A paralegal career offers exciting challenges. While your tasks may seem mundane on some days, others offer intrigue. You’ll be on the front lines of fascinating cases and get a behind-the-scenes look at the legal system and how it operates.
What does it take to succeed in this fast-paced, varied environment? What will you need to know? Here are six important qualities for paralegals to have.
1. Good organisational skills.
Part of your job as a paralegal entails handling lots of deadlines. The attorneys might be in charge of the case, but they’ll rely on you to keep them on schedule. You need the right organisational tools and the savvy to use them.
Should you go digital or old-fashioned pen and paper? The former keeps vital dates at your fingertips, but paper planners let you capture your thoughts and write detailed notes — essential if you’re amid a big case.
2. A strong stomach.
Perhaps you first became intrigued by the paralegal profession while watching the Johnny Depp v. Amber Heard trial and thought, “I wish I could get a closer look at the evidence for myself.” You might get to participate in some steamy celebrity action as part of your caseload. However, for every glamorous “he said, she said,” you’ll wade through many more mundane disputes. Worse, you’ll occasionally see things you wish you hadn’t.
For example, you might have to deal with grisly cases involving accidental gunshot wounds. Many of these incidents occur among young boys and men between 10 and 29 — and you could find the details difficult to bear, especially if you have sons or grandsons. Car accidents can result in debilitating injuries, disability and death — and you’ll handle more than your fair share if you work for a firm that handles personal injury.
Paralegals often consult individual clients more than the attorneys in charge of their cases. You’ll need to deal with people when they’re most emotional and vulnerable. Tears may flow and tempers flare. It’s challenging to remain objective, keeping your personal opinion out of the conversation — your job is to stay supportive and compassionate.
The more empathy you have, the better. This skill enables you to put yourself in your clients’ shoes, seeing the situation from their perspective. Doing so helps you remain calm amid emotionally charged conversations. For example, it can be downright uncomfortable when someone raises their voice — but if you understand their behaviour stems from a defensive need to protect themselves, you can react appropriately instead of growing angry yourself.
4. Varied communications skills.
Paralegals don’t have to stand up in court and address a judge or jury. However, you’ll need outstanding written and verbal communication skills. You must span the gamut — using appropriate language and deference when dealing with authorities but showing your human side to hurting clients. You may need to use age-appropriate verbiage when relating to little ones.
Furthermore, your job will entail writing memos and compiling briefs. The attorneys in charge handle the legal heavy lifting, but you nevertheless need top-notch grammar and editing skills to produce documents free from errors. Mistakes can draw the court’s ire, which can devastate your clients.
5. Keen research skills.
Although you are not an attorney, you’ll do your fair share of legal research as a paralegal. You must know how to locate information quickly and interpret weighty arguments to determine if certain precedents benefit your client’s case.
You can find a lot of information online. However, law books cost a small fortune for a reason. You’ll also need to know how to page through weighty tomes, search for cases and decipher sometimes archaic language.
The long arm of the law moves with the slowness of a snail crossing a tightrope. Cases can sometimes drag on for months or even years. Trial delays often occur, and you may have to sit silently through countless objections if you accompany the attorney on the case to court — and playing on your phone to pass the time isn’t acceptable.
The final quality you’ll need as a paralegal is patience. Fortunately, like empathy, you can develop this trait through practice. Cultivate mindfulness and learn to tune into your inner world — you aren’t bored if you’re counting your heartbeats or silently practising deep breathing exercises.
Important qualities for paralegals to have.
The paralegal profession offers multiple benefits, including the chance to serve on the front lines of the legal scene. However, you must have the right characteristics to succeed in this career.
Author: Oscar Collins, Modded Founder and Editor-in-Chief