Paralegals are professionals trained to assist lawyers in various legal capacities. Paralegal duties entail more responsibility than clerical tasks, and fall into a broad range of substantive legal work. Paralegals conduct factual and legal research, draft legal documents, work with clients, and manage cases. Many paralegals are involved in challenging and exciting assignments that would otherwise be performed by lawyers, but paralegals may not provide legal services directly to the public unless permitted by law.
While paralegals work independently most days, the paralegal profession is a people-oriented profession. Paralegals may work in teams with one or more lawyers, paralegals, and legal administrative assistants as well as communicate with clients, witnesses, and court personnel.
Excellent oral and written communication skills are the key to becoming a great paralegal. Precision in language is a goal. Paralegals must be able to think on their feet, and give or write a complete thought or sentence in a clear, grammatically – correct sentence. Also, computer skills are very important in this stimulating field particularly knowledge of the Microsoft Office products, case management systems, e-filing and e-discovery, and good keyboarding and organizational abilities.
Lawyers often can deliver legal services more efficiently and economically with the aid and experience of paralegals, who are also called legal assistants. Paralegals can help gather and manage large amounts of data to assist the lawyer to produce better quality work under pressure.
Attending our American Bar Association (ABA) approved paralegal program is critical to gain the required skills and education to be successful as a paralegal.
Attributes of a Successful Paralegal
Pamela Packard, a paralegal and member of American Association for Paralegal Education, formulated the attributes with other seasoned paralegals in Oregon, and Charlotte DesHotels, Program Coordinator at LSU Paralegal Studies Program with contributions from William Goren, and Sally Dahlquist, Inver Hills Community College.
Here is the list of paralegal attributes.
- High personal standards and positive work ethics
- Self confidence – persistence, assertiveness, initiative, and a self-starter
- Intellectual curiosity – dedication to continuing education and skill development, and a “need to know”
- Analytical skills – ability to identify the problem, to collect, organize, review, evaluate, and draw conclusions, and to develop strategies
- Organizational skills – systems orientation, ability to conceptualize and prioritize, and time management skills
- Detailed oriented – passion for accuracy, and follow-through
- Oral communication skills
- Written communication skills – command of grammar and the English language
- Interpersonal “people” skills – team player
- Common sense and good judgment
- Research skills – legal research and factual investigation
- Computer Skills – knowledge of word processing, spread sheet, database, presentation software, litigation support, and internet
- Desire and willingness to work in the legal area
- Ability to multitask
- Ability to work under pressure to meet deadlines
- Participation in Pro Bono work
- Ability to speak a second language but not required
- Do not provide legal services to the public unless permitted by law. A paralegal instinctively knows when to let the attorney take the lead on legal matters and when an action would constitute the unauthorized and illegal practice of law.
Paralegal Career Aptitudes and Interests
Students who choose the paralegal career should:
- Enjoy working in a professional atmosphere
- Have above-average written and oral communication skills
- Be detail-oriented
- Enjoy working with people
- Be organized and analytical
- Be able to produce quality work under pressure
- Have or can easily acquire computer and word processing skills
Paralegal Work Duties
Paralegal duties will vary with the employer but generally involve:
- Assisting attorneys, also known as lawyers, with research
- Searching and checking public records
- Interviewing clients, witnesses and others
- Collecting, retrieving, and analyzing information
- Reviewing medical records
- Preparing legal documents and arguments
- Summarizing depositions and other documents
- Preparing briefs and pleadings
- Drafting discovery documents
- Managing and organizing cases
- Assisting attorneys with trial and its preparation
- Drafting wills, deeds and trusts
- Assisting with estates in probate, including estate tax returns
Obtain Computer Skills Independently
It is strongly recommended that paralegal students obtain computer skills independently as these classes are not part of the program. The ability to use the keyboard and word processing, spreadsheet and presentation software are basic skills needed in the paralegal profession. Feel free to plan early with a counselor or program director.
ABA Standing Committee on Paralegals
Go to the ABA’s website to find more career information. Click on career and scroll to the bottom of the page to find a wonderful brochure about becoming a paralegal!
American Bar Association Definition
The ABA defines are paralegal as follows:
“A legal assistant or paralegal is a person, qualified by education, training, or work experience who is employed or retained by a lawyer, law office, corporation, governmental agency or other entity and who performs specifically delegated substantive legal work for which a lawyer is responsible.”
The National Association of Legal Assistants
National Federal of Paralegals, Inc.
Minnesota Paralegal Association