10 Things Attorneys Look For in a Paralegal

What are the top paralegal skills?

    1. Attention to Detail
    2. Problem-solving
    3. Technology Skills
    4. Proactive Mindset
    5. Professionalism & Accountability
    6. Time Management
    7. Research Skills
    8. A Positive Attitude
    9. Communication Skills
    10. Organization Skills


You can watch the video or read below.

Do you want to know what are the top paralegal skills that attorneys look for in a paralegal?  Ask them! 

The easiest way to find out what attributes and skills your attorney values the most is to ask them. If that’s not possible, or if you’re new to the paralegal profession and wondering what the attorneys are expecting from you, here is a brief overview of what makes a great paralegal in the eyes of most attorneys.

Some paralegal skills can't be taught in a classroom.


paralegal skills in a class


1. Attention to detail

Having a high level of attention to detail is more than just good proofreading skills. As a paralegal, this skill includes focusing on minute details while also looking at the big picture. All of this while also meeting strict deadlines usually set by a judge, a court rule, or a regulation. Just like your other skills, attention to detail is a skill that you can continually improve. I know a lot of people think you’re either born with a high level of attention to detail, or you’re not.  That’s not true. There are most definitely things you can do to improve your attention to detail.

Pro Tip from an Attorney

Attorneys are not the grammar police. They are not doing that final review to find errors in headings, case captions, use of pronouns, or grammar. Attorneys are doing that final review for substance and to make sure the document or thing makes the legal argument they are trying to put forward to either the court, the client, or opposing counsel.

View this video post on attention to detail.


2. Problem-solving

A problem-solver is someone who focuses on the problem as stated and tries to synthesize information and knowledge to achieve a solution.  A boss explaining important paralegal skills to his assistantCompare that to someone who simply recognizes that a problem exists and reports the problem to the attorney-in-charge for them to solve.

The problem-solver paralegal recognizes a problem and comes up with one or two possible action steps to solve the problem. THEN approaches the attorney with the problem and the proposed solution(s). 

In fact, I did an entire podcast episode on this specific paralegal skill. It was episode number 15

Pro Tip from an Attorney

Before coming into my office with a problem, research the proposed solution and know the answers to at least some of the basic questions I am likely to ask you regarding the problem and your proposed solution: Who, What, When, Where, Why, and How.  How did this happen? When will it get fixed? What is the cost of your proposed solution?


3. Technology skills

Paralegals who have an advanced level of technology skills have a competitive advantage in the legal profession. This requires more than your basic word-processing applications. Working in the legal profession means having a good working knowledge of many different technologies, including:

  • Law firm billing software
  • Video conferencing software
  • Applications that work with scanners, printers, and copy machines
  • Docketing software
  • Digital filing applications
  • Online research tools
  • Document management systems
  • Online systems for clerks of court

That’s just the tip of the iceberg if you want to have a successful paralegal career. As a paralegal, you will also be required to have an advanced skill set in practice-specific technology, such as eDiscovery tools, trial technology, and applications that increase the efficiency of the legal team.

Pro Tip from an Attorney

Be the “Go-To Person” for technology on my team. Even though we have an IT department, they don’t always know the ins and outs of our team’s technology. That’s what I expect from our team’s paralegals.

Take our Free eDiscovery Masterclass


4. Proactive mindset

To some new paralegals, being proactive might sound like you are being asked to read an attorney’s mind. The lawyer will not expect you to read her mind, but she is probably looking for someone who is good at anticipating the needs of the file/case/transaction.

A paralegal with a proactive mindset prioritizes tasks so that they are done when the lawyer needs them done. You seek out work rather than waiting for the lawyer to hand it to you. You can tell when the lawyer is starting to become overwhelmed, and you know when to step in. In short, you think ahead.

The only way to be able to think ahead is to know your cases/transactions/files like the back of your hand. You must come up with a game plan on how you are going to keep up with everything that is going on in all of your files.  Doing so will allow you to know what the attorney needs well in advance of a deadline.

Pro Tip from an Attorney

I am never going to complain that my paralegal is being “too proactive” in getting to know the file, the facts of the case, or the details of the transaction. Some of the best paralegals I’ve worked with have been the ones who walk into my office a week before something is due and tell me they’ve already started drafting it.

Want to get a 3-Step Method to Proactive Case Management? Download the Free Guide.

5. Professionalism and accountability

A black woman in a grey suit and white shirt posing for a portraitSome paralegal skills can’t be taught in a classroom.

As a paralegal working under the direct supervision of an attorney, you are a representation of that attorney (and your law firm). In addition to having a basic code of professional conduct, there is also a certain level of professionalism that is expected of you – both at the office and outside the office. 

This also means staying away from the bad apples (a/k/a the office gossip crew) because attorneys and management know who they are. Even if you aren’t the one doing the gossiping or complaining, associating with them will lower your level of professionalism within the firm.

Along these same lines, is accountability.  Attorneys don’t like to have their staff blaming others for things going wrong, or making excuses.  They really just want the project or thing done so that they can move on to the next thing.

Pro Tip from an Attorney 

It doesn’t really matter whose “fault” it is when something goes wrong. All that matters is that we fix it and try to make sure it doesn’t happen again.  It’s no fun to have someone in your office saying, “It’s HR’s fault, or the associate got the draft to me late, or the previous paralegal on the file messed it up.”


