Career Insight: A Day in the Life of the Paralegal
The modern paralegal is simply an indispensable component of the legal system. This is an oversimplification of course, but the truth is that a partner in a law firm must have paralegals in place within their corporate structure before they can ever hire associates or other attorneys. Like every other business model, most lawyers know that a paralegal/legal assistant employed as support staff will initially and over the course of time bring more value to the law office than hiring another attorney to serve as an associate. That is why the senior paralegal in most law offices also serve as the office manager. This dual-hatting of responsibilities demonstrate the trust that paralegals earn within the system and the reason why seasoned paralegals can command greater salaries. That fact alone should serve as motivation to continue on with your paralegal/legal assistant education as it remains a very stable and reliable profession with an expected 12% growth over the next ten years with the median pay of $52,920 per year as of 2020.
Fluidity of a Paralegal’s Work Day
In terms of a typical day in the career of a paralegal understand that it is a dynamic and fluid profession where you will be dealing with novel challenges on a daily basis ensuring that each day will usually be different. In short, I have never heard of a paralegal/legal assistant complain that their job was boring. Although there are many organizations that employ paralegals/legal assistants to serve in different capacities from Federal, State, and County governments as well as large corporations, most paralegals will initially find employment within small law offices which employ only a handful of attorneys. It is to this employment environment that I will address this article.
The primary tasks that paralegal/legal assistants will be expected to master will consist of conducting legal research; knowledge management; preparing legal documents; interviewing clients; conducting case research; writing reports; and assisting with office management. All of these tasks are requirements and the modern paralegal/legal assistant must be prepared to address them all, and perhaps more, during the course of a business day.
Legal research is one of the largest components and it is expected that the paralegal can conduct competent research through some of the primary legal databases such as LexisNexis or Westlaw. As the Federal and State Governments collectively pass and amend hundreds of new laws every year. By way of comparison our U.S. Congress has enacted approximately 4-6 million words of new law for each 2-year term since World War II. In addition, the competent paralegal/legal assistant should have access to their local law library to augment any gap in their legal knowledge and understanding.
The preparation of legal documents is a test of skill in both the Rules of Criminal and Civil Procedure for the respective State and County the paralegal is employed and any Federal Jurisdiction the attorneys practice within. This is where experience comes into play and the nascent paralegal must expect to work their way up to an accomplished level of practice, as is the same for any profession. No one expects a new paralegal to be fully proficient so use that expectation to your advantage and learn all you can about the process.
Writing Reports and Knowledge Management skills expect that upon completion of any interview, taking notes from an attorney, or updating case files the paralegal will be able to communicate is clear understandable language where no details are omitted. These reports are to be completed in a timely manner to link-up with the case that they are attached to and must be filed within the established guidelines of office protocol. All data must have a central format for easy filing and retrieval and this is at the core of Knowledge Management skills.
Interviewing Clients and Conducting Case Research are skills that will not most likely be formally taught to the paralegal/legal assistant. However prospective clients are the money life blood of any law office and their concerns and interests must be carefully addressed with empathy from a professional perspective. Although paralegals/legal assistants cannot dispense legal advice they can encapsulate the legal needs and concerns from the client to be evaluated by the attorney who could handle the case. The paralegal/legal assistant will be the primary intermediary between any client and their attorney and as such must be intimately involved with each and every case. Case Research involves the paralegal/legal assistant conducting background research into potential parties and circumstances involved in a case. This research should be conducted diligently and added to the case file in a timely manner. It is important to know that if an attorney will not or cannot use the services of a licensed private investigator, the paralegal/legal assistant might be required to fill in that gap with the understanding that their investigation is confined to the four corners of the case at hand.
Last, assisting with general Office Management involves the paralegal/legal assistant assisting with personnel scheduling and management; keeping the attorneys updated with changes to filing and court appearance changes, keeping the law office bills paid for utilities and such as well as keeping the lights on and the break room filled with coffee and water, etc. The most important part of assisting with Office Management is always being available with a smile and professional demeanor with which to address any prospective client who comes into your office.
On a typical day the paralegal/legal assistant may have to work through only a few or all and more examples above. In short, there is nothing “typical” about a day-in-the-life of a paralegal/legal assistant and that adds to the excitement and joy of the much needed and appreciated profession.
Written by Professor Jeffrey Hauck
Professor Jeffrey Hauck currently resides in Texas with his wife and family. He is serving in the U.S. Army as a Space Operations Officer for an Innovation Command providing guidance and assessments for Theater and Homeland Defense missions. His military service includes more than twenty years of experience both as a U.S. Army Non-Commissioned and Commissioned Officer employed as an Airborne Infantry Pathfinder; Chemical, Biological, Radiological, Nuclear (CBRN) basic branch Officer; and now a Space Operations Officer (FA-40). His law enforcement career includes fifteen years of service as a municipal police officer hired, and twice promoted, through the Civil Service Commission.
Professor Hauck retired from law enforcement at the rank of Sergeant as a platoon shift supervisor and administrator. He possesses many years of training, lecturing, & business management experience as well as more than fifteen years of experience as a Licensed Private Detective (LPD). During the years of 2006 – 2014 he was Licensed and Bonded as a Private Detective empowered to conduct private investigations throughout the entire Commonwealth of Pennsylvania and the State of Alabama.
Professor Hauck is currently licensed as a Private Investigator in the State of Texas. He earned a Juris Doctor (JD) Degree and was a fellow at the Law & Government Institute earning specializations in both Administrative and Constitutional Law at Widener University School of Law. He also holds a Master of Science (MSc) degree in Criminal Justice, a Bachelor of Arts (BA) degree in Criminal Justice, and a Career Diploma as a Certified Legal Assistant/Paralegal. Currently, he is a Ph.D candidate.
As a law enforcement officer Professor Hauck held certification to teach at the Police Academy Level (PA Act 120) as a Special & General law enforcement Educator/Trainer. He is credentialed as a Certified Law Enforcement Trainer (CLET), Certified Protection Officer (CPO), Certified International Investigator (CII), and Certified Instructor in the areas of academics, skills, and firearms for Pennsylvania’s Act 235, The Lethal Weapons Training Act. He has been teaching as an Adjunct Professor of Criminal Justice and Paralegal Studies in both brick and mortar and distance institutions since 2002. He is a proud member of the National Association of Legal Assistants (NALA), the Texas Association of Licensed Investigators (TALI), and other professional organizations.