Want to know what things 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.
Top Qualities of a Paralegal
1. A hard worker
This one is probably obvious. A paralegal is going to be doing a lot of the legwork that the attorney simply does not have the time to do herself. That means long hours, late nights, and probably having to take on some tasks that the average person might want to avoid doing. A hard worker calls the job finished only when it actually is finished and when the attorney is happy with the work.
This is an attribute that every employer is looking for, but it probably even more important to a lawyer than it is to any other employer. An attorney is looking for someone they can trust, not just to get the work done, but to get it done correctly. They are looking for someone who can be their right hand who can act in their stead. That requires a huge amount of trust. View this video post on one thing that is required for building trust and credibility with attorneys.
3. Proactive mindset
To some, this might mean being able to read minds. 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.
4. Good with clients
The paralegal will probably be doing a fair bit of herding clients, talking to them, and playing crowd control when the lawyer needs more time to focus on other tasks. As much as most lawyers like to talk, they simply do not have time for an in-depth discussion with every client all of the time. If you are good with clients, you can add value to the attorney’s law practice.
5. Positive attitude
Attorneys are looking for paralegals who have a positive attitude. You will be spending long hours working on a team with this attorney and potentially with dozens of others on this team. Even if your attorney is a litigator, most attorneys do not like conflict or office gossip. Try to avoid even the appearance of being “one of those people” in your office. Like the saying goes: Be the calm, not the storm.
6. Willing to take on the difficult tasks
Just about any lawyer could tell you which tasks they have on their to-do list that they wish would just go away. If you are a person who is willing to take care of those tasks, you can become a definite asset to an attorney who is trying to unload an already heavy plate. To take it a step further, use your proactive mindset and do some of those difficult tasks without waiting to be told the deadline is coming up.
7. A sounding board for the attorney
Sometimes, in order to organize their ideas or come up with solutions for their clients, a lawyer needs someone they can bounce ideas off of. This requires a degree of honesty—someone has to be willing to say whether or not those ideas are genuinely good, while also just knowing when to listen, without providing unsolicited feedback. Which brings us to our next thing attorneys look for in a paralegal…
8. Good listening skills
One of the best attributes for a paralegal to have is the ability to follow instructions to the letter, without having to be prodded or reminded about those instructions again. Most attorneys usually quickly weed out the applicants that cannot follow instructions, by immediately rejecting anyone who cannot properly follow the application instructions. That said, many attorneys are also looking for someone who is capable of making their own trail, without always needing to be told exactly what to do.
9. Excellent writing skills
Writing 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 on an annual basis. Consider it to be an investment in your career.
10. A problem-solver
According to TheFreeDictionary.com, a problem solver is a thinker who focuses on the problem as stated and tries to synthesize information and knowledge to achieve a solution. Compare that to someone who simply recognizes a problem and reports the problem to the attorney-in-charge and needs direction on how to proceed to solve the problem. On the other hand, the problem-solver paralegal recognizes a problem and comes up with one or two possible action steps to take to solve the problem, and THEN approaches the attorney with the problem and the proposed solution(s). When I recently asked a group of attorneys “If you had to pick only ONE of these top ten things attorneys look for in a paralegal, which ONE would you choose?” Every one of them chose #10 – they want to work with paralegals who are problem solvers.
About the Author
Ann Pearson is the Founder of the Paralegal Boot Camp, specializing in training for paralegals that focuses on the important paralegal skills not taught in certificate programs.
Ann started her paralegal career as a litigation paralegal and then was a manager of paralegals for many years prior to starting her own company in 2010. When she’s not working, you can usually find her somewhere near an ocean – either scuba diving, boating, cleaning up a beach, or volunteering to help save sea turtles.