WHAT IS A LITIGATION PARALEGAL?
A litigation paralegal is someone who works under the supervision of an attorney who practices in criminal or civil litigation. A litigation paralegal assists the attorney with many case management duties, from the complaint through the trial and the appeal. Three primary areas of case management responsibility include:
- Draft pleadings and discovery.
- Prepare for depositions, mediations, and arbitrations.
- Assist at trial.
Those job responsibilities can sound vague to someone who does not already work in the legal profession, so let’s take a closer look at a few key responsibilities of a litigation paralegal.
1. Draft pleadings and discovery.
What does that mean?
The attorney looks to the litigation paralegal to do the initial drafting of documents that will be sent to opposing parties asking those parties to produce documents or answer written questions (“discovery”) related to the issues of the case. Additionally, when the opposing party serves that discovery, it is typically part of the litigation paralegal’s job duties to start the initial drafting of the answers to those discovery requests and to start gathering the documents the other side is asking for in the lawsuit.
Many attorneys also rely on the paralegal to do the first-round draft of pleadings that will be filed with the court. The paralegal also finalizes and proofreads the pleadings before they get filed. This can also involve gathering exhibits and affidavits that may be attached to the pleadings.
2. Prepare for depositions, mediations, and arbitrations.
What does that mean?
The paralegal is the team member who is searching the case database for potential evidence (emails, text messages, memos, contracts, etc.) that the attorney might want to use during these depositions, mediations, and arbitrations. After the review and analysis of these documents, the paralegal organizes them into electronic or paper notebooks so that the attorney can easily find them during the deposition or other proceedings.
3. Assist at trial.
What does that mean?
During the trial prep phase of a case, the litigation paralegal is preparing a trial checklist for the team to keep them on track with deadlines set in the pretrial order. They are also preparing the trial notebook (also known as the trial binder) containing all of the key information to help keep the attorney organized at trial. A trial notebook typically contains the parties’ exhibit lists, witness lists, opening statements, significant pleadings and discovery responses.
During the trial, the litigation paralegal is the attorney’s right-hand person. They are locating exhibits, assisting with trial technology to present the exhibits to the court, meeting with witnesses, taking notes, etc. Essentially, the paralegal is the case manager and the person the attorney relies on to manage all of the other aspects at trial so that the attorney can focus on examining witnesses and winning the trial.
Some other job duties that you could expect as a litigation paralegal include:
- Interview clients and witnesses
- Communicate with court personnel, opposing counsel and others
- Locate key documents
- Manage outside vendors
- Draft pleadings and discovery
- Filing pleadings with the court
- Legal research
- Investigative research
- Analyze data and prepare summary charts
- Keep track of case deadlines
- Work with electronically stored information (ESI)
- Document organization
- Summarize transcripts
- Prepare trial exhibit lists and trial notebooks
- Prepare deposition exhibit lists and deposition notebooks
- Track exhibits and other evidence during a trial
SKILLS OF A SUCCESSFUL LITIGATION PARALEGAL
1. Problem-Solving Skills
Attorneys want to work with someone who can help them solve their problems, rather than report a problem and wait for the attorney to fix it. A litigation paralegal with good problem-solving skills is always looking for possible solutions to the problem. The more problems you can solve for the attorney, the more valuable you are to them.
2. Ability to Work Well Under Pressure
Litigation paralegals must have good time management skills. All of the work that a litigation paralegal does is usually tied to a deadline set by the court rules or the judge. As part of this, time management is important. However, for a litigation paralegal, it is more than just managing time. You also have to work well under pressure when there is a limited amount of time and no flexibility with the deadline.
In addition to the urgent deadlines, they also have to juggle the not-so-urgent deadlines that will become urgent deadlines if they don’t set aside some time each day to work on those long-term projects.
3. Technology Skills
Technology skills are critical if you want to have a successful career as a litigation paralegal. Over the last decade, e-discovery technology and trial technology have changed the way a litigation paralegal works. It used to be that you only needed to have good organization skills because much of the litigation field involved a lot of paper documents. When was the last time you sent a letter or memo by snail mail? The attorney’s clients don’t either. They send emails and text messages. A majority of the evidence in a civil litigation matter comes from what the parties did (or did not do) through the use of their phones or computers.
With superior technical skills, a litigation paralegal can easily transition to the role of an e-discovery paralegal. This is a paralegal who has a deep understanding of how to manage e-discovery projects and the software related to it. Unlike a litigation support technician role, an e-discovery paralegal still has case management duties, so they stay involved in the day-to-day aspects of their cases.
4. Communication Skills
Litigation paralegal job descriptions always seek someone who has a high level of communication skills. That’s because the paralegal will be communicating (in writing and verbally) with opposing counsel, court staff, judges, and more. Additionally, a litigation paralegal is expected to draft motions, briefs, discovery, and other important documents in the case.
If this area is not your strongest skill, there are courses for paralegals that can help improve your communication skills and your attention to detail skills.
LITIGATION PARALEGAL SPECIALTY AREAS
Within the civil litigation practice area, there are many areas of specialty that a litigation paralegal could work in. It opens up career options for paralegals who might have transferable skills in one practice area but have a background in another. For example, a person who has a medical background could easily transition from a general business litigation practice area to work in medical malpractice or personal injury. Some litigation practice areas include:
Corporate & Securities
Labor and Employment
Each specialty area has its own set of skills that are particular to that area. However, generally speaking, a litigation paralegal can transition pretty easily from one specialty area to another without too much of a learning curve.
JOB MARKET OUTLOOK FOR LITIGATION PARALEGALS
Just like any career, the job opportunities for paralegals vary greatly depending on your geographical region, education, and prior work experience. If you work in a large metropolitan city, have several years of direct experience working as a litigation paralegal, a bachelor’s degree and a paralegal certificate, then your salary expectations would be much higher than someone who works in a smaller town and only has an associate degree.
Remember that those salaries are medians – the middle of the road between the bottom and the top salaries. In some smaller rural towns, you could see litigation paralegal salaries (even for someone with many years of experience) as low as $29,000 or as high as $60,000. At the same time, you could see that same paralegal earning as much as $90,000 working in a large firm in a major metropolitan city. There are many factors to consider when trying to put a specific dollar amount on the typical litigation paralegal salary.
The best way to find out what the average paralegal salary is for your area is to ask paralegals who are already working in the profession. Join a local paralegal association so that you can build professional relationships with others in the legal profession.
The job market outlook has remained solid for a litigation paralegal, even when other job markets were declining in a bad economy. Regardless of the state of the economy, there will always be people who want to sue other people and people who need to defend those lawsuits.