Things Attorneys Look For In a Paralegal
- Attention to Detail
- Technology Skills
- Proactive Mindset
- Time Management
- Research Skills
- Strong Work Ethic
- Communication Skills
- Organization Skills
Do you 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.
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 the 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.
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.
View this video post on paralegal attention to detail.
A problem-solver is someone 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 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 take to solve the problem, and THEN approaches the attorney with the problem and the proposed solution(s).
Pro Tip from an Attorney
Before coming into my office with a problem, research the proposed solution and know the answers to the questions I am likely to ask you regarding the problem and your proposed solution: Who, What, When, Where, Why, and How.
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.
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.
5. Professionalism and a positive attitude
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.
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.” We give paralegals many effective time management strategies in just 60 minutes with our Get a Better Work/Life Balance course for paralegals.
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. Strong work ethic
Paralegals work long hours. Not every day, but many days they do work long hours. If you are someone who needs to have a job that you are guaranteed to be clocked out by 5:01 p.m., the paralegal profession is probably not for you. One thing that can definitely help reduce those long hours is better time management and increasing your productivity while you are in the office so that you can get out of the office sooner.
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.
Writing 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 on an annual basis. Consider it to be an investment in your career.
10. Organization skills
A paralegal’s organization skills have a direct impact on their productivity and also the productivity of their attorney. If it takes you twice as long to find something as it should, that can have a negative impact on a paralegal’s work in so many ways.
Good organization skills are more than just the ability to index, sort, and categorize documents and things. For paralegals, this skill includes the ability to look at the big picture and plan for how and when things will be needed so that you can choose the best method for organizing those things. A paralegal’s technology skills can be a huge asset when it comes to their organization skills because it is the use of technology applications that will lead the way for paralegals to keep their attorneys organized.
Pro Tip from an Attorney: It is very important that I work with a paralegal who has good organization skills. I don’t want to walk into their office and see a mess, wondering if my closing binders are buried somwhere under that mess.
Did you read our recent 50 Tips for New Paralegals? We received tips from paralegals across the country to help you get started in your paralegal career.
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. A few of those include the Litigation Paralegal Boot Camp, E-discovery Paralegal Boot Camp, and the Personal Injury Paralegal Boot Camp.
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.