Being a litigation paralegal comes with its challenges. From learning how to read your attorney’s mind to staying up to date with the latest paralegal technology, you might feel overwhelmed with questions on how you can become a rockstar at your firm. In our latest podcast episode, Ann answers your litigation questions so you can fast-track your paralegal career today.
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My husband’s company is transferring him to another state and I’m worried it might be an issue finding a job in litigation because of the rules being different in Florida than they are in California. Doing some preliminary searching I saw some ads for litigation paralegals and they wanted someone with experience in Florida. Will it be difficult for me to find a litigation paralegal job in Florida?
Let’s start with the current state of unemployment and hiring challenges that employers are having right now. If you’ve got 7 years of experience working in litigation in California and you’re moving to Florida, a law firm would be stupid not to want to hire you just because those 7 years of experience came from California.
Litigation is litigation.
There are different rules of civil procedure in Florida than in California. But. most of the time you have to go look up the specific court rule for whatever it is you are doing anyway. Even if you had been working in Florida for the last 7 years, when it’s time to go to trial, you’re going to check your local court rules and state court rules, along with the judge’s specific rules. So as long as you know how to find the relevant court rules, you will be fine.
You shouldn’t have any problem finding a litigation paralegal job in Florida.
I just started at a new law firm last month, and I’m a little overwhelmed trying to get up to speed on my cases. I am the lead paralegal on two very big cases and they haven’t had a paralegal for at least 4 months before I started. How can I get up to speed fast?
I think something that could help you is what I recommend in the 3-Step Roadmap for New Litigation Paralegals – even if you’re not new to the litigation practice area – because it can also be a method that you can use to get up to speed fast.
1. You’re going to want to start by reviewing all of the pleadings, motions, briefs, and discovery responses. Instead of doing the typical thing when someone is getting up to speed on a case, like reading all those things and taking notes, I suggest that you extract specific information from those documents. Take the names and roles of every person who is identified in them and put them into a player’s list.
2. You’re also going to extract any dates that you come across during that review, and put those into a chronology.
3. As you’re doing that review, have a master to-do list for that case where you can make notes about things you come across. For example, when you’re reading the discovery responses and the other side objects or they say they will respond at a future date with more complete information, make a note to follow up to see if that ever happened.
Now you’ve got these 3 documents – a Players List, a Chronology, and a Master To-Do List for those two big cases. Yes, that process may seem a little time-consuming, but think of it like this – if all you do is skim the complaint, answer, and have a few talks with the attorney in charge, you’re not going to know everything you need to know to proactively manage those cases. You’ll have an overview. You need to get deep into the weeds. But there are two other reasons to do this in addition to being able to manage the information.
First, you will have all of that information in one place. Preferably an excel spreadsheet, and then you’ll be able to do things like filter the data, sort the data, and put the data from the chronology into a timeline.
Second, (and this would only apply if you’re billing for your time. But it’s a big one.) we all know that clients don’t want to pay for a new litigation paralegal to get up to speed on their cases just because the previous paralegal left the firm. And yet, that’s exactly what you have to do in order to properly manage the cases. However, if you’re preparing something that adds value to the case, especially a physical thing like a players list and a chronology – something you could attach to an email to the client if they wanted to see it – that time spent wasn’t just getting up to speed on the case, it was preparing something that puts all of that information in one place and can later be used for other things, including getting ready for depositions and trial.
For more details on this process and examples of the player’s list, chronology, and master to-do list download our roadmap.
I am graduating soon from a local paralegal certificate program and want to be a litigation paralegal. What litigation software or applications should I try to learn to help me work in litigation?
First, congratulations on your upcoming graduation! I think there are two categories to look at for the answer to this question.
1. What litigation software or applications can you learn now that you have access to and can continually use to keep those skills sharp while you’re trying to find a paralegal position?
2. What will you be expected to know, but you don’t have access to now or that might be different than the one you learned? It’s important to remember that even if you found a free trial or free training on certain software if you don’t put it to use in the real world, you probably won’t retain what you learned.
So let’s start with number category one. The 3 big ones: Microsoft Word, Microsoft Excel, and Adobe. I know that doesn’t sound sexy and exciting, but these three software tools are the ones that you MUST have more than just a basic knowledge of AND you’ll use them regardless of the type of employer you work for, what litigation practice area you are in, and in conjunction with other tools.
The best part is you can get access to all three of them right now! Take online training, use it frequently, and keep advancing your skills.
Now on to other litigation software you probably don’t have access to now and will forget how to use if you’re not consistently using them in real-life practice. I’ll list them, but I think your time is better spent getting to an advanced level of the Microsoft applications and Adobe.
