Paralegals work in law firms to assist Attorneys with substantive legal work and administrative duties.
Specific tasks will vary greatly depending on the structure of your firm, where it practices law, and what’s needed for each case.
Here, we will discuss some of the typical responsibilities of a Paralegal and how those responsibilities may change firm-to-firm.
What do Paralegals Do on a Daily Basis?
One Paralegal’s day may look drastically different than another’s, depending on where they work. Some will handle more legal-related work, while others will take on more administrative work.
Some of the substantive legal work includes:
- Drafting and Filing Legal Documents: Paralegals will prepare legal documents like contracts, exhibits, and discoveries. These documents are often detailed enough to require industry knowledge to understand and prepare effectively. Even when drafted, you still need to ensure they’re filed with the court before any deadlines are passed.
- Legal Research: Paralegals are often responsible for finding previous precedents, statutes, and other information to assist Attorneys navigate their cases. This can include basic searches with popular search engines or using an industry-specific research platform like Lexis Nexis. Paralegals can specialize in a specific field of law, and often that expertise applies to their research responsibilities.
- Client and Witness Interviews: Many Paralegals will interview clients/witnesses. This process includes preparing questions, summarizing the interview for the Attorney, and more.
These tasks require legal industry knowledge and training, or at least largely benefit from it. They are all responsibilities that either have strict deadlines or are industry specific. In some cases, legal aids may assist in the completion of these tasks, but at the end of the process an industry expert will need to give it a check.
On the other hand, some of the responsibilities of a Paralegal are general administrative tasks. These include:
- Schedule Maintenance: Everyone in this industry is busy, but deadlines don’t care. Paralegals often help Attorneys track important deadlines and ensure they meet them.
- Organizing Legal Documents: You can’t just have your legal documents lying around anywhere. Most jurisdictions have mandatory storage times, and proper document care ensures you follow through on those. Also, many documents have privacy concerns, so proper disposal is necessary.
- Answering Emails and Phone Calls: Lots of emails and phone calls indicate good business. Hooray! But an Attorney will not have the time to answer every call or message, so they will often need a Paralegal to step in.
These tasks don’t necessarily require legal industry knowledge and can be performed by legal aids or traditional administrative assistants on occasion.
How are Paralegal’s Responsibilities Prioritized?
Prioritization will vary depending on the Paralegal’s specific situation. In general, though, some common factors will determine how their time is spent.
Deadlines and Time
A Paralegal’s day-to-day responsibilities have more to do with time management than most professions. It’s not just that most law firms rely on billable hours, but deadlines in this industry may be… well, legally enforced. Missing a filing deadline, for example, can result in a malpractice claim.
Time is just a greater pressure in this profession than in others, and everyone will feel the squeeze. Paralegals may feel this pressure the most severely though, as they often are the ones executing the action. Everyone in the office may be aware of the deadline, but Paralegals are likely the ones needed to act on it.
Firm Size and Structure
Firm size and structure will impact the responsibilities of a Paralegal as well.
Smaller firms will have fewer dedicated employees for specialist positions and need everyone to contribute to some of the administrative work.
Larger firms may have distinct legal assistants alongside paralegals. This allows Paralegals to spend more time on substantive legal work that requires their expertise.
But some Paralegals don’t even work for a dedicated firm. Freelance and “Virtual” Paralegals can do contract-based work for multiple clients and have more flexible hours.
Document Organization and Management
Are you a paper office or a digital office? Seriously, this will affect your day-to-day responsibilities. Administrative duties and legal processes like filing have different demands depending on the firm’s approach:
- Paper documents require physical organization, which is more time-intensive than most digital alternatives. It also requires physical transportation time and logistics. A Paralegal working at a paper-centric firm has fewer opportunities for remote work and spends significant amounts of time coordinating the physical organization and delivery of documents.
- Digital document management is more manageable. While it still has its own issues (like eFiling multiple documents), it is generally less time-consuming.
Whether you are physically or electronically handling documents, the efficiency of either process can vary greatly.
Getting the Most out of the Day for a Paralegal
Most Paralegals don’t enter the industry to maintain schedules and organize filing cabinets. That work is essential, but other sectors need administrative work and are less stressful. Instead, a Paralegal gets into the industry because they are interested in the legal field. So, the more time a Paralegal can spend performing substantive legal work, the better.
But there are administrative tasks that need to get done, and not many ways to remove them from a Paralegal’s plate altogether. So, the best thing a firm can do is simplify these tasks as much as possible to take less time. Here are a few strategies that can help:
- Consider automating appropriate parts of your communication systems. Virtual receptionists, online chat services, and other forms of marketing automation can help serve as the first line of communication. Clients and colleagues deserve the human touch, but a lot of initial contact and spam can be handled in other ways.
- Simple business software like Office 365 helps with time management. Cloud-based software specifically lets users view each other’s schedules and prioritize accordingly.
- Adopt eFiling and eService if you can. Paper maintenance isn’t a joy for anyone. It’s a physically demanding job and time-consuming in all the wrong ways (not interesting, not billable). If you use an eFiling or eService platform already, consider how it takes time and see if other platforms can resolve those issues.
With so much being asked of today’s paralegals it can be tough to keep up. So let FSX help! You can find the right FSX platform for you and your team by selecting your State and clicking the link below.