A paralegal plays a vital role in the legal system, serving supervising attorneys in their practice and in the courtroom. From drafting legal documents to interviewing clients and assisting with trial preparation, a paralegal’s responsibilities cover almost any duty the attorney does except practice law. Of those responsibilities, trial preparation is most important.
An effective paralegal should possess certain traits. These are particularly important to a litigation paralegal who accompanies an attorney to the courtroom:
- Good organizational ability
- Attention to detail
- Attentive listening skills
- Sound reasoning
- Strong reading comprehension
- Research skills
- Good oral and written communication skills
- Strong backbone
Preparing for the courtroom.
People’s lives – or at least livelihood – are at stake when they go to court, as is an attorney’s reputation. Having an attorney who is prepared and confident and presents his or her case well is important to the person or company represented. Behind a well-prepared attorney is a paralegal who has done due diligence to prepare the case.
Thorough pretrial preparation can make the difference between winning or losing the case, and the paralegal is critical to that preparation.
Create a plan or outline.
Determine all the players in the case – the attorney, additional support staff, the witnesses – and coordinate their schedules. Your focus should be on the essential tasks the players must accomplish to impact the case in a positive manner.
- Assign tasks to the key players in the case and hold them accountable.
- Set up a timeline to complete tasks and pay attention to deadlines.
- Monitor progress of task completion, constantly checking in with everyone involved.
- Handle any questions and concerns as they come up.
- Develop goals for the witnesses.
Keep lines of communication open and clear.
Constantly communicating with all parties on your legal team is an important part of your role as a paralegal.
- Always check in with your colleagues to make sure they understand what they need to do.
- Regularly update your attorney on what’s happening.
- Be conscious of any appointments you need to set with clients or witnesses.
- Attend to correspondence regarding the court appearance in a timely fashion.
You must organize all paperwork so that once the trial begins, your attorney will have everything he or she needs.
- Analyze all documents and information you may need before and during the trial.
- Index everything so that you can find what you need in a flash – in less than five minutes.
- Index your indices so that you and your attorney can find information no matter how it is requested.
- Summarize and annotate everything.
- Talk to your attorney to discover how he or she wants to present information.
Pay attention to details.
No matter how insignificant the detail seems, it could be relevant when it comes time to appear in court. You wouldn’t want to compromise the case if you’ve missed a filing deadline or overlooked important data.
- Thoroughly review all documents related to the case that your office prepares or receives.
- Be diligent about cite checking.
- Keep track of court appearance dates.
- Manage exhibits and documents needed for trial.
- Take careful notes when talking to clients or witnesses.
- Stay on top of rapidly accumulating paperwork.
Study the judge.
It’s important to know the peculiarities of the judge on the case and what to expect in the courtroom.
Talk to attorneys who have tried cases before the judge (if your attorney has not). Is the judge all business? Is he or she patient? Finding out as much as you can could actually help your chances. The last thing you want is to offend the judge in some way.
Get your presentations ready.
If you have exhibits or visual aids for the case, make sure that they are neat and clear – and adhere to the rules of the court.
- Start by making an exhibit list; place deposition items first.
- If you need to have anything professionally printed, make sure you know the time constraints.
- Know how many copies of exhibits that you’ll need.
- Keep exhibits or charts to the point, logical and impactful.
- Carefully label exhibits.
- Arrange for copying and editing any videotapes that you will use as exhibits.
- Gather presentation materials such as easels, tables, pointers, etc.
Check out the courtroom.
If you’re unfamiliar with the courtroom, it’s a good idea to check it out before the trial. Find out where to park and know how long it should take to get there. Once you’re inside, there’s more to consider.
- If you’ll have exhibits, determine where you’ll need to place them for ideal viewing.
- See where the outlets are if you need to plug things in.
- In case you need to make additional copies of documents, know what resources are available in the courthouse.
- Notice where the jurors, witnesses and judge sit.
Prep your attorney.
Stress will undoubtedly be high for everyone working on the trial preparation. You can make it easier on your attorney by serving as a sounding board. Your attorney may ask you to help draft opening statements and/or closing arguments. He or she may instead want to have you listen to those statements. You can analyze them from different perspectives and offer constructive criticism. Throughout the trial preparation, keep your attorney focused and practice by doing a mock trial.
Being well prepared leads to confidence in the courtroom. If you’ve crossed your t’s and dotted your i’s, you’ve done all you can. After that, it’s up to the judge.
MTI College paralegal program.
If you’re fascinated by the legal world but don’t want to invest the time to become an attorney, consider registering for the MTI Paralegal Studies program. In just two years, you can earn your associate’s degree in paralegal studies and head out to begin a career that the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics says is growing.
If you have the interest and the necessary personal traits to become a paralegal, enroll now in the MTI College Paralegal Studies program for the education you need to get that important first job.