If the most important quality of a paralegal could be summed up in one word, it would be “efficiency”. Serving clients by giving attorneys more time to do their jobs is the main goal of a great paralegal. But how do you get to be the most efficient and effective paralegal possible? Here are some of the specific skills needed to thrive in the paralegal profession.
Much of a paralegals work is spent interacting with others. Good oral communication skills are especially crucial when it comes to interviewing witnesses. You will need to know how to ask the appropriate questions and keep the interview on track. Listening ability also is important in interviews, so paralegals can properly interject questions and gather important information.
Nonverbal communication may speak louder than any other form of communication for a paralegal. Body language presented by a paralegal to clients, their attorney, and other associates can indicate confidence, authority, understanding or fear, defensiveness, and a variety of other character traits. Focusing intentionally on improving each type of communication skill can impact a paralegal career greatly.
Hiring a paralegal who cannot write is like hiring a maid who cannot clean. Writing is absolutely essential to being a good paralegal. Often when people think of the legal profession, they think of documents written in legal jargon known as “legalese.” This couldn’t be any further from the truth when it comes to the writing responsibilities of a paralegal. Instead, drafting legal correspondence for clients that is clear, concise, and persuasive should be the paralegal’s goal.
Being a paralegal is like being a private investigator for your attorney. An inquisitive mind with an aptitude for research and investigation makes for a great paralegal. Internet research and legal research databases such as Westlaw must be utilized to gather information relevant to the case.
Attention to Detail
Are you one of those people who proofreads a paper countless times before turning it in? If so, you would likely make a good paralegal. While attorneys look at the big picture, it is the paralegal who ties all the little details together. In fact, some cases are won or lost because one party does not supply the required legal documents needed for the case. A good paralegal must be able to review complex documents and accurately pull important information to summarize for the attorney.
A paralegal may be called upon to schedule an appointment, interview a client and conduct legal research all within the course of an hour. It is important that a paralegal be able to prioritize and manage the demands of multiple projects at the same time, as well as handle the accompanying stress.
While you do not need to be a computer analyst by any means, it would be helpful to have basic computer skills. Paralegals spend a lot of time preparing documents, and the faster you can pull together the information, the better. Knowledge of Microsoft Excel and how to conduct an internet search are also helpful skills to have.
While this list summarizes some of the qualities needed to be a good paralegal, intangibles like drive, determination, and love of the law ultimately will help bring you success. A good paralegal takes pride in the work accomplished and how it helps their attorney succeed. Someone with this combination of proficiency and passion should look forward to a rewarding career.
Since 1987, Center for Advanced Legal Studies has prepared thousands of students for the paralegal profession. We offer both a Paralegal Certificate and an Associate of Applied Science Paralegal Degree that can be completed through our on-campus or online paralegal options. In addition, we are dedicated to supporting our students with full career placement services and externship opportunities.