Tips & Tricks for Involving the Evolving Paralegal
Thursday, May 9, 2024
by: Shawn Siers & Rachel Anyan, Elite Paralegal Services

Section: Spring 2024




Paralegals have evolved over the last 10 to 15 years. They are entering the workforce with more education and training than in previous years due to college and vocational training programs.

A paralegal is allowed to perform any task that is properly delegated and supervised by an attorney, as long as the attorney is ultimately responsible to the client and assumes complete professional responsibility for the work product. [1]

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, in 2022, there were over 354,000 paralegals employed in the United States. Current employment trends indicate that attorneys rely on paralegals more today than they did 10-15 years ago. As a result of the career growth, technology is critical in the evolution of the paralegal role.

Paralegals are often the first person to interface with your clients and drive your case toward trial, mediation, arbitration, or settlement. A skilled paralegal is motivated and has knowledge and experience in meeting deadlines ahead of time, communicating with clients and witnesses, providing trial preparation and support, managing projects, and utilizing e-discovery. Key responsibilities may now include e-discovery and assisting with trial presentations, such as serving as a hot seater. Communication, organization, and time management skills are essential to being a successful paralegal.

It is a best practice to involve your paralegal as soon as possible in your pre-suit or litigation case. You can collaborate with your paralegal to streamline your case to ensure that it flows smoothly through the litigation process. Using a paralegal can be a solid financial move for your practice to save time and money. Below are some tips and tricks for working in a timely and cost-effective manner with your paralegal.

Communication – Communication is key. Your paralegal should be able to communicate clearly and concisely with you regarding case status, deadlines, and strategy. Communication, however, is a two-way street. Paralegals cannot read your mind. It is a best practice to identify your project expectations and deadlines. Paralegals should be proactive in communication regarding on-going project status, and steps they are using to move the case forward. Your paralegal should be copied on all communication to the client(s) regarding case strategy, so that they are aware of the important issues involved in the case while they are communicating with the clients and conducting discovery. I frequently use the “5 Ws” in communication: who, what, where, when, and why. Another great tip is to ensure that your paralegal is taking notes during meetings or conferences to refer back to for follow-up. 

Deadlines - your paralegal should be deadline-driven. They should be able to successfully identify and monitor approaching deadlines; anticipate case needs, strategies, and projects in advance of all deadlines; be able to plan for upcoming deadlines and projects to meet case goals; provide draft documents to you at least two weeks before any deadline; and skillfully strategize with the litigation team regarding how to meet the deadline and what needs to be accomplished.

Discovery - It is a best practice to involve your paralegal as soon as possible in discovery.  It is a fast-paced piece of litigation that allows an experienced paralegal to support you by drafting discovery requests or responses; identifying, collecting, and preserving ESI; reviewing and producing documents; drafting privilege logs; setting up a review platform with a preferred vendor; organizing a document review team; identifying key documents for depositions; drafting mediation and arbitration statements; obtaining medical, employment, L&I, or public records for summarizing historical information; conducting witness interviews and background investigations as well as preserving social media. If you do not involve your paralegal in understanding the key issues of the case and the litigation strategy, it will hinder their ability to identify key documents and engage in discovery effectively. Copying your paralegal on status updates to the client(s) and carriers is essential for that reason.

In summary, a qualified and experienced paralegal should be involved in your case from beginning to end. Experienced paralegals know how to keep a case moving forward, but communicating with your paralegal is key to making that work. Your paralegal should be apprised of the litigation strategy and key issues involved in the case so that they are better able to support you and your clients. Your paralegal should be deadline-driven and focused on projects/tasks that meet key case deadlines. Additionally, you should be utilizing your paralegal in all aspects of discovery.

Shawn Siers is co-owner of Elite Paralegal Services, which offers litigation, discovery, and trial support services. Prior to starting Elite Paralegal Services in July 2021, Shawn worked as a Sr. Litigation Paralegal and Paralegal Manager at a top Seattle defense firm.

In her spare time, she designs jewelry for a local art gallery. She and her husband spend time kayaking Puget Sound, hiking and mountain bike riding in the Cascade Mountains.

Rachel Anyan is a licensed Washington attorney. After working for litigation defense firms for over seven years, she started her own firm in 2023 focused on offering litigation support services to other firms. She partners with Elite Paralegal Services on ghostwriting, discovery, and trial support projects. 

Rachel is a Pacific Northwest native. She enjoys gardening, cooking, and spending time outside with her family.
 
[1] NALA, The Paralegal Association, Model Standards and Guidelines for Utilization of Paralegals, March 2022; RPC 5.3.