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What Does a Paralegal Do? Advice for Document Collection and Management
By Lori A. Snead
Paralegals play an integral role in the delivery of legal services. Their work is critical in the preparation of affidavits, legal correspondence, electronic filings, trial preparation and much more. Lori Snead, a senior litigation paralegal, offers this advice to peers on document collection and management.
1. If the client asserts it, document it.
Having too little information is a no-no in the legal world. Commit as much time as needed to gathering information from the client and document all of your findings in an organized manner so the information is readily available. It is a crucial part of your paralegal duties. The hard work will pay off, especially when it matters most.
2. Research smarter, not harder.
Every case has variables. Try to stay away from “cookie cutter” research practices. Without reinventing the wheel, model your research around the (8) components of the case. (Facts; Evidence; Events; Parties; Strong Points; Weak Points; Questions of Law; and “What more is needed to prove the case?”) Well spent time on good research makes for impressive results.
3. Begin with an end in mind.
Create your task list with the outcome in mind. Plan your agendas and outline your strategies with a well thought out written plan.
4. It’s all about the client.
Clients appreciate thorough paralegal work and responsiveness. Great client service from paralegals includes timely response to phone calls and emails, frequent check ins and updates, using the appropriate tone to match the severity of the situation, and having a good document-retention plan. Lack of communication and poor document retention is the fastest way to spoil a relationship.
5. File setups that work in every practice area.
“Consistency” is the key for easy access and shareability. Create a main client folder for each client, then within the main folder, create subfolders. Use subfolders to organize and store all the digital documents related to the case. If you like paper files for paperwork and print outs, use an assortment of colored pocket-folders to mirror the digital subfolders you’ve established. This may seem like common sense, but it’s amazing how quickly this can get out of control.
6. Organizing and tracking client documents.
Suggest that your client gather necessary documents and keep them in one place until the time comes to collect the information. As the documents come into the office, maintain a spreadsheet itemizing each one provided by the client. Whether you immediately return original documents to the client or retain originals until the close of the case, keep the client informed on the whereabouts of their original documents.
7. Collecting and managing opposing party documents.
Taking delivery of the produced documents can be nerve wracking. Best case scenario, the documents come well organized and easily identifiable. If not, you’ll need to start the onerous task of organizing what you received and record it all. It’s sometimes helpful to separate bulk documents and rename each document in relation to the production request and the document title. Uniformity in naming documents makes for quick location of documents.
8. Audit your systems for effectiveness.
Any system or method can work as long as everyone adheres to it. Reviewing current procedures on a regular basis and making adjustments when needed will keep your system in check. Too many changes create confusion and makes it difficult to ensure that the process will be consistently followed.
9. Consider using graphics to conveying complex evidence.
Graphics can be invaluable for communicating complex information. Visual memory can
be highly effective in contrast to recalling information that is shared verbally. Audiences often prefer audio-visual forms of communication, rather than relying solely on a verbal dialog. Scientific animations and virtual reconstructions can improve the comprehension and retention of data and evidence. Keep in mind that scientific animations or models must meet certain criteria before being admitted as evidence in court due to potential bias and unfairness.
10. Keep your technology skills current.
The world of technology is ever changing. As technology evolves, you should too. I’m often asked, “What does a paralegal do?” Your role as a paralegal is a vital part of the legal team and keeping current on the newest technologies as well as how it impacts the practice of law can be a valued skill.
Understanding how to effectively document is essential to understanding what paralegals do. These 10 tips should provide some helpful guidance and ensure you’re set up for success.