Find an A-Player Paralegal, Part iii

Identifying needs and goals

Last time, we found out how costly it is to pay for less than the best. Now that we know, we need to work on improving our methods for finding the best paralegal support possible.  With Mike’s technique, finding good paralegal support begins before we start looking. As we’ve discussed in the past, it begins with some soul searching.

If you don’t have a clear idea of what you want your paralegal to do, neither will your paralegal. At the most basic level, you need to first decide what you want help with. It won’t matter how good your paralegal is, or how great his or her suggestions are – if you don’t have a good understanding of your needs, there’s a good chance you’re not going to be satisfied.

If you have to, start generally.  Once you have a general idea of what you want help with, identify the specific tasks that relate to each area you want help in.  For example, if you work in litigation, are you looking for someone to keep the files organized and file documents with the court?  Or do you want someone to help with the research, analysis, and drafting?

If you’re looking for the former, here are some tasks you might identify:

  • Review, process, and disseminate incoming documents
  • File in the appropriate folders (electronic and/or physical)
  • Docket relevant dates
  • Redact and Bates-stamp exhibits
  • Maintain privilege and discovery logs
  • Proof documents for filing with court and prepare filings for submission
  • File with the court

If you’re looking for someone to perform research, analysis, and drafting, tasks might include:

  • Review case facts
  • Factual research
  • Legal research
  • Briefing cases
  • Synthesizing rules
  • Analyzing case law
  • Drafting office memorandums, pleadings, motions, orders, and briefs

Of course, these are just a few examples out of dozens, and may or may not be relevant to your particular circumstances; they’re just to get the thought process rolling.

Now here’s the secret:  Once you’ve identified the tasks, identify the traits and qualities needed to complete those tasks.  Traits and qualities are the key!

In the first example, you’re probably going to want someone who is detail-oriented.  In the second example, you’re probably going to want someone who is analytical.  As before, these are but two examples of the many you’ll want to identify.  (The more you identify, the more you can narrow in on your ideal paralegal.)  We’ll flesh out more information on both these examples later in the series.

Once you’ve identified the tasks you want help with, and the traits and qualities that complement those tasks, you’ll have a good idea of what to look for in a paralegal.  If you’re hiring a regular employee and don’t necessarily need or expect the incumbent to hit the ground running, you may find it easier to hire on the traits and qualities, and train on the tasks.  Tasks are teachable. They’re especially teachable to someone who already possesses the traits and qualities necessary to complete them.  You can’t teach qualities, though.  If someone doesn’t have the qualities necessary to perform certain types of tasks, they’ll never do well in a job that must utilize those qualities to successfully perform the job duties.

If you need someone to hit the ground running, you’ll want to look for experience with the requisite tasks and duties, as well as the traits and qualities that go with that type of work.  Their existence determines how good a person is at what they do.  In all honesty, a person with the right traits and qualities can often hit the ground running even without extensive, specialized experience, simply because they quickly pick up on things that come naturally to them.

Think also about the type of person you want to work with: Do you want to work with someone who is optimistic? Who has a sense of humor?  Is motivated?  A go-getter?  Keep note of these traits, as well, as they’re just as important to finding someone who is a good fit for your practice.

You should now have a good idea of what you’re looking for, and the type of person who will do an amazing job with the tasks at hand.  Next time, we’ll put it all together into a job description (if you’re looking for an employee), or discussion points (if you’re looking for a paralegal support service).

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