A paralegal needs to have certain skills to function successfully in a legal environment. This is not an exhaustive list, but if a person has the following skills, he or she could expect to perform well as a paralegal.
Soft skills are character traits and interpersonal skills that come into play when a person is interacting with another. Soft skills are as essential as hard skills (the skills specific to being able to perform the job). If you find that you are lacking in a soft skill area, you should practice exhibiting that skill (even if you don't "feel" it). Clients are the source of the office's income, and of your salary.
You have to be able to work with difficult people. Remember that clients come to the office because they have a problem. They may not be on their best behavior. Sometimes, you are the one to deliver bad news or tell someone something he or she doesn't want to hear. You have to develop good skills and be professionally removed from the client in order to deliver bad news. Keeping it professional will help you avoid conflicts.
Sometimes attorneys act out because a situation is emotionally charged. You must be able to work in a situation where the attorney behaves badly and not take it personally.
Cases can be highly emotional. The best way to handle people in that situation is to be calm, cool, and collected.
Law offices often work individually on parts of a total product. For this reason, you must be able to work as a part of a team. Avoid gossip. Especially in small offices, gossip can kill relationships.
You will have cases where you don't agree with the client's actions. You may not like the client much. You must be able to separate yourself from your feelings to be able to work the case. Most firms have a very diverse client base and represent all "walks of life." You must be able to show respect to all indiviudals regardless of your personal prejudices.
Working with the public in a service profession requires a pleasant outlook. Even if you are having a bad day, you must be able to put aside any personal issues and perfrom your job.
Analytical skills are a must in a law office. Analytical skills refer to the ability to review and analyze materials and make conclusions based on your findings. A paralegal must be able to review the law and make an educated, unbiased determination of how the law applies to the facts presented. All case law will not support your argument, but you must be able to utilize the current law to your advantage. Analytical skills take much practice to fully develop, but are invaluable.
1. Remember all of the critical thinking skills you are learning. You must be able to think on your feet and outside the box. A paralegal must be able to work around problematic issues and accomplish the assigned task.
1. Paralegals must be able to identify with clients. Never talk down to a client just because you know more that s/he does. You must be able to build trust and good working relationship with the office clients.
1. You must be able to review records and come to a legal conclusion based on your findings. Paralegals review many types of legal, medical, employment, and other records while investigating a claim or building a case. You will need to be able to draw conclusions and make recommendations based upon your research.
You will be responsible for assisting attorneys and other paralegals with ongoing investigations. Most days you will be investigating issues on several cases. You must be able to keep the investigations separate.
You must be able to use the existing law to either support or differentiate your case. You will have to compare and contrast the similarities and differences between the law and your case. Those case briefs you do give you practice for this skill.
Too much emotion can be a very bad thing in a law office, and can prevent you from seeing the facts clearly. You must be able to put your emotions aside and focus on the case.
A Paralegal's organizational skills are extremely important to the attorney. Lots of Paralegals function as the office manager, keeping the court and appointment dockets, answering phone calls, and managing files. Even when a Paralegal is performing only Paralegal-type duties, organizational skills come into play.
Your attorney expects you to be busy and productive for the entire workday. You must be able to work without supervision while your attorney is away from the office. IIf your attorney asks for work by a certain date, manage your time to be sure you meet the deadline. The legal field operates, lives, and dies by deadlines.
Your most important work items must be given priority. Remember that you will have many cases that are active at the same time and deadlines are firm. Some legal work is dull. It still has to get done on time. You must be disciplined to work on files that are not as exciting as others.
It is vital to keep good notes on every project so that someone else could come in the next day to complete the work if necessary.
You must be able to give enough attention to detail to keep files in order. You'll handle more paper than you can stand. Can you alphabetize? Correctly? Or keep files in whatever order the office uses? You'll have lots and lots of clients. If a file gets out of order, you may NEVER find it again.
Your attorney will depend on you to have the right files on his or her desk for the right hearing on the right day. You will be expected to keep deadlines on a calendar. The legal field calls these reminders "tickles." Again, deadlines are sancrosanct.
Clients typically communicate with the paralegal more often than with the attorney. Your communications should be clear, friendly, and professional.
