Time is Money
By delegating appropriate legal tasks to the paralegal, the attorneys are then free to focus attention on matters such as legal analysis, case strategies, and client development. Tasks traditionally considered the province of the attorney are now increasingly being handled by the paralegal. Some of the substantive tasks appropriate for paralegals to perform include: Conducting client interviews
- Drafting legal documents, correspondence, and pleadings
- Summarizing depositions, interrogatories, and testimony
- Conducting legal research
- Conducting real estate closings
- Maintaining files and tickler systems
- Authoring and signing correspondence (disclosing non-lawyer status)
- Liaising with clients and court personnel
- Locating and interviewing witnesses
Paralegals are still explicitly prohibited from giving legal advice, setting legal fees, fee splitting, and representing parties in court.
The primary reason a firm is not successful with legal assistants is under use of their skills and talents. To achieve efficient use of the paralegal and to realize greater profit, the firm must involve the paralegal in a matter from the initial client conference. This contact enables the paralegal to gain an overall understanding of the issues introduced and the outcome sought. If paralegals do not grasp the nature of the case, it is difficult for them to use reasoning and creativity in completing assignments. For instance, if they are not involved in the case enough to understand the legal strategy, how can they effectively do thorough research? Involving our paralegal with the case as a whole will afford them the opportunity to work efficiently and attain maximum results.
Cost Savings to Firm
Employee loyalty is key to profitability. Legal assistant salaries are commensurate with other similarly trained professionals with like credentials and responsibilities. These salaries may be less than those paid to associate attorneys, and firms have greater projection control as to future costs related to the paralegal employee.
Most associate attorneys, especially those who are newly licensed, will remain with the firm only a few years. A satisfied paralegal is more likely to stay with the firm as a career choice, rather than using the position as a stepping-stone. Additionally, the attorney will generally determine the paralegal’s effectiveness more quickly than in the case of a newly hired associate and, as a result, be in a position to cut losses earlier. In the event that the new employee does not work out, the cost of severing the relationship with a legal assistant is less than that of a departing associate.
It is true that a paralegal cannot perform all of the functions of an associate attorney. As outlined above, however, efficient use of the paralegal will free up the attorney who is currently performing many of the tasks that should be properly delegated to the non-lawyer assistant, tasks that are too complex for the secretary/receptionist employee and yet do not require an attorney’s attention. Utilizing a paralegal in this manner enables the attorney to focus on specific functions appropriate only to those authorized to practice law.
Satisfied Clients Through Contact
Clients also like a legal assistant working with the attorney on their case. The legal assistant is intimately familiar with the details of the case, is easily accessible, and is a direct extension of the attorney. Often attorneys are out of reach due to court appearances, client meetings, or other commitments. The paralegal is usually available in the office and the person in direct contact with the attorney at any given point during the day. Although the paralegal may not give legal advice, clients are reassured when their call is answered that the question will be forwarded to the attorney and an answer forthcoming.
Lack of client communication is one of the primary reasons for the filing of bar complaints. Having a paralegal can alleviate many client concerns, while improving the quality of the legal services rendered.