How Lawyers can Properly Utilize their Paralegal

Post Authored by Tisha Delgado, brought to you by CourtFiling.net

Without a doubt, when you want to improve your client services, you hire a paralegal.

Maintaining a balance between your professional and private responsibilities is a challenge, especially if you are a sole-practitioner or work in a smaller office. You need to bring in business, network, market your services, but you also need to get the work done. Maybe it’s time to hire a paralegal.

There are basically three things that a paralegal cannot do: 1) establish the attorney-client relationship, 2) set fees, or 3) give legal advice.

Paralegal Defined

As defined in 5 ILCS 70/1.35, “‘[p]aralegal’ means a person who is qualified through education, training, or work experience and is employed by a lawyer, law office, governmental agency, or other entity to work under the direction of an attorney in a capacity that involves the performance of substantive legal work that usually requires a sufficient knowledge of legal concepts and would be performed by the attorney in the absence of the paralegal. A reference in an Act to attorney fees includes paralegal fees, recoverable at market rates.”

Paralegals in Illinois are neither required to have a certificate from a paralegal education program to work as a paralegal nor required to be certified to work as a paralegal. Being “certified” means meeting educational requirements and passing the National Federation of Paralegal Associations’ Paralegal Advanced Competency Exam® (PACE®).

Paralegals in Illinois are not “ABA-certified,” because the American Bar Association (“ABA”) does not certify paralegals. The ABA’s approval only applies to paralegal education programs.

Further, there are currently no mandatory certification requirements for Illinois paralegals. However, a well-educated and/or experienced paralegal knows that they may only work under the direction of an Illinois attorney, must abide by the Illinois Rules of Professional Conduct, and follow the NFPA Model Code of Ethics and Professional Responsibility. They understand that client communications are confidential and, to avoid conflicts of interest, use the systems or procedures that a firm has in place.

Substantive Legal Work

Depending on your practice and your needs, paralegals assist in countless ways.

With a little direction and guidance, a paralegal can efficiently manage and coordinate attorneys’ cases so they can spend more time on client development, attend court hearings, and take depositions. Depending on your practice area and needs, a good paralegal can conduct a pre-screening or intake for a potential client, help request and collect evidence, such as medical records, and communicate with opposing counsel on your behalf to obtain extensions of time.

Good paralegals can maintain a consistently organized client file (paper or electronic) and help you find what you need almost immediately once they are familiar with your office procedures and organizational style.  Paralegals can also maintain outgoing or incoming document production from opposing counsel or third parties. Professional paralegals know to redact or remove the client’s confidential information from documents before they are produced, and to utilize Bates number documents, a standard numbering convention to keep track of the documents that are produced. They have a working familiarity with the legal concepts in your practice area or will educate themselves through continuing legal education sessions, practice-specific webinars, and other resources.

Continuing Education

Networking and continuing legal education are important for paralegals. They need to stay up to date on technology, just as lawyers do. Paralegals know that maintaining a list of resources to provide the best, most cost-efficient services to your client, when needed, is the key to success. This includes process servers, court reporters, interpreters, translation services, legal copy services, e-discovery vendors, and e-filing service providers.

An experienced paralegal interprets court rules, statutes, and local rules relating to deadlines, hearings, and motions. An experienced paralegal also understands any court’s e-filing system. E-filing in state court can still be a challenge, especially in Cook County, IL. Many have learned that the “free” provider does not offer customer service and simply directs them to the local court clerk. Only offering support through the courts creates problems, because it is difficult to the person attorneys may be speaking with may not understand what they are trying to file and what is preventing them from finalizing the filing.

A good paralegal will understand the e-filing process and use their contacts within professional associations to find assistance in providing answers and information. They also identify and evaluate e-filing services that provide a higher level of support, such as CourtFiling.net. Paralegals are resourceful and discover special procedures or rules that would not be discovered otherwise.

With some training and guidance, a resourceful paralegal is often the key to a firm’s success. If you are not ready to hire someone full-time, try a freelance paralegal. Freelance paralegals are typically more experienced, but they also work only under an attorney’s direction. As an extra bonus, they often work remotely or in your office as needed and take care of all e-filing for you! Don’t be surprised if you find out they prefer to use an alternative e-filing service provider, like CourtFiling.net. A good paralegal knows that using the best services also makes their workload a lot lighter.

About the Author:

Tisha DelgadoTisha Delgado is a senior litigation paralegal and e-discovery specialist at Golan Christie Taglia, where she maintains complex databases and assists clients in collecting and exporting electronically stored information and social media. An educator, trainer, and thought leader, Tisha is frequently called on to speak at paralegal schools and legal education conferences. She currently advises legal professionals on e-filing rules and procedures, and how to create successful workflows to accommodate an evolving e-filing system in the Illinois state courts. Tisha is a member of the National Federation of Paralegal Associations.

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