Hiring a paralegal is an essential part of establishing and growing a successful law firm. A good paralegal can handle many tasks, letting you focus on running your practice and doing billable work. In this article, we'll discuss the skills to look for in a paralegal, guidelines for writing a paralegal job description, tips for finding the right candidate, and the cost of hiring.
What is a paralegal?
A paralegal is an assistant who creates legal documents. They mostly work for lawyers in the public sector, corporations, and private law firms. A paralegal's duties may include:
- Helping lawyers prepare for meetings and trials
- Communicating with clients
- Preparing and filing legal briefs, appeals, affidavits, deposition notices, motions, contracts, and other legal documents
- Performing legal research such as information retrieval and gathering facts
- Assisting lawyers before and during trials
- Participating in proceedings such as real estate closings or legal depositions
- Building and maintaining case files
- Helping with clerical or administrative work
- Billing clients and processing payments
- Making travel arrangements and scheduling meetings
Some paralegals specialize in various areas of law, such as:
- Family law
- Estate planning and probate
- Real estate
- Criminal defense
- Corporate law
- Criminal prosecution
- Civil litigation
- Intellectual property
- Workers' compensation, disability, and employee rights
Paralegals can't give legal advice, and they must work under a lawyer's supervision. Some are independent contractors while others work full-time. Larger law firms often use full-time paralegals. If you're an independent attorney or part of a small firm, consider hiring a freelance law clerk who works only when you need help. This minimizes expenses while maintaining a high quality of work.
"Consider the amount of education and experience and the areas of focus or specialization that your paralegal needs. By training an entry-level employee, you can ensure that your new paralegal is aware of relevant local laws and your firm's procedures. Candidates with experience, however, have more specialized knowledge."
Skills to look for in a paralegal
A paralegal should have a variety of skills. They need to be familiar with legal matters, and they typically receive in-house training. Paralegal certification programs are available, and some employers prefer certified candidates.
In the United States, candidates can earn a paralegal certification from the National Federation of Paralegal Associations (NFPA), the National Association of Legal Assistants (NALA), the American Alliance of Paralegals, Inc. (AAPI), or the National Association of Legal Secretaries (NALS). Certified paralegals sometimes seek higher pay, but many firms prefer hiring an expert who has advanced legal training. Along with certification, consider searching for paralegals with:
Lawyers rely on paralegals to keep track of legal documents and information for multiple cases and clients. Paralegals often use calendars or scheduling apps to ensure that attorneys appear in court and attend meetings on time. They file physical documents and keep track of evidence, such as photographs, and they often use digital filing systems.
Many paralegals answer phone calls and speak with clients and others involved in cases. A good paralegal should be courteous and friendly. They should also be able to explain the legal process to clients. For example, someone can ask how a deposition works or why a notary is necessary when signing various types of agreements.
Attention to detail and reading comprehension
Many legal documents are long and complex, and lawyers don't always have time to read everything themselves. A paralegal can read these documents and inform the attorney about sections that could be important to a client's case. They should also be able to proofread paperwork, correct errors, and ensure it fulfills legal requirements.
Paralegals should know how to use legal research databases such as Westlaw and LexisNexis. They often speak with witnesses, search public records, and look for past legal decisions or precedents that support cases. They then prepare detailed reports on their findings.
Paralegals need the help and supervision of lawyers. Several paralegals often work as a team, and they coordinate their actions with lawyers and clients to prepare for trials and other legal proceedings.
Paralegals often use various technical tools in their work. They know how to type legal documents, set up video calls with clients and witnesses, operate audio and video recording equipment for depositions, and use proofreading software to find errors before submitting documents. Many paralegals also shop for office equipment, such as computers, and troubleshoot technical issues for lawyers.
How to write a paralegal job description
A thoughtful job description is fundamental to finding a qualified paralegal who can help your law firm represent more clients. Include a compelling summary of the role, a detailed list of job duties, and the required and preferred skills and qualifications. You should also stipulate whether the position is full-time, part-time, or freelance and the typical working hours.
Include a salary or hourly pay range, your law firm's location, and the amount of travel required. Paralegals often need to visit courthouses, clients' homes or offices, and other locations. A brief overview of benefits, such as a retirement plan, paid vacation, or a hybrid work schedule, can help attract quality candidates. You can also highlight perks such as a transportation allowance or an office for the new employee.
Tips for finding the right paralegal
To select the right paralegal for your business, consider contacting a national paralegal association. These are the same bodies that award paralegal certifications, and they often offer referrals for lawyers looking for paralegals. You can also reach millions of candidates by posting your job description on CareerBuilder. You can search for local paralegals, review their resumes, and contact the most suitable candidates.
Consider the amount of education and experience and the areas of focus or specialization that your paralegal needs. By training an entry-level employee, you can ensure that your new paralegal is aware of relevant local laws and your firm's procedures. Candidates with experience, however, have more specialized knowledge. The quality of their work is often higher, and many paralegals who have worked in the field for several years can train entry-level employees. Those with more experience and a paralegal certification may demand a higher salary.
How much does it cost to hire a paralegal?
According to the Society for Human Resource Management, the cost of a new hire is around $4,700. This includes advertising the position, reviewing resumes, interviewing candidates, conducting background checks, and onboarding new hires. Choosing a freelance paralegal can keep hiring costs low. On average, a full-time paralegal in the United States makes $30.20 per hour or $63,000 per year.
Hiring a paralegal makes routine tasks such as setting appointments, reviewing or creating legal documents, and researching past cases easier. You can help more clients without feeling stressed or overwhelmed, and a paralegal can keep your office organized.
Learn more about hiring a paralegal to increase the success of your law firm:
Paralegals often review confidential legal information, and conducting a detailed background check is essential for keeping clients' case files safe.
Good communication skills are fundamental to a paralegal's role, and ensuring potential hires have these skills is essential.
Paralegals also need other soft skills such as teamwork and time management.
Depending on your needs, you may want a salaried or hourly paralegal.
Many paralegals act as office managers for smaller law firms, and they help lawyers and other team members stay organized.