There are many office assistants that only do one type of work. This is not the case with a paralegal who wears several hats during the performance of duties. As an assistant to an attorney, a paralegal's main goal is to help his superior prepare for court cases. Some of a paralegal's responsibilities are similar to that of a lawyer. However, he or she is not qualified to represent people in court or to give legal counsel. Whatever he or she is assigned to do is under a licensed attorney's supervision.
Two types of paralegals
Two types of paralegals exist:
- When a paralegal chooses to go into corporate work, the main concerns are the preparation of documents including employment contracts, financial statements, stock options and shareholder agreement. The paralegal is required to review government regulations, research law publications and read legal journals. Most of the work of a corporate paralegal is accomplished outside the courtroom, unless a client is involved in a lawsuit connected to corporate matters.
- Litigation paralegals on the other hand normally review client information to ensure accuracy, research past similar cases and sort evidence documentation that will be used in legal hearings and courtroom trials.
Both types of paralegals do extensive work, but the litigation paralegal is more involved in the preparation for a case when it goes to court.
A paralegal is a very important support person to an attorney because he or she is the one doing all the background work for a case and during trials, he or she could review the questions that could be asked and what the witness's replies should be. He or she could also be asked to remain with the witness outside of the courtroom to sooth the nerves of a witness until it is time for the witness to be called.
One major benefit of a paralegal assisting the lead attorney is due to his or her intimate knowledge of the case, and can present a different perspective to the attorney that could be closer to the reaction of the jurors as the trial moves on. At times, the paralegal is requested to be in the spectator seating area of the courtroom to enable him or her to report his or her observations of the trial during the break. In some cases, depending on the policy of the law firm or the court's rules, the paralegal may be asked to sit with the counsel, which makes it easier for him or her to assist the attorney.
The paralegal attends jury selection and should take notes about the possible jurors, taking special notice of the responses to the questions given by the judge and the attorneys during "voir dire." The paralegal could observe the facial expressions and body language of the jurors, as their tendency to be aloof or receptive could influence their roles during the trial. Another thing to note is the jurors' response to the attorneys' personalities, as this could influence their attitudes toward the client. During the trial, the paralegal should observe the reactions of the jury to each attorney's opening statement as the reactions have the possibility of revealing issues that are offensive or confusing to the jury. During courtroom trials, a paralegal becomes a very valuable second set of ears and eyes for the attorney and should also take careful notes during cross-examinations to further assist the lead counsel.
A litigation paralegal goes through so many documents to evaluate and analyze facts to determine the relevance and validity of evidence presented, removing all information that are unnecessary and retaining only those that are relevant to the case. While he or she must possess a sharp, analytical mind, it is also necessary for a litigation paralegal to have heightened interpersonal skills that will help attorneys with negotiation strategies and in looking for facts, as well as to communicate with stressed out clients effectively.
Both corporate and litigation paralegals must have outstanding skills in research, which is essential to the success or failure of a case. Both must act like well-oiled machines, going through all available background information, financial awards, past verdicts, legal articles and government publications that have relevance to a case. This is a responsibility that is time consuming but very critical when a case goes into courtroom trial.
Aside from being a top-notch researcher, a paralegal also has administrative functions, both in the office and in the courtroom. The paralegal is often tasked to update databases and help prepare reports and notes for use in the courtroom. It is also part of the duties of a paralegal to preview all electronic correspondence like emails, interview clients, do courtroom presentation strategies, write settlement agreements, prepare contracts and secure affidavits.
Whether it's corporate or litigation work, the most important is for a paralegal to have a mind that's highly organized and have multitasking skills.