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Memphis, Tennessee, United States
Small town paralegal in the city. Once ran a law office, now being run by one. Med mal defense litigation. I think it's growing on me.

Monday, August 9, 2010

Choice of Habit

I was such a sheltered little paralegal in my old world. I know I have covered all the aspects of my former life - close client contact, assignments that included dense substantive work - and how all that has changed with my new job. I believed until recently that most experienced attorneys and other legal professionals knew of all the ways non-lawyer assistants and paralegals can be utilized. I assumed that if my attorneys were not using me in many of those ways, it was simply because they chose not to. And that is okay. As a member of the legal team, I am happy to be utilized to benefit the team as the leader sees fit (although just like any team member, sometimes I think my skills might be better used in different ways). It had occurred to me only fleetingly that some, nay, many attorneys might not know how to use these functional accessories called paralegals. But I brushed that thought aside for some reason.

However, since moving into a legal world that gives me much more face-time with a greater universe of lawyers and legal professionals, I have learned that perhaps under-utilization is not a choice. Perhaps it is sometimes a habit born of confusion and mystery.

Not once but three times in the past three months, I have been involved in conversations with different attorneys about the ways they use their paralegals and the ways they see other paralegals being used. One lawyer seemed confused at the idea of a paralegal signing her name to a letter transmitting pleadings to the other side ("Please find enclosed..."). Another considered the drafting of pleadings to be one of the attorney-only facets of the practice of law. Still another did not like receiving lawyer-transmitted information through the opposing counsel's paralegal ("Since we did not hear from you after calling and writing you several times, we had to go ahead and tentatively schedule the deposition before the discovery time limit ran out. Here is the date.").

Thankfully, in each of these conversations, the attorney seemed relieved to find out that he could actually choose to use his paralegal to ease the burden of some of these tasks. Of course, old habits die hard, and once someone gets used to practicing a certain way, that way may be the way. For instance, I know of partners who refuse to allow anyone but attorneys even organize their files. And I know of lawyers who will always prefer that any communication to any party or counsel comes directly through their pen. My hope is that these preferences are choices made after careful consideration of how to achieve the best results for the client in the most efficient way, rather than a self-inflicted routine caused by a lack of understanding of how to use other legal professionals.

Nevertheless, when I received an assignment to draft a complaint this week, I could not help but smile. I am happy to have been able to take something substantive and time-consuming off of one of my attorneys' desks, freeing him up for more complex tasks.

This was the result of good communication among legal team members, of course. In one five-minute conversation regarding the many uses of paralegals, I was able to help one lawyer become more efficient and profit-oriented, while at the same time ensuring interesting substantive work for myself. That's what I call a win-win situation.

1 comment:

  1. Good way of looking at it. It is a win-win, and I just wish more attorneys saw it that way. It's actually a win-win-win, for the paralegal, the attorney, and the client, because of the lower billable rate of the paralegal.