Paralegals' Highest and Best Use

Kathy Fortin

February 6, 2017

Paralegals have important roles in law firms. Many lawyers will say they have one or more paralegals who are their right arm. Lawyers rely on these professionals for their knowledge, skill, expertise and a variety of key attributes, such as organization, multi-tasking and effective communication. A properly experienced paralegal can perform an endless array of skilled work in any practice area.. From drafting documents to preparing legal cases, the limit is as high as the individual paralegal’s talents. From the client’s view, paralegals are an invaluable source of assistance in communicating with them about their legal matter.

One common occurrence I see is a paralegal not used to his or her full potential.  It is all too typical in some law firms that paralegals are utilized for administrative tasks. Because many paralegals are get-it-done types, they will handle what is put in front of them. While this attribute can contribute to what makes them successful in their careers, it can be a hindrance to them, the lawyers and the law firm.

I encourage paralegals to strive to do work that reaches the highest level of their abilities. By definition, paralegals can perform legal work that would otherwise be performed by the lawyer. Managing the library shelves stacked with statutes and treatises may be necessary and useful, however this level of work is not what I call a “true” paralegal is qualified to do. There are occasions when paralegals and lawyers must perform lower level tasks, but they should be kept to a minimum. Only then can the paralegal be a true benefit to the firm, utility-wise and profitability-wise. While the paralegal needs to be alert to their highest and best role for the clients, the legal work and the firm, lawyers may need reminders, too.

My next few blogs will be about the significance of paralegal profitability, the challenges small and mid-sized firms face in properly utilizing paralegals, and the advantages that can come from a new focus on setting goals, brushing up a Job Description and more.