Paralegal Skills for Thriving in Court
Paralegal Skills for Thriving in Court
Paralegals working alongside attorneys in the courtroom is becoming the new normal. As the go-to person for seemingly countless duties, paralegals oversee many aspects of going to trial. Here some key paralegals skills for thriving in court:
- Make a good first impression. For starters, first impressions are lasting impressions. Everyone will have their eyes on you in one way or another. A paralegal should act calm and confident in dealing with the trial attorneys, your support team, courtroom personnel and members of the opposing team throughout the trial process. Always speak clearly and confidently. Never shy away, be unpleasant, or recoil when addressed.
- Get to know the key players. Using your paralegal skills to thrive in court means knowing the court procedures and employees. Be sure to politely introduce yourself to the security guard, courtroom bailiff, and court clerk and hand them your business card and let them know you are available for anything they might need. Ask if they have any special procedures during trial and be sure and ask when you can obtain a copy of the jury list and how they will seat the jurors for jury selection. You will also want to become familiar with the courtroom layout before a trial, which means contacting the courtroom clerk to visit the courtroom before the trial to examine the courtroom layout and test your equipment. During your visit, draw a diagram of the courtroom, marking the jury box, counsel tables, electrical plugs, lighting, best places to set easels, electronic equipment, and the likely placement of your trial boxes, etc.
- Arrive early. On the morning of trial, plan on arriving at the courthouse early, so you can test your equipment (again) and get your trial setup organized. Having a good setup will allow you to easily access items you want to keep with you at all times, like your admitted exhibits folders, notes, exhibit lists, exhibits to be introduced, subpoena file, deposition summaries, etc. Resolve all the issues of moving, positioning and displaying exhibits and the visual aids before the trial starts. The worst time to realize your trial setup is not user friendly is under the watchful eyes of the judge and jurors, and opposing counsel poised and ready to pounce at the slightest indiscretion.
- Prepare thoroughly. Determine in advance which exhibits will be offered and through which witness. This way you can pull the exhibits in advance and have them ready for the attorney when, and if, needed. There will always be that time during trial when you will be asked to find something on the spur of the moment. The best preparation in times like these is knowing where everything is and having everything clearly labeled.
- Project a calm and collected demeanor—no matter what.Never let anyone see you sweat. Maintain your composure while your mind frantically searches for the document. Take a deep breath, stay calm and search methodically until you locate the document. If you are unsure, calmly ask the attorney to describe in more detail what you need to find. What may seem like an eternity is really only a few moments. Keep track of the exhibits and documents pulled by the attorneys. When they are through with them, put them away where they belong, not just setting them anywhere. A disorganized area is a stressful area and it will make an impression on the jury.
- Familiarize yourself with the judge’s preferences. Judges have a certain set of written and unwritten rules they follow in their courtrooms. Some judges have inflexible rules you violate at your own peril, while other judges operate in a lenient manner; some are testy; others very patient. The judge’s clerk will know the judge best and will be a good resource.
- Obtain a copy of the jury list as soon as possible. It is usually provided to the attorneys by the bailiff or the judge’s clerk. Fill in the names of the potential jurors and other important information from the jury list on a chart for the attorney and as well for yourself. Prepare the seating chart to reflect the courtroom when possible. Choose different ink colors for plaintiff and defense portions of voir dire. This way, you can which side supplied which information at a glance. Leave a dedicated space at the bottom of the chart for exact quotations that can be vital to getting or defending a cause challenge.
- Keep a seating chart of the jurors and document relevant information. Paralegals are also tasked with observing all the jurors’ reactions to the questioning and noting each juror’s answers to the attorney’s questions. This will help you and the attorney identify which jurors you are talking about when the attorney goes back to select the peremptory challenges. Although the judge ultimately determines whether a particular juror should be stricken for cause, attorneys play a crucial role in the decision-making process. The removal of potential jurors because of prejudice or bias reasons, whether inferred or actual, may be identified through a paralegal’s note taking that otherwise might have been overlooked by an overwhelmed attorney. By use of good note taking, the paralegal can gather information that can be used for removing bad .
Paralegals bring many skills with them into the courtroom and contribute immense value to the legal team’s ability to achieve the best outcome for clients. If you would like to work with a team of highly skilled paralegals and attorneys, contact us today for a free consultation.