Paralegals Are More Than You Think

Paralegals Are More Than You Think

This interview is part of Loio series of interviews with legal enthusiasts about the ins and outs of the legal industry.

The following is the interview with Berlinda Bernard, a freelance contract paralegal with 12 years of professional experience, owner and founder of Quintessential Pillar Paralegal Consulting, LLC, the heart and mind behind Quintessential Pillar, a blog Berlinda started in July 2020 to share her knowledge, paralegal experience, education resources, and professional insights. She believes lawyers and paralegals can work smarter together, and she is on a quest to make that happen.


Delving into the dynamic and challenging world of paralegals, it becomes essential to understand their role, the skills required, and how they differ from legal assistants. Who is a paralegal? Originally conceived as a support system for lawyers on the field, paralegals have emerged as indispensable entities in the legal realm. Through their efforts, legal representation becomes more accessible and affordable. The following article attempts to define paralegal specifics, explain the benefits and challenges of being a paralegal, and embark on the journey of a freelance paralegal based on the experience of Berlinda Bernard, a freelance contract paralegal with 12 years of professional experience.

The Role of a Paralegal and Their Difference from Legal Assistants

In the legal profession, most people know the roles of lawyers and judges, but whats a paralegal, and what do they do? The paralegal was originally supposed to be the person who stayed around to hold down the fort when the lawyers were out there fighting for their clients. It was supposed to help lower the cost of legal fees and create more access to justice. 

“Having a paralegal is about lowering the cost of legal representation and making it easier for everyone. I think that’s what it was supposed to do, and I believe it still is true.” 

Berlinda Bernard, owner and founder of Quintessential Pillar Paralegal Consulting, LLC 

assistant,’ ‘paralegal,’ and ‘legal secretary.’ They are all different roles. Now, let’s find out what is a paralegal and what their main functions are:

  1. The duties of a paralegal presuppose doing more substantive legal work, the stuff that a lawyer delegates to them. They could still get the money back by billing the client for the paralegal’s time.
  2. Legal assistants are supposed to be almost hybrid but focus more on legal administrative work. 
  3. A legal secretary mostly does secretarial work: they answer the phones and do things that are more front office. They get the work quickly out the door. 

Skills a paralegal should have:

  • Technology skills;
  • Organization skills;
  • Time management skills;
  • Research skills.

So, the paralegal meaning has evolved over time, expanding from mere administrative tasks to more substantive legal work. But when you take everything back, you see that paralegals are supposed to be the ones who assist, the ones who are the lawyer’s right hand in almost everything when it comes to representation.

Benefits of being a paralegal

The field of paralegal studies offers numerous rewarding opportunities that can provide job fulfillment and professional growth. Here are some of the standout benefits that make being a paralegal an attractive proposition for many:

  1. Variety of work: As a paralegal, you’ll be exposed to a wide array of tasks and responsibilities, keeping your work experience diverse and interesting.
  2. Flexibility: The paralegal profession can offer flexible work hours and the possibility to work in different settings, from paralegal law firms to corporations or even freelance.
  3. Working with professionals: You’ll get the opportunity to work closely with seasoned attorneys and legal professionals, offering a chance to learn from their experience and expand your professional network.
  4. Legal research: Being a legal paralegal builds up your skills in legal research, a critical aspect of the legal field that keeps you in the loop with the latest legal precedents and case laws.
  5. Legal writing: The role of a paralegal typically involves a good amount of legal writing, which can sharpen your writing skills, analytical thinking, and attention to detail.

