Being a paralegal is an enriching yet stressful career. I started my legal journey years ago in hopes of being an attorney one day. In this article, I will share with you what I have learned in my first year as a litigation paralegal.
1. Be Highly Organized
Being organized will be the key to being successful in this field. Most attorneys are highly stressed and expect you to be their left hand. You need to be able to have a quick answer to any question they ask you, and you can’t do so when you are disorganized.
I always have a spreadsheet of to-do lists with the assignment they gave, the location of the file, and updates on it. It will be a little hard to remember updates on cases when you handle 5+ attorneys and 100+ cases. Excel spreadsheets are going to be your best friend.
2. Ask Questions
Ask questions only after you have tried and exhausted all your resources. Attorneys do not like it when you ask a question you could have found the answer to in previous templates, past emails, instruction sheets, or other support staff.
For instance, let’s assume a partner asked you to draft a notice of hearing for the Doe v. Doe case, and you have never done it before. Don’t ask right away, “Oh, I’ve never done this before. Where should I start?” This is a really good way to get yourself in a very uncomfortable position.
First, go to the firm’s templates, and use one as a guide. If you can’t find a single one and you are absolutely lost, then ask one of the other litigation paralegals, and if there is no hope, go to the associate attorney if all else fails. Use your resources before you ask. Please do not spend 1+ hours trying to locate the template; ask, but do so wisely.
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3. Do Not Take Things Personally
That goes without saying that attorneys are incredibly stressed and may be harsh with words if you make silly mistakes. Use it as an opportunity to be more careful. Do not try to defend yourself if you actually made the mistake as it may make things worse. Just move on with it and use it as a learning opportunity.
Attorneys will forget it unless you make the mistake repeatedly. It is okay to be sensitive but do not let that affect your work product. Try to understand where the attorney is coming from and learn from your mistakes so you can become a valuable member of the firm.
4. Avoid Gossip
Gossiping, in general, leads to drama and a toxic work environment. Whenever you are placed in a situation of an attorney complaining about another attorney, paralegal, or administrator, just listen. Do not take sides, so words don’t travel around.
Try to control your facial and emotional reactions so it won’t look like you took one side over another. Avoid it as much as you can. The legal profession is a very small world, and words travel faster than you think. This can not only create a toxic work environment but ruins your professional reputation.
5. Maintain a Positive Attitude
The attorneys I have worked for have always complimented my positive attitude because it brought them a sense of peace and trust. It may be a little hard being positive in this field as you may have clients that will call you crying, three attorneys asking you to get an assignment done by an hour from now, and long court hold times.
However, you can always extract positivity out of them and maintain a positive attitude through it all. Sometimes it may weigh on you, and that’s okay. In this case, just take a deep breath and organize your list and find potential solutions to see where things went wrong. Being positive will take you far.
6. Calendar Everything
Do you want your attorney to continue flourishing in this field and not commit malpractice? Then make sure to calendar/docket everything. If an attorney misses a hearing due to a calendaring issue, the case may be dismissed, or the court may rule in favor of the opposing party and your client will end up getting an unfair ruling.
Calendar any hearing you are copied on an email, and calendar any court or deposition date you find on pleadings. Always check upcoming hearings on the court website to make sure everything is on the calendar and set multiple reminders for the attorney on the calendar.
7. Return All Missed Calls
Dedicate a time during the day to answer all calls you have missed. Sometimes they are essential calls from the court or a client that needs reassurance and updates on the case.
Returning them will ensure that you are on top of your cases and well-informed. Try to leave a voicemail if the returned call is answered.
8. Check All Attorney’s Calendars
Check the attorney’s calendars daily to make sure all hearings are set up if remote appearance is allowed, and if the case is still on the calendar. This will save the attorney time and will ensure a smooth start to the day.
Sometimes cases are continued per the tentative ruling that is posted on the court calendar, and it would be helpful if the calendar is updated, so attorneys don’t waste money and time attending the hearing. This will stress the attorney and creates a stressful environment.
9. Prioritize Tasks
Learn how to ensure that given assignments are being submitted timely and ensure that you are able to set a time to do each thing with as few extra distractions as possible. This will help create an assignment that is little to free from errors.
If you are not provided with a due date from the attorney, please ask and evaluate the time you will need to complete the project. Once you have a due date, place it on your list depending on the urgency and communicate with the attorney if it is merely impossible to complete it within the given time frame.
Communication is key!
Here are 3 Pro Tips for Paralegal Time Management.
10. Try To Take Your Lunch Break Away From the Desk
I always leave my Gmail status as inactive – on lunch whenever I take my lunch breaks. That way, attorneys are aware when I do not respond to them, and they won’t call me during my lunchtime. In order for you to support your attorneys, you need to support and take care of yourself first.
Use your lunchtime as a de-plug to eat and destress. It is much better to take it away from your desk as you are not as tempted to work while eating; if you have no other options, then mute your computer and bring your food to your desk and try to avoid your computer/files in the meantime. Your body will thank you.
Remember that you are a very important part of the firm and your presence matters a lot in this thankless field. I wish you the best in your first year as a litigation paralegal and hope these tips help you. Good luck!
Find out everything there is to know about becoming a litigation paralegal.
Meet the Author
Noor Haleem is a litigation paralegal at a real estate, bankruptcy, family, and business litigation firm. She started her legal career at Cuyamaca College where she majored in Paralegal Studies and studied business and psychology at San Diego State University. Noor worked as a marketing assistant and funding coordinator for several different law firms.
She loves being a paralegal and has hopes to attend law school in the near future. When she is not working, she likes to listen to music, cooks delicious meals, and spend quality time with loved ones.