Many attorneys cut their teeth during an era where paralegals were inextricably bound to the office, among the paper files and desktops of the law firm. But as firms migrate their systems to the cloud, paralegals can access data from anywhere. The migration to the cloud has opened up new possibilities, as paralegals can be brought in quickly and flexibly to assist in-house attorneys or increase the capacity of an in-house paralegal team.
As with any new service, some law firms still aren’t sure how they can utilize virtual paralegals to help increase efficiency and grow their firms. Here are some projects with which paralegals can assist.
- Initial Drafts of Pleadings
Paralegals can do more than provide merely administrative support. An experienced and properly trained paralegal can provide the first draft of most pleadings, including complaints, answers, motions, briefs, and discovery requests. The paralegal saves the attorney the time of starting the pleading from scratch, reducing time demands on attorneys and cost for the client.
Attorneys naturally want to ensure that a new paralegal is up to the job of drafting. A good approach to take is to start the paralegal off preparing documents that borrow a lot from templates, such as discovery requests, discovery responses, and supporting pleadings. From the perspective of transactional practice, paralegals can work off of template contracts, revising language and combining clauses from different agreements. As you gain confidence in your paralegal, expand her responsibilities and allow her to take a crack at more substantive pleadings, such as discovery motions and motions in limine.
- Administrative Duties
Paralegals can and should be responsible for the majority of administrative duties in a firm. Time spent on administrative tasks is time lost in billable hours. Administrative duties can include everything from calendaring deadlines to billing and bookkeeping. Even sorting through and organizing emails can be performed by trusted paralegals. A skilled paralegal can eliminate clutter, bring important communications to your attention, and create initial drafts of emails.
E-filing is a task that can take up to 30 minutes to complete (depending on the e-filing system used). Once an attorney has completed and signed a motion, an e-filing can be simply completed by a paralegal or legal secretary who is familiar with the system.
Research can be a tedious task, especially for firms watching their bottom line. For this reason, paralegals can and should assist attorneys in all types of research. An experienced and properly trained paralegal should have the ability to perform case law research that forms the basis of legal arguments in litigation, provides background for client consultation, and assists in assessing and drafting contractual clauses. Paralegals can also do the work of shepherding case law in briefs or creating legal memoranda summarizing an area of law.
- Client Communications
Attorneys need to keep clients apprised of the status of their matters and consult with them on matters requiring informed consent in a timely manner. Paralegals can play an important role in fulfilling these duties. Paralegals can assist with the following:
- Screening potential clients using questions developed by the attorney
- Gathering information from clients in order to respond to discovery requests
- Providing status reports to clients and scheduling meetings with the attorney when the client’s consent is required
Ultimately, allowing paralegals to communicate with clients will free up an attorney’s time for inquiries that do require the attorney’s attention and response.