5 Tips For New Paralegals

Guess who’s back…….? ME!

I cannot apologize enough for my recent absence. Since we last spoke, I have graduated from one of my two colleges, landed my dream job, and done a LOT of self-reflection/growth.

Today, I’m going to be talking about tips I have for new paralegals, legal assistants, secretaries, or anyone thinking about working in the legal field.

I am still a “newbie” myself, as I’ve only been in the industry for about 3-ish years, but I feel like each year I have learned SO much!

Here’s 5 short, but sweet (and hopefully helpful) tips…..

1. Always have a pen and paper handy – I used to walk into an attorney’s office without my notetaking tools and left their office trying to remember the 50 tasks that were just assigned to me. This is not a good idea. Even the most skilled, seasoned professional doesn’t have a magic memory all the time. Now I make it a point to grab a mini yellow notepad and pen everywhere I go around the office.

2. Be the first line of defense – Clients. Oh how I love thee…. I really do! I actually get excited when I have to call them and give a case update or schedule a telephone conference. I also make a point to remember personal, unique facts about each client in their file. Such as if they’re engaged, started a new job, or like sewing (I ask about their most recent project.) I of course don’t spend 30 minutes making small talk, as I am a professional and have a job to do. However, at the same time, I make sure they know they’re more than a number or “billable hour.” With all that being said, clients think once they retain your law firm, they can call and speak to the lawyer 24/7. This is not the case (pun intended) and more often than not, you can assist them. If you have good communication and an up to date database of notes, you should be able to tell the client the next court date, brief summaries of their case status, etc. You also can turn that call into an opportunity to get something of value, such as information useful to the case, out of the client. Most attorney’s don’t take call-ins, although all law firms are different. Most attorney’s I’ve worked for are happy to schedule a telephone conference with their clients or even an in-person meeting. Just be mindful that attorney’s have big fish to fry. As paralegals we are to help lighten the load and maybe fry a few of the smaller fish ourselves.

3. Always make notes – (Kind of reiterating #1 here, but it’s so true!) This is ironic because in school I was not the best at taking notes. However, my career path has shown me that my memory is not that of an elephant. I do forget. I’m human. I adore note taking software that tags notes to clients files. Also, be descriptive on your notes not only for others but yourself. I may understand my impromptu shorthand on Tuesday, but by Friday afternoon I don’t know what it means. I’m all for abbreviating and time-saving, just make sure it isn’t only efficient in the moment, but in the grand scheme of as well.

4. Speak with diction, confidence, and professionalism – This is not only important for the person who takes the majority of the incoming calls, but places the majority of the outgoing calls, and everything in between. Some cases go on for years and you may see a client a handful of times (if that) throughout their whole case. However, you may speak with them on a weekly, monthly, and at times (especially leading up to a trial) daily! Your voice represents the firm just like a DJ represents a radio station. Make sure you’re speaking clearly, not muttering/mumbling. Try and not say “um” a lot. If you don’t know the answer to a question posed by a client, place the client on a brief hold and collect your thoughts. I’ve done this with client who are asking me a million questions or if a client who I’m not too familiar with yet calls in asking very specific details about their case. I generally don’t leave clients on hold for more than 1-3 minutes, but that’s just me. If I cannot get an answer right away, I always say that I’ll call them back as I know their time is valuable and I don’t want to waste it by placing them on a long hold. Even the most high-strung clients will respect this 9.5 times out of 10.

5. Engage in all aspects of your job – While some may choose to stick to just one thing/specialty, there’s nothing I love more than trying a new task. Do I need to create exhibits for an upcoming trial? Draft a type of pleading I never have before? Spend 30 minutes on the phone sweet-talking a court clerk to get our motion on the judge’s docket the next day? Order staff lunch? Sure, sure, sure, and extra lettuce for me! My point is I think when you see yourself a part of a team. A part of justice. A part of something bigger than yourself. You will appreciate all the little and big things you get to do and be a part of.

Like I said, I am no expert on the legal assistant/paralegal world. However, I do hope that these tips are helpful and insightful! I am so passionate about my career and cannot wait to learn more. I enjoy speaking to seasoned paralegals who have been doing this job for 25+ years and gaining new insight and wisdom about the industry. In the legal field, things are ever changing and evolving, so any tips from seasoned peers are always welcomed by me! Y’all are the real #MVP’s. Thanks for paving the way for us young bucks!

Disclaimer: I am not an attorney and am not giving legal advice in any way, shape or form. This post is simply to provide helpful to tips for those interested or working in the legal field.

Question time:

What is one thing you love about your career/job?

What do you look for in a law firm?

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