One of the most important steps when investigating a particular field of employment is considering whether you possess or can obtain the core skills necessary to excel on the job. The worst thing one can do is commit several years toward a paralegal training program only to discover they don’t enjoy working in the legal field, or that being a paralegal doesn’t fit their personality or natural skill set.
Below a list of the core skills required to succeed as a paralegal. In order to advance in the workplace and gain an advantage on your competition, you must master these core competencies.
Communication – One of the most fundamental skills required and analog practices good communication. Although the bulk of new paralegals spend most of their time doing administrative or clerical work, experienced paralegals will take on higher-level activities such as interviewing clients, contacting expert witnesses, taking the statement of a witness, communicating with court room personnel, discussing a case with your supervising attorney, and much more. In fact, up to 80% of the day can be spent communicating with others. Paralegals are essential resources for attorneys and act as a liaison between clients, vendors, experts, opposing counsel, and other stakeholders in a case or litigation. As such, they must communicate effectively with all these parties.
Writing – The legal field is a document driven profession and since paralegals assist attorneys with much of the paperwork involved with their cases, effective writing skills are essential. Especially for litigation paralegals who draft a number of documents such as, pleadings, discovery documents, motions, briefs, correspondence, legal memorandums and other documents with a wide range of complexity. Paralegals who write in a clear, concise and persuasive manner set themselves apart from their peers.
Computer skills – Technology is infiltrating almost every white-collar profession, and then includes the legal field. As such, paralegals must become effective using a growing number of legal software, word processing, spreadsheet, database, presentation, telecommunications, and many other software applications. Sometimes paralegals are even given the responsibility of directing the implementation and purchase of various technologies that will assist the law office to more efficiently manage their caseload. Paralegals with experience using a wide assortment of software applications, especially legal software possess a competitive advantage.
Research skills – Legal research is another core skill set for paralegals. Not only must they master legal research, but they must become proficient doing research online and using various legal databases such as Westlaw and Lexis/Nexis. Solid research and investigative skills must also be used to track down medical records, documents, witnesses, evidence and many other important matters.
Organization – Attorneys rely heavily on the organization skills of the paralegals working for them, whether it be a case involving civil, criminal or transactional matters. Legal work is document intensive, and as a result, the typical case generates a large amount of data and documents to organize. It is essential for paralegals to possess the ability to categorize, sort, index, order, and manage this information in the most organized way possible. Usually this is simply a matter of carrying out the existing case file management system already in place for the law office, but paralegals that are able to enhance or improve upon the existing file system will gain the respect of their employer.
Teamwork – Most law offices consist of several members including numerous attorneys, paralegals, legal secretaries, researchers and administrative team members. Offering legal services is sometimes a complex matter that requires multiple skill sets in order to provide quality and cost effective service to clients. Further, paralegals must work with outside stakeholders including clients, court representatives, expert witnesses, opposing counsel, and many other parties.
Attention to detail – Most attorneys who open a solo practice or work with a large law firm primarily focus on big picture priorities such as attracting new clients, managing existing cases, litigation preparation, and many other activities. This is why paralegals take care of the details. They must be responsible for numerous items such as document review, title searches, exhibit management, cite checking and many other items that require rigorous attention to detail. Managing the process of trial preparation and closing also requires a substantial amount of double checking and tracking logistical complexities.
As one could imagine, this is by no means a complete list of skills required by successful paralegals, however after mastering these core skills paralegals can rest assured that they will certainly provide substantial value to any attorney they may be employed under. It should be also noted that any paralegal who wishes to increase their paralegal salary should seek to improve in these areas, as they will have the most impact on the bottom line for any attorney.