By: Mary Frances Broughman
The Lawyer & Paralegal Relationship:
How it Helps Us Do Our Best Work
The lawyer-and-paralegal relationship is a lot like the one between a nurse and a doctor. What a paralegal can do is different than what a lawyer can do, but immensely valuable, nonetheless. Both individuals are very knowledgeable as they work together to provide the best services they can as a team. Like a nurse, a paralegal assists the attorney and is typically very hands on with the client, communicating with them frequently throughout the case. The paralegal’s knowledge of the clients, their injuries, and concerns allow the lawyer to appropriately address those things. The paralegal also works on the “behind the scenes” operations that clients don’t always see.
From the inception of the case to settlement or trial, the paralegal anticipates the needs of the attorney on each particular case, relying on their skills at building strong professional relationships and adapting to different working styles. The paralegal and attorney remain in constant communication and coordinate their efforts to ensure that the case progresses as it should.
With any good lawyer-paralegal relationship, there are key characteristics that help the legal team to do their best work:
The paralegal needs to know the attorney’s work habits and style. How the attorney likes things done. It’s rare that two attorneys want everything handled the same way, so the paralegal taking time to get to know how the attorney likes to communicate, manage their calendar, etc. can make both of their jobs easier.
The paralegal always needs to be looking ahead. Whether it’s looking at the calendar to see what events are on the horizon, or looking at a case to see what the next steps will be, looking ahead helps ensure that they have time to coordinate with the attorney to gather and prepare any materials the attorney may need. For instance, if there is a deposition coming up, the paralegal should make sure the file is up to date, everything is well organized, that any documents the attorney may need are available and that the attorney has an appropriate amount of time to prepare in advance of the date.
It is often joked that paralegals need ESP (but it really isn’t a joke.) A paralegal needs to be able to anticipate the needs of the attorney through each stage of the case to ensure the attorney has all of the materials or tools he or she needs before starting to prepare or work on a task. Often times, an attorney may ask for specific items, but when the paralegal starts looking at those materials and anticipates that the attorney may also need additional supporting documents. This forward thinking allows the attorney to prepare more thoroughly and serves as a great reminder that their team is just as invested in the case as they are.
Attorneys tend to think very analytically, and their thought processes can become very complex. A good paralegal can often balance that with creativity and thinking outside of the box in various scenarios which can help alleviate some of the stress on the attorney by gaining additional perspectives or insights.
The paralegal is typically the “organizer” who can keep the file and information in an orderly way so that the attorney can find and access anything they need to without wasting time having to dig around looking for it.
Great attorney-paralegal combinations occur when each of them know the other’s strengths and weaknesses and work together to utilize them effectively and efficiently.