Hardships of being a paralegaL

  1. High stress levels: Paralegals are often tasked with meeting strict deadlines, handling multiple cases simultaneously, and managing large volumes of paperwork. This can result in a high-pressure working environment, leading to stress and burnout.
  2. Long working hours: Depending on the firm and the caseload, paralegals may have to work extra hours to meet the demands of the job. This can often lead to an imbalance in work-life harmony.
  3. Limited career progression: In some settings, career advancement options may be limited for legal paralegals. While there are opportunities for specialization, the next significant promotion usually involves becoming a lawyer, which requires additional education and passing the bar exam.
  4. Complex legal responsibilities: Paralegals must constantly stay updated with current laws, legal precedents, and regulations. The need for precision and meticulousness can be overwhelming and demanding.
  5. Emotional stress: Paralegals often work on cases that can be emotionally draining, like criminal cases, family law, or personal injury cases. Dealing with the impacts of these cases on the lives of clients can be emotionally challenging.

“Is a paralegal a lawyer? Not exactly. Paralegals are more than you think. I went to school just like you did. I just didn’t follow the same path as you. But I come with the same skills that you have. Most importantly, I can help you get this process going. I could relieve you from the stress that you think you have to be burdened by. I can help you by doing a lot of these other tasks that you, as a lawyer, don’t really have to do. If you want to do it, you will be working till midnight — and I can actually help you out and get this done.” 

What Skills Should a Paralegal Have To Start as a Freelancer? 

To venture successfully into freelance paralegal work, one needs a mix of legal knowledge, technical skills, and superb organizational abilities. Proficiency in legal terminology, research skills, and understanding of the legal codes are all prerequisites. Paralegals should be adept at drafting legal documents and summarizing legal precedents and should possess an understanding of court proceedings. Furthermore, they must be knowledgeable about the ethical guidelines that govern the legal profession, as it is crucial to maintain confidentiality and integrity in this field.

Additionally, freelancing involves managing clients, so excellent client relations and communication skills are paramount. Paralegals need to be proficient in managing multiple clients, meeting deadlines, and providing quality services. Flexibility and adaptability are necessary, as the freelance world is fluid and responsive to market demands. 

Moreover, comfort with technology is a must in the freelance landscape. Skills in using legal research platforms, project management tools, and legal databases and familiarity with video conferencing are all examples of the digital competence needed. Lastly, freelancers should be self-disciplined, motivated, and have a strong entrepreneurial spirit to navigate the challenges of the freelance marketplace.

Ways To Stay Effective as a Freelance Paralegal

Embarking on a freelance journey as a paralegal requires an array of skills, a flexible mindset, and efficient time management. Here are key considerations to ensure a successful freelance paralegal practice:

  • Wear multiple hats. That’s what makes you more valuable to your attorneys because that’s what they need. As a freelance paralegal, you are not only wearing the hat of that paralegal, but you are also wearing the hat of a business owner. 
  • Leave some stuff to the professionals. You should hire an accountant and a lawyer. You’ll have to do that even though you are savvy as a legal professional. As a freelancer, you have to really trust that other stuff with the professionals because you want to focus on the work you do. 
  • Constantly study. Paralegal education provides paralegals with certain fundamentals that, if you did not go to a program, you might not know. So, use various educational services and learn from professionals. 
  • Keep the balance. There are only 24 hours in a day, and you have to take care of your private life. Dedicating all your time to work can cause burnout. 

Conclusion

So, why are paralegals important? They play a pivotal role in the legal profession and serve not just as backroom support but as vital components in the delivery of justice.

Contrary to common misperceptions, paralegals do more than administrative work; they perform substantive legal tasks that are crucial to case outcomes. Their professional journey should be one of continuous learning and adaptation, understanding when to delegate tasks to other professionals, and maintaining a healthy work-life balance. Paralegal roles are essential in the legal profession, and their skills and contributions significantly reinforce the efficiency and successful outcomes of the legal process.

Article by Yevheniia Savchenko

Yevheniia Savchenko is a Product Content Manager at Lawrina. Yevheniia creates user interface copies for Lawrina products, writes release notes, and helps customers get the best user experience from all Lawrina products. Also, Yevheniia is in charge of creating helpful content on legal template pages (Lawrina Templates) and up-to-date information on US law (Lawrina Guides). In her spare time, Yevheniia takes up swimming, travels, and goes for a walk in her home city.

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