Now there’s Westlaw and LexisNexis which you probably got student access to while you were in school as well as e-filing (the applications that allow you to electronically file your pleadings, motions, briefs, and other court filings). Back in the old days (haha!) there was no such thing. When something needed to be filed with the clerk of court, we had to get in our car and drive to the clerk’s office or hire a courier to do it for us. Hopefully, this was covered in your technology class for your paralegal certificate program.
Document management systems organize the electronic version of everything in the case, like the Microsoft Word documents that you are drafting, memos you are drafting, etc. These are very specific to the employer, so it would not be very helpful for you to learn any of them beforehand.
Ediscovery software is used to process, review, and produce discovery in the case. This is also very specific to what your employer uses. I’m doing a separate Q & A for ediscovery, so be sure to follow the podcast so you can learn more about that topic.
Then there are deposition software applications, as well as trial technology. Again, very specific to the employer type and the practice area. For example, let’s say you find yourself at a solo or very small firm that doesn’t go to trial that often. They might use an app and an iPad at trial, compared to another firm that might have a more expensive system designed for their team’s needs.
That’s why it wouldn’t do you any good to go out and learn a specific software or application, only to find out that your firm doesn’t even use it. My advice – stick to number one and learn everything you possibly can to function at a high level in Microsoft Word, Microsoft Excel, and Adobe.
I am a litigation paralegal whose case is going to trial and I have my first pretrial conference coming up. I’ve never been to one and I’m worried I’m forgetting something. Any advice?
The best thing I ever did early on in my career was to ask to attend a pretrial conference. You know, for the first few years I had quite a few cases that went to trial but I’d never attended one before. I just got my task list from the attorney. This is what they want. This is what they need. And inevitably there was something brought up at the pretrial that the attorney didn’t have access to.
It’s so much easier if you actually go into the pretrial conference and understand how the whole process works. Because attorneys don’t think like paralegals, they practice law. They want to win arguments in court. They don’t think, “well, this might be better organized if it was alphabetically by case law, or next time, it would be easier to read from it in this way.”
But you have that ability to help with a better organization system. So my first piece of advice is to attend this pretrial conference.
Always ask if you can attend the pretrial conference. The worst they can do is say no. Or if they say, well, I don’t need anybody else there. Offer to attend and assist at the pretrial conference to get the experience so that you’ll be able to better support them.
When you’re preparing for it, obviously the basics are the pending motions, the exhibit lists (for all parties), and the witness lists (for all parties). They’re going to talk about the witness testimony. They’re going to want those deposition designations, and an updated working exhibit list (which is different than the formal exhibit list that’s exchanged with the other side). This one is going to have more detailed information about each exhibit.
That’s for you, your eyes only, or the attorney’s eyes only. And a rule of thumb that I go by. You can really never send too many files to the pretrial conference because they have to be prepared for anything essentially.
Imagine that maybe there are only 20 exhibits at issue that the other side has objected to and will be addressed at the pretrial conference. However, you have a thousand exhibits on your trial exhibit list. Well, they may say they only need to bring the 20 exhibits that are at issue, but I can guarantee you inevitably, one of those other 980 exhibits will get called into question, and they’ll only have those 20 exhibits that are at issue with them. They’ll only need one copy of each, but they’ll need to have all those exhibits there.
Let’s start with the motions.
One way to organize them that I found helpful after I attended the pretrial conference was in the actual working of it. What typically happens is they’re going to get up and argue one motion at a time. And so instead of having this massive notebook with all of the pretrial motions and all of the responses and replies and then the case law that’s cited behind that motion in that notebook – have five separate notebooks. Because they’ll end up arguing one motion at a time. The case law can be cited in various motions, depending on the issue.
This way if you’re looking for a specific case law citation or which motion it was cited in you can have all the case law for all the motions organized in alphabetical order by their case name, and then have smaller notebooks so that when they get up, they argue their motion. And then usually the other side gets up.
The attorney can then put the notebook back into the box and grab the next notebook and walk back up to the podium to argue that motion. It’s a lot easier than having to flip through this massive notebook, not knowing what cases were cited, where or the issue.
One final note on preparing for the pretrial conference, you’re going to want to have a method to track which objections are granted and which ones are overruled when it comes to the witnesses and exhibits. You can do that on the proposed exhibit list and witness list – which I’d highly recommend. You’re going to want to know which ones you won’t be able to use at trial, AND which ones the other side won’t be able to use.
Do you have paralegal job search questions?
Post them in the comments or email us and we’ll include them in our next Q & A podcast episode.
Meet the Author
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. Her 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.
When Ann is not working, you can usually find her somewhere near the ocean, either boating, scuba diving, or rescuing sea turtles.