National Paralegal Day was on October 23. It’s essential to acknowledge and value the crucial contributions paralegals make to the legal industry every day. Generally, paralegals handle diverse tasks, from legal research to drafting documents and trial preparation, but there are often missed opportunities to harness their expertise. At Bright Line Counsel, we are working to professionalize an industry that is becoming increasingly commoditized by highlighting the value individuals bring to legal firms and projects, large and small.
The Surface Role of Paralegals
Paralegals perform a diverse array of tasks within the legal profession that range from conducting legal research to managing case files. Too often, paralegals are tasked with daily operational minutiae while their training and education could be better utilized in other ways. Assisting attorneys during trials and hearings requires hours of preparation, communicating with stakeholders and reviewing and drafting documents, contracts, pleadings, and evidence.
Some of the key ways paralegals are underutilized include:
1. Untapped Expertise: Paralegals possess a wealth of knowledge and experience that can be invaluable to lawyers and their clients. Based on their background and collective experience, paralegals bring a wealth of expertise from other law firms and industries. Paralegals often have significant experience working with client-facing roles and easily bridge communication gaps.
2. Decision-Making Authority: Paralegals can help make decisions on legal matters. However, many lawyers hesitate to grant them this authority, leading to delays and inefficiencies. Over time, the relationship between the paralegal and the managing attorneys evolves, allowing them to predict certain decisions and outcomes.
3. Knowledge Utilization: Paralegals can be a valuable resource for lawyers to stay informed about the latest legal developments and prepare for complex cases. While attorneys use extensive mental energy in building tailored strategies for clients, paralegals can serve as the eyes and ears of the firm, all through the lens of legal services.
4. Lack of Respect: Paralegals are sometimes treated as second-class citizens in the legal profession. This can result in low morale and high turnover rates. While paralegals and legal assistants both provide support to attorneys, there are essential distinctions between the professions. Paralegals have high levels of education and training and often hold degrees and certifications that require years of legal experience. Although legal assistants are essential in day-to-day tasks, confining paralegals to administrative tasks better suited for office or legal assistants will severely impede the effectiveness of your firm.
5. Limited Advancement Opportunities: Many paralegals aspire to advance their careers within the legal industry. It is important for law firms to provide professional development and growth opportunities to increase morale and avoid turnover.
Building Strong Relationships with Paralegals
Fostering more productive partnerships with paralegals goes beyond simple respect and acknowledgment, but it’s an excellent place to start. It’s necessary to continue checking in with paralegals to discuss opportunities for career growth or training resources. These advancements can reflect within the firm’s own goals as well. For example, if the managing partners want to explore the possibility of adding a practice area, check in with the paralegals on staff to gauge interest and provide the necessary tools to facilitate the transition.
The National Association of Paralegals (NALA) is a professional organization dedicated to supporting paralegals. NALA offers its members a wide range of resources and benefits, including educational programs, networking opportunities, and more. Part of acknowledging paralegals as indispensable members of the legal profession is making an effort to listen to the many voices of this vocation.
At Bright Line Counsel, we help law firms and businesses understand the roles and responsibilities of paralegals to utilize their skills and expertise better. To explore how our consulting services can leverage paralegal support to benefit your legal needs, please don’t hesitate to reach out for a consultation by calling (513) 270-8444.