working with paralegals

As lawyers, we often find ourselves working with paralegals and other staff on our cases, acting in a managerial role without a manager title (or management training). Being a good manager is critical to developing team morale and getting the best work from your staff. So what do the paralegals working with you want you to do to manage them well? I asked, and today I’m sharing advice from real world paralegals about what they want the attorneys working with them to remember to make working life better for all of us.

Here is their advice on working with paralegals:


Remember that your ambitions aren’t their ambitions.

There may be times when you work late by choice, not necessity. Maybe you’re trying to get a brief done early to impress your supervisor or you’re gunning for a special bonus by working lots of hours. Remember that your reasons for staying late and working late are yours and yours alone. Staff aren’t necessarily working with the same motivations and certainly not on the same pay scale. Keep that in mind and be considerate of their schedules, especially when you’re working on nonurgent projects.


Know how to delegate work.

Delegating work is a skill. It requires thoughtfulness and clarity. When you want to delegate some of your work, take the time at the beginning of the project to figure out what you want to delegate, who should do it, and when it needs to be done. Then communicate your expectations very clearly to any paralegals and other staff to whom you delegate projects. Give deadlines, explain what the final work product should look like, and leave room for questions. When in doubt, write it out. 


Learn how to do tasks you delegate.

You may work later hours than the staff at your office; if so, make sure you know how to save and find documents, send a package, etc. There will be times when you’ll need to have that knowledge. Learn it, write down how to do it somewhere you’ll remember, and then delegate whenever you can.


Give advance notice.

If you have a filing due on Friday and you’ll need a paralegal to help with exhibits, let them know that at the beginning of the week so they can plan to be available.


Remember that you’re a team.

From one paralegal: “I want junior lawyers to see me as a partner or teammate. I’m not better than you because I have experience, and I’m not worse because I don’t have the JD. We can learn from each other and help each other be successful. Most often a new lawyer seems a little afraid to ask me to do things. It’s true I’m not a secretary, but I am here to support and help, so as long as we can communicate openly, we’ll be successful. My favorite times are when we talk about the big picture of a case so that we have the same expectations about my role and the firm’s processes.”


Be kind.

We all get stressed and we all make mistakes. Don’t overreact or take your stress out on your teammates. Keep a cool head and speak to everyone professionally. Also, ensure your clients treat your paralegals with respect.


Respect their knowledge.

They have training and may have been working in the legal field much longer than you have. Be appreciate of that experience and rely on it!


If you think you could use a little more help managing and delegating in your own working life, sign up for my online courses, Survive & Thrive (junior lawyers) and Managing As a Midlevel (midlevel associates).


Photo by Amy Hirschi on Unsplash

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