From conducting interviews to handling trial documents, paralegals juggle many high-priority tasks that keep their law firms moving. So not only do paralegals need to understand the legal process, they need to have business soft skills locked down.
According to lawyer Casey Thompson, “paralegals are a force multiplier in a law office and allow any attorney to be more productive, efficient, profitable, and impactful for the clients” and those with a broad skill set are primed for success.
So, for the aspiring legal professional, here are six skills every paralegal needs:
1. Paralegals must be able to multitask.
“One of the most important are time management as multitasking and being an organized self-starter are essential,” Thompson said. This is because the paralegal field relies heavily on deadlines.
The pressure increases when you have multiple cases and limited time to get everything filed with the court. You might find yourself on a call with a client about one matter, and simultaneously organizing exhibits for a trial on another case.
So as a professional, you need to be able to switch gears quickly while avoiding costly mistakes.
2. Paralegals must have good communication skills.
According to Thompson, “paralegals must be effective communicators both verbally and in writing since words are the tools of the legal profession.”
Paralegals regularly interact with people including the attorney they work for, clients, expert witnesses, court personnel, and also with other attorneys.
You will need to be able to clearly and concisely communicate in legal settings. Additionally, you need to be able to simplify and explain complex legal terminology to non-legal professionals.
3. Paralegals need to have expert research skills.
As a paralegal, you’re going to conduct legal research.
“Paralegals must be skilled in technology and especially as it applies to conducting research,” Thompson said. This means accessing legal libraries, such as LexisNexis or Westlaw, to find relevant cases and statutes.
During the research phase, you gather these materials to prepare legal document drafts. Then, you document and present your findings to the attorney you work for and help them prepare for a case.
4. Paralegals must have strong organizational skills.
Paralegals are responsible for managing and maintaining huge case files for multiple clients at the same time.
Each case could easily include hundreds of exhibits, so strong organization skills are essential. You will also need to file with the courts by specific deadlines, gather and summarize massive amounts of information for your attorney, communicate milestones with clients, and more.
Failing to complete important steps on time could be detrimental to a case.
5. Paralegals must have strong interpersonal skills.
As a paralegal, you’re going to spend the majority of your time working with other people.
So, you must be able to quickly develop strong relationships that inspire trust and confidence. Depending on the attorney you work for, you may have to interview clients regularly. If that’s the case, you’ll need them to share personal information, which won’t happen if you haven’t developed a good rapport.
6. Paralegals need to have strong ethics.
As a paralegal, you will encounter confidential and personal information on a daily basis.
You will also be asked to do research on information that could make or break a case. You must have a strong ethical code and a willingness to uphold the law while seeking the best outcomes for your clients and employer.
These six skills are essential to your success as a paralegal. Now that you know what they are, you can continue to build on your strong points, and work to develop skills in the areas where you might be lacking.
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