Personal Injury Paralegal Boot Camp

As a personal injury paralegal, you have an important role in the pre-litigation phase of your claim files.

But where do you even start when you’re managing 80+ active files?

This online course will give you all the tools to manage that heavy case load.

A professional personal injury paralegal smiling confidently as she works with her calculator after the paralegal team training.

    6. Time management

    Proper time management skills are crucial to a paralegal’s success. If you can’t effectively manage your tasks, you risk producing poor quality work, due to stress and rushing to get projects done.  

    In our Attention to Detail course, I stress that “when you’re focused on rushing to meet a deadline, your focus ends up being on getting the project done on time instead of getting the project done right.” 

    Think about that. You’re a litigation paralegal and that brief has to be e-filed before midnight.  It’s 11:55 p.m.  Are you going back through it to give it one last quality control check, or are you stressed trying to log on to the efiling portal while you’re watching the clock tick down the minutes?  I could spend an entire episode here on just time management. It’s one of the things I teach in our Billable Hour Boot Camp.  

    The Pro Tip from an attorney:  Most attorneys are NOT good at managing their time at all. So don’t follow their example. They need a paralegal who is good at time management so that they can follow YOUR example. I 100% rely on my paralegal to help keep our team’s deadlines on track and let me know when deadlines are getting too close for comfort. If you’ve ever been on the receiving end of a judge’s tongue-lashing after asking for an extension of time, you’d know why this is so important.

    Get tips on working for multiple attorneys in different practice areas.

    7.  Research skills

    Most paralegal certificate programs include a class or two on legal research skills that teach students how to find and cite case law and regulations. The problem is, not every paralegal student lands a paralegal position as a litigation paralegal. Having great research skills is about more than just jumping onto Lexis or Westlaw to find a relevant case.

    Paralegals in all practice areas use research skills to help attorneys solve their problems every day. For example, a corporate paralegal might be asked to do some due diligence on foreign corporations that are part of a big merger.  A real estate paralegal might be asked to do title research on a big commercial closing transaction. Additionally, paralegal research skills now include being able to find information on social media sites and other internet sites. Once you find the information, then you analyze it to determine if the research leads you to other key information.

    Pro Tip from an Attorney

    A paralegal with excellent research skills does not stop their research once they find the answer they THOUGHT they were looking for. Instead, they take it two or three steps deeper because there could be other answers out there waiting for you to find them.


    8. Positive attitude

    This one surprised me. It shouldn’t surprise me, but I have to admit it kind of did. Especially that it came in the top 10. I think it says a lot about where we’re at now in the world and in our workplace that attorneys place importance on working with people with a positive attitude.

    Pro Tip from an Attorney

    Look, I don’t need a paralegal who is happy-go-lucky 24/7, but after many years of working with many paralegals – I will choose one with a positive attitude and less skills than the other way around. It’s just not a pleasant experience to have to work with someone who is constantly complaining about everyone and everything. Life is too short to be unhappy like that and to force other people around you to absorb that negative energy.


    9. Communication skills

    Communication skills are fundamental to a paralegal career. Paralegals spend more than 75% of every day communicating in some way with others – either verbal communication or written communication.

    A typical day for a paralegal could include all of the following in just one 8-hour day:

    • Calling vendors about pending legal projects.
    • Interviewing clients and witnesses.
    • Attending meetings (by video, phone, in-person) with colleagues, opposing counsel, and others.
    • Responding to written communication internally and externally.
    • Drafting legal documents.
    • Telephone calls with expert witnesses and court personnel.

    A businesswoman looking up some information on her tabletWriting is the other important aspect of communication skills.  That’s why is one of the most important skills that any paralegal can have.

    You are going to be doing a lot of writing, not just when communicating with clients but also when communicating with opposing counsel, outside vendors, and your attorneys. A lack of good writing skills can be detrimental to a paralegal’s career.  It’s always a good idea to brush up on your writing skills annually.  Consider it to be an investment in your career.


    10.  Organization skills


    Meet the Author

    A portrait of Ann Pearson for the Paralegal blog.

    Ann Pearson is the Founder of the Paralegal Boot Camp, and host of the Paralegals on Fire! Podcast Show, and passionate about promoting the paralegal profession.

    Ann spent 20 years working as a paralegal manager and a litigation paralegal before opening the Paralegal Boot Camp in 2010. 

    Ann’s training programs focus on adding immediate value to a paralegal’s career and bridging the gap between what a paralegal learns in school and what they actually do on the job.

    Visit the About Us Page to learn more about why Ann started the Paralegal Boot Camp.

    Connect with Ann on LinkedIn

    Featured Courses:


    Personal Injury

    As a personal injury paralegal, you have an important role in the pre-litigation phase of your claim files. 

    But where do you start when you’re managing 80+ active files?  

    The Personal Injury Paralegal Boot camp will give you all the tools to manage that heavy case load.


    Are you still waiting for on-the-job training that takes you through the lifecycle of a litigation case and shows you what it is you can be doing?

    This course and coaching program is what you’ve been looking for! 

    This is the only program of its kind that provides you with all of the tools to master your litigation cases, from the complaint through the trial, and everything in between.

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