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By: John C. Cox, Esq. (Guest Blogger)
As an attorney and a friend to The Paralegal Society, I felt it was important to share with others what, in my opinion, makes a great paralegal. In my practice, I have been associated with some of the best paralegals in the industry, and also some paralegals I would not even wish upon my most despised opposing counsel. In the hopes of inspiring you all to greatness in your profession, I have put together a top 5 list of the best attributes top attorneys look for in their paralegals:
1. Be Trustworthy. As an attorney, I seek to develop a paralegal as not just an assistant, but rather an extension of me, because I can’t be everywhere. If I can’t trust a person, there is no way I can make that person an extension of myself.
2. Develop ESP. Ok, so I know this one is not fair, but I need a person that is always thinking about the next step ahead. A great paralegal does not just wait for assignments to be handed to them; they have already thought ahead for the next step, completed that task, and already has it all prepared and ready for my signature (kind of like a real-world “Easy Button”)
3. Establishing a Macro-managed Relationship. Attorneys, by nature, are not very good managers of people. We are taught to be very detailed oriented, so we often find ourselves micro-managing everything in our lives. This includes management of staff. For the most effective attorney-paralegal working relationship, we need to be broken of our micro-management tendencies. It starts by paying attention to the little things – margins, spelling, grammar, etc. But, at the proper time and in the right context, it may also require a conversation initiated by the paralegal assuring the attorney that the paralegal can handle the small stuff, so I, the all-important attorney, can handle all the big picture matters involved in a case file. That conversation is not easy, but one that can develop and maintain a strong working relationship.
4. Serving as a Barrier For Chatty Clients. Nearly every attorney is going to have those 1 or 2 clients at any given time that just love to talk to their attorney. Not necessarily about legal matters, but everything else – the weather, their kid’s little league batting average, global warming, you name it. This isn’t really billable time, and for every minute I’m on the phone with a client talking about non-legal matters, in my mind I am thinking that is another extra minute past 5:00PM I’m going to have to work that day. Serve as a barrier for those chatty clients, and your attorney will work less hours and everyone will be happier as a result.
5. Commit Yourself to “Problem Files”. At any given time, you could probably ask your attorney, “If there are 3 files you wish could disappear, what 3 files would they be?”, and your attorney would be able to give you an answer before you finished the sentence. When we stress outside of work, more often than not, it is about 1 or more of these files. By purposely injecting yourselves into these files, not only do you keep files moving (which often does not happen with these problem files), you become an indispensable paralegal. And come ‘on, being indispensable to your attorney is the best job security you can have, right?
John Cox is a partner at the law firm of Bleecker Brodey & Andrews, a law firm dedicated to creditor’s rights in the states of Indiana, Illinois, and Kentucky. Within the law firm, John specializes in the areas of client relations and technology development.
I would like to thank John for taking the time out of his busy schedule to share these great tips with us! As a side note, Jamie used to work for John at her last firm. He was a terrific attorney, phenomenal boss and is now a good friend and victim (I mean contributing writer) for The Paralegal Society! We figured if you want to know what attorneys look for in a paralegal, we might as well ask one. So we did! As always, please feel free to leave a comment if you have any additional advice or tips you’d like to share with our readers! T.G.I.F. Have a terrific weekend, TPS readers!!