Paralegals draft most of the communications that leave the law office. You will draft letters, motions and other pleadings, and electronic messages. Your writing skills must be excellent. You should never send ANYthing out of the office that has an error.
About 80-85% of communication is nonverbal. You must be aware of your nonverbal behaviors as they will impact your relationships in the law office and with clients.
This is a BIG issue for the law office. Every client communication with the legal staff is confidential, meaning that you cannot share it with anyone outside the legal team. In your program of study, you will see this concept again and again because it is so important.
A paralegal will be expected to interview clients and witnesses.Your interviewing skills will mean the difference between getting all of the information you need and having gaps in your case.
Computer skills are vital. You will work on a computer for most of the day, every day. If your keyboarding skills are not great (you type with two fingers and don't know where spell check is), get up to speed. You don't have to be a super-fast typist, but speed will help when you are trying to get documents out of the office.
You will use word processing, spreadsheets, databases, PowerPoint, and other standard software on a daily basis. Keep up to speed with software changes. Your attorney will not have time to train you and will expect you to "figure it out."
You must be able to use whatever legal specialty software the office uses. If you don't know the software, you must be willing to try to learn it on your own and on your own time. Your lawyer won't have time to train you, and may not understand the software any better than you do. He or she does, however, expect you to learn it.
If you don't know how to find information about people, corporations, and the law on the Internet, you may not be able to do your job. If your skills are not as good as you'd like, you should be willing to spend your own time working on them.
Professionalism skills are essential to working as a paralegal. First and foremost, a paralegal must be professional. Professionalism includes everything from reliability to work ethic. You must know what is expected of you on a daily basis and be able to perform. The skills listed under this category are very basic. This list can be expanded to cover literally every aspect of the job because professionalism is that important. A paralegal must be professional in everything he or she does. An unprofessional paralegal is an unemployed paralegal.
An attorney will expect things to be done yesterday without having to ask. You will be responsible for preparing case files, among other things, in preparation for depositions, etc.
Work ethic, which is based on a value of giving a hard day's work for a day's pay, is essential in the legal field. Attorneys expect you to be at work every day and to bring value to the practice. If you are not billing hours, you are not needed. As you demonstrate a good work ethic, you will be given more interesting work and more responsibility.
An attorney spends a great deal of time outside the law office going to court, conducting depositions, and working cases. You must be able to work without supervision. Having said that, remember that you may not submit any work you perform to anyone outside the law office until your supervising attorney has reviewed it.
Paralegals are not regulated at this time, but there is much discussion at state levels about regulation of the field. Paralegals, just like all other legal staff, are covered under the broad umbrella of the attorney's professional rules of conduct.
The attorney you work for will want to see that you are a dedicated employee. Do your best on every task. Never submit poor quality work.
It is vital that you be able to follow directions without deviation. Not only will your supervising attorney be the one to sign your check, you will discover that even little things make a difference in the legal field.
Meeting deadlines is CRUCIAL! Your supervising attorney is held strictly to deadlines set by the court and by the applicable rules of procedure. If the law office misses a deadline, the case can be dismissed, your lawyer may be sued (or even disciplined or disbarred), and you will be out of a job.
Just as in every business, follow the office rules. They are in place for a reason. That is not to say that you cannot make suggestions if you think of a way to streamline your work flow, but find out what the rules are and why they are in place before you try to change them.
In the legal field, details do make a difference. For example, one word can change the meaning of a document. Forgetting to "tickle" a court date may result in your attorney missing a hearing. You will be responsible for making sure that every "i" is dotted and every "t" is crossed.
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Research skills are vital for a Paralegal because attorneys don't have time to perform research. They know the law they know and will expect you to give them an update of that law when they ask you to do so.
There is more than one type of research performed for a law office. Legal research has to do with the law, its accuracy, and whether or not it applies to the facts of your case. You should be able to perform legal research in either print form or electronic form.
Electronic Database Research
You will need to research corporate web sites, government sites, and other Internet sources to get information pertaining to cases. You must be able to discern between valid Internet sites and those that may not be reliable. Bad information will cause your attorney to lose, which will have repercussions on your status.