5 Things Every Great Paralegal Does
Whether you’ve been a paralegal for years or if you’re brand new to the profession, there are a handful of key lessons I learned during my time as a paralegal that I believe are important to keep in mind.
If you make a mistake, own it
With 10 tasks on your to-do list, an attorney stopping by your office to discuss a project, and no time to take lunch, it is possible that something will slip through the cracks. The most impactful lesson I learned as a paralegal was that when I made a mistake, the best thing I could do was to own it, fix it quickly, and keep moving forward. Owning your mistakes will have a couple of outcomes: 1) you won’t spend time stressing about how to tell your team you made a mistake, 2) the solution will come more quickly than it would have it you waited for someone else to discover the mistake, and 3) your deal teams will respect you for being proactive.
As a paralegal, or any other legal professional, mistakes are inevitable. You will find yourself moving a mile a minute, and something will inevitably slip your mind. I’ve found that I’m able to make my way through a stressful job more easily by viewing these moments as hiccups rather than catastrophes, and you might, too!
Think it through, then think it through again
This lesson is important, especially if you’re new to being a paralegal. When (not if) you’re given a task without the expected level of detail regarding what you’re supposed to do and for whom, it might seem easiest to hit reply and send off a quick “Can you please provide more detail?”. In these moments, it’s important to consider that the email you received might feel rushed because the attorney who sent it has 100 things on their plate and it took all the brain power they had in the moment to kick 1 or 2 items to you – so that follow-up has a pretty high probability of going unanswered.
So, what do you do? Maybe you take the time to Google “What does ‘DBA’ stand for?” or “Does ‘Assumed name’ mean the same thing as ‘Doing business as’?” I promise you’re not the first one to wonder about that, so there could be some great information online that you can pick through to find a consensus. Alternatively, you can take a moment to remember that there were paralegals before you at the firm who did this same task, and your document management system is a gold mine! Type in some key words, find some precedents, and work your way through it!
Your deal team will appreciate your initiative when your clarification question is accompanied by some work product and your best effort.
Review your work one more time than you think you need to
Some of the tasks we handle as paralegals are simple, filling out an SS-4, adding the closing date to a suite of documents, revising an entity name – you’ve done them 100 times, and you’ll do them 500 more! It may be tempting to type everything out, and hit ‘send’ immediately, but beware of the stray comma! The 2022/2023 slip-up! The classic they’re/their/there mistake!
Even when you’re working on auto-pilot, take the time to look over your work one more time than you need to because the only thing more frustrating than making the mistake is knowing that someone else found it.
Resources are all around you
As you become a more skilled paralegal, it’s probable that your deal team will feel comfortable relying on you for additional, more complex tasks. That will mean something different for everyone, but I have known paralegals to not only draft consents and internal business documents, but sometimes they have been asked to use a Letter of Intent to take a first run at a Purchase Agreement and an Employment Agreement. When you’re given the opportunity to take on more responsibility, you may feel the pressure to figure it out on your own – but I’m here to remind you that you’re not on your own.
Take advantage of your firm’s research team – they will be able to help you pull applicable statutes, pull cases, run searches, and so much more.
Take advantage of the relationships you’ve made – paralegals often become close with associates, ask them how they learned and what resources they used.
The bottom line is that as a paralegal, you have been and will be the support for so many legal professionals, so when you need support, don’t be afraid to seek it out.
Give yourself space to breathe
Working as a paralegal can have its stressful moments. With multiple deals closing, wire deadlines approaching, signature pages that need to be signed, it’s not only possible, but likely that you will feel overwhelmed. I have definitely had my moments where I felt as though there were not enough hours in the day, and then I didn’t make it home until 9 or 10pm.
Even when things feel chaotic, it’s okay to walk down the street and grab a coffee. If you aren’t at your best, you won’t be able to show up well in the moments that matter!