Paralegals As Profit Centers: Are You Utilizing Your Paralegals Effectively?

Friday, December 1, 2006 - 01:00

Paralegals play a key role in both private law firms and corporate legal teams. If utilized effectively, paralegals have proven to be invaluable players in the provision of legal services in a number of ways.

Paralegals support attorneys in their daily functions by acting as liaisons between attorneys and their clients, as well as courts and governmental bodies. Talented paralegals also can offer expertise in the multi-faceted practice areas where they have received specialized training. If used successfully, paralegals can offer cost savings to consumers of legal services and be true sources of profit for your firm.

There tend to be misconceptions in the legal marketplace about the important role of paralegals. As a result, stellar talent is sometimes not fully utilized. Attorneys should examine their workload and delegate substantive responsibilities to their paralegals.

Lawyers who utilize their paralegal staff successfully will be rewarded with lower stress levels, quicker turnaround time on projects and a happier department all around, according to Special Counsel, the legal staffing solution business unit of Jacksonville-based MPS Group, Inc.

If legal employers truly appreciate the capabilities of paralegals, they will understand the intrinsic value of their staff. Attorneys may not realize how experienced paralegals can sometimes handle the work of junior associates. Your clients, paralegals, associates and partners will all be pleased once this concept is embraced.

In a competitive climate where clients are placing increased pressure on law firm rates, clients will appreciate the cost savings when billed for the work of paralegals instead of the more expensive work of associates. Your paralegals will be pleased when they have more meaningful assignments and higher levels of responsibility. Your associates will appreciate being utilized for more sophisticated, billable work and, as a result, will enjoy greater job satisfaction. Your firm will benefit from increased profits because once you have delegated responsibilities to your paralegals, your attorneys will be able to focus on more sophisticated, higher-level billable work.

Paralegals - Who Are They And What Do They Do?

The American Bar Association defines a paralegal as "a person qualified by education, training or work experience to be employed or retained by an attorney, law office, corporation, governmental agency or other and who performs specifically delegated substantive work for which a lawyer is responsible." As this indicates, some paralegals enter the profession through on-the-job training. Others receive formal education from an institution of higher learning. A third category of paralegal includes recent college graduates who are seeking experience in the legal profession prior to applying to law school.

Paralegal Responsibilities

Although each law firm and legal department has its own way of utilizing paralegals, there are universal tasks that paralegals are qualified for and capable of handling. Below is a list of practical tasks that paralegals can manage on a day-to-day basis in common practice areas. Attorneys also should empower their paralegals to delegate less substantive or clerical work to file clerks or secretarial staff. The firm will benefit from being able to charge clients for the additional billable work performed by paralegals, and your paralegals will benefit by having the opportunity to handle more rewarding assignments.

Litigation


Prepare deposition summaries


Perform legal, factual and legislative research


File and case management


Litigation support


Prepare notices of motions


Prepare certificates of service


Prepare subpoenas


Prepare deposition notices


Prepare summonses


Process discovery requests


Prepare trial exhibits and trial lists


Trial preparation


Draft complaints, answers and interrogatories


Review and summarize medical records


Perform document review and document coding/indexing


Proofread


Client intake


Act as a liaison with clients


Cite-checking


Database creation


Prepare arbitration statements

Corporate


Corporate housekeeping


Draft proxy statements


Draft and review contracts


Due diligence review


Maintain corporate minute books


Prepare articles of incorporation, bylaws and resolutions


Prepare closing documents


Blue Sky

Real Estate


Draft and review leases


Obtain title information


Prepare pre-closing documents


Prepare contracts of sale


Prepare mortgage documents


Prepare post-closing documents


Attend closings


Review site leases


Prepare variance applications

Intellectual Property


Patent and trademark docketing


Prepare office actions


Patent/trademark prosecution and litigation


Patent and trademark searches


Prepare licensing registrations and agreements

Paralegal Retention

Paralegals often say they are unhappy in their current positions because they seek more challenging and interesting work. They also desire professional respect and acknowledgement for exemplary job performance.

Paralegals, like all career-minded professionals, crave challenge and increasing levels of responsibility. If you tap into these desires, not only will you provide your paralegals with a sense of accomplishment and motivation, but you will reap the benefits of exceptional work product and employee allegiance, as well.

Professional development is as important to paralegals as it is to attorneys. By offering both in-house training and opportunities to attend outside training seminars, your company will demonstrate respect for your paralegals as professionals and as invaluable members of your firm. In turn, your firm will see positive results and a strong impact on the bottom line.

Jodi L. Nadler, Esq., is a Vice President of Special Counsel, the recognized leader in providing customized legal support solutions to corporate legal departments of Fortune 1000 companies and law firms nationwide. For more information, visit www.specialcounsel.com. Please email the author at jodi.nadler@specialcounsel.com with questions about this article.