humble is not one of my best qualities. I can’t even fake it :). I’m a good paralegal, in fact, I have at times felt that I am a great paralegal. Why is that? Well, I think it’s because I know who I am and what I do. I take pride in my work and my biggest accomplishment is making my attorney look good. I don’t particularly care for the spotlight. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t mind it when it is on me. However, when I walk into the office my focus is how to make my attorneys’ life easier.

So how do I accomplish that? I work long hours. Not necessarily in the office. I often take work home and continue my research or file organization while sitting in front of the television. If I am tasked with finding a particular case on Lexis I will stop at nothing to find it. Sometimes it’s not there, but I don’t give up until I have exhausted all possibilities. I call Lexis, I ask questions. There is a free service for subscribers where a Lexis customer service representative, often an attorney, will help you find what you’re looking for. I use all that’s at my disposal. If, in fact, there is nothing, I often find other cases that may be helpful. I read all of them. I highlight important points for my attorney and then take the time to summarize them. I’m not always asked to do this but I understand that an attorney’s time is limited and anything I can do is appreciated.

If I’m doing a document review or organizing a file, in my opinion these two tasks are often the most boring and mundane of a paralegal’s job, I take the time to learn every little bit of information. I take notes. You never know when you’re going to find something that had been overlooked when the documents first came in. My notes then go into a folder labeled “paralegal notes.” when the attorney gets the file for review my notes often are a summary of the case where I highlight important points. It may seem like a mundane task and unnecessary but it can be a time saver for the attorney. That is always the goal. Serving the client by ensuring that the lawyer has the time to concentrate on the law and not have to read every piece of pap are in the file.

I make calendar notes. Some people call this a tickler system. I have one for myself and one for my attorney. I have worked with attorneys who remember every date but I have also worked with attorneys who don’t even remember their names, at times. I don’t discriminate. I will remind both of all dates whether they like it or not. That is my job. I am the master of the file and the first line of defense for my attorney. Missing a filing date may not be the end of the case, but it will cost the client more money if the attorney has to file a motion of call the adversary for extensions.

So, to summarize, I think each one of us is different. However, I think there are a few things that every good paralegal shares:

Curiosity – an innate need to get to the bottom of things and tell a story.
Attention to detail – remember that sometimes good enough is not always good. Take a second look, even a third. I promise you, you can always improve.
Organized – being able to find every piece of information in a file that has grown to be three drawers full. Making sure pleadings are filed when they need to be and discovery is propounded or responded on time.
Self-starter – not waiting for someone to tell you what to do. Just do it.
Writing skills – ability to tell a story from the thousands bits of information in the file.
Reading skills – I can spend hours reading case law or, in my case, very boring financial documents.
Research skills – being able to find the proverbial needle in the haystack. Can be the most tedious as well as the most gratifying job.
Patience – dealing with different personalities and cases.

Can you think of others? I’m sure this is not an exhaustive list.

5 thoughts on “What Makes a Good Paralegal????

  1. I am a litigation/trial paralegal and have found anticipating my attorney’s needs is a key skill. It can be providing relevant exhibits or depositions in preparation for the examination of a witness to putting together relevant materials in preparation for depositions to timely supplementing discovery.

  2. Great list! That about sums it up for me. If you’re doing all of that, you probably have a pretty good attitude, which is also important. I feel the same way you do about the spotlight – not important but I am happy to take credit for my work when its offered.

    Oh and a crystal ball would come in handy sometimes, but I have yet to find a reliable one. 🙂

  3. Great list and, glad to follow your blog. We need leaders like you to take initiatives like this. Now, to add couple things to your list:

    Staying ahead on technology: Looks like you are already there! Being tech savvy and understand how electronic world works, makes a huge difference in making a busy litigation paralegal like us stay on top of everything. Using technology and organization together, you can manage multiple complex cases with ease. Secondly, I would add delegation as another important piece. Being a perfectionist, it is hard to delegate projects when you are in the midst of trial or deposition, so have a detailed instruction ready, and if you delegate things that could be delegated, you could spend your time in more substantive work. Just a thought from fellow paralegal in Minnesota!! Again, great blog postings!!!

  4. this is really helpful! i’m perspective student of this field….I think I have the traits, which is probably the best things to start with before actual education. thank you!!

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