5 Ways to Be a Happy Paralegal

Maybe lately you have been second guessing your choice to be a paralegal.  Perhaps you have felt like just walking away from your  career.  Or, maybe it's not all that bad, but there are few things you wish you could change.  Demanding attorneys, endless work hours, the constant pressure of deadlines and the expectation of constant perfection can really put a dent in how happy and satisfied you are in your paralegal career.  Paralegal career satisfaction may seem like a fantasy to some of us, but there are a few things you can start doing now that can improve your outlook and keep a smile on your face.

Avoid Office Politics

It's hard to not get snared in the office politics net.  Engaging in office gossip, playing favorites, undermining other employees to gain favor, and spreading rumors are all a part of office politics.  It's best to avoid it altogether if possible.  Every office will have their cliques and those "in the know" who always seem to get that promotion or praise.  But playing into the competition concept can strain relationships and you may end up burning more than one bridge in your paralegal career. 

Don't Let Jealousy Sabotage Your Work
It can be difficult when jealousy rears it's ugly head.  So your fellow paralegal missed a deadline, you covered for her, and in the end she got the praise and handed a juicy project with the top attorney and you got, well, nothing. It’s easy to be jealous of that co-worker, but in the end what will it get you? Distraction from your work? Feelings of anger and resentment? These things can ruin your typically stellar work product.  It may be difficult, but instead, focus on your best qualities and skills and continue to do top notch work.  You will be proud of your work, you will be happier, and the attorneys will notice your consistent and well done work product. 

Be Honest About the Work Load You Can Handle
Taking on more work than you can handle is a way to ensure disaster.  Your work product will suffer, and most of all, you will suffer.  If too many assignments are being sent your way and your finding yourself toiling into the evening to barely keep up, or your work is full of errors because you have to race through the assignment, then it's time to speak up.  I realize that in reality it may be impossible to reject work, yet it's still important to let someone know just how much work you are doing and the time you need to do it all.  Don't whine or complain when doing so, discuss it with your attorney or human resources contact reasonably.  Have a few suggestions up your sleeve regarding better ways to handle assignments and deadlines, letting them know your goal is  to consistently provide them accurate and timely work. 

Stay Organized for Easy Efficiency
I'm one of those clean freaks who cannot think straight when there is clutter in my work space.  Although sometimes it's impossible to keep my desktop clear and organized, like when prepping for trial, I try my best.  When files or documents are at your fingertips and easily found, it makes the work so much easier.  It also allows you to complete assignments quicker.  It also protects you from misplacing documents and memos.  Staying organized reduces the stress of having to locate items quickly when your attorney needs them. 

Stay Up To Date With Technology
Taking the time to properly learn the use of your law firms' docketing system, document management system and e-filing procedures will save you an enormous amount of stress in the long run.  There is nothing worse than having to file something last minute for a deadline only to have a problem arise that you don't know how to fix.  It's also stressful to code something incorrectly in document management only to have it end up lost in the system forever.  It's also important to stay abreast of the latest changes in e-discovery and other legal technologies.  Personally, since I am in litigation, I have taken a few e-discovery courses to make sure I'm prepared when discovery takes place. 

The Big List of E-Discovery Terms Every Paralegal Should Know

e-discovery terms
  • To get a proper grasp of electronic discovery, it is essential for paralegals, especially those in litigation,  to familiarize themselves with the unique terms that are used in the realm of electronic discovery.  In fact, I think learning the terms first before diving into the process of E-Discovery makes the whole thing easier to understand from the beginning. The following are some electronic discovery terms that are commonly used. 

  • Grab some coffee, have a seat and learn a few helpful e-discovery terms. 

  • Admissible: Evidence that is allowed in court during litigation

  • Analytics: This blanket term refers to all different kinds of technology that are used to examine a particular data set.

  • Chain of Custody: The tracking and logging of all handling, access and location movement of any electronic evidence from initial collection to presentation as evidence. The chain of custody is used to verify authenticity of evidence.

  • Computer Assisted Review: The use of conceptual search tools to assist in the document review process. Sometimes also technology assisted review.

  • Computer Forensics: The investigation and analysis of computer crimes or misuse. Can include the recovery of deleted or damaged files and capturing encrypted data in response to e-discovery.

  • Custodian: The individual from whom original records were collected; not always the author of those files.

  • Data Extraction: The identification of metadata and body contents from electronic documents for use in the discovery process.

  • Data Mapping: The process of recognizing and classifying data and data locations within an organization’s electronically stored information.

  • De-duplication: Sometimes also deduplication or de-duping. Identifying and removing duplicate records to streamline the review process.

  • Discovery: The process of recognizing and obtaining information that may be relevant to the litigation process.

  • E-discovery: Electronic discovery. The discovery process when specifically focusing on electronic data. Includes the collection and review of electronic data for discovery efforts, including email, documents, files and any data or metadata stored on a computer, network or removable storage media.

  • ESI: Electronically Stored Information. A blanket term for electronic data such as documents, emails or files stored on any type of hardware, portable storage device or in the cloud.

  • Filtering: Using search metrics to eliminate electronically stored information in a particular data set that is irrelevant to current litigation.

  • Forensic Computer Expert: A technical position that can include data collection, including of damaged or deleted data, as well as providing consultation services and testimony at trial.

  • FRCP: The Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. These guidelines define the proper protocol for e-discovery as well as other aspects of litigation.

  • Harvesting: Retrieving relevant electronic data for the purpose of discovery.

  • Information Governance: The process of managing digital information at an enterprise level while remaining cognizant of regulatory guidelines and e-discovery applications.

  • Keyword: A specific word or phrase used in search efforts to produce relevant results within a data set.
  • Legacy Data: Data was originally created in a file format that is now obsolete.

  • Legal Hold: Requests the preservation of relevant or potentially relevant information, including electronic data, during or in anticipation of litigation.

  • Metadata: Embedded information about ESI that is generally inaccessible to non-technical users. For example, the date, author or origins of a file or document.

  • Native Format: The original format of ESI.

  • Normalization: Converting ESI into a standardized format rather than native format for more streamlined review.

  • OCR: Optical Character Recognition. Converting scanned images of physical pages into searchable electronic text.

  • Predictive Analytics: In e-discovery, the practice of analyzing raw data through a combination of computer and human analysis.

  • Predictive Coding: Categorizing documents through a tagging system across a data set to increase accuracy with repeated analysis.

  • Production: Delivering specific ESI to another party, typically opposing counsel, according to a specific ediscovery request.

  • Redact: The intentional deletion or concealment of data or information that is considered sensitive or confidential in nature.

  • Search: The process of examining a data set according to a specific query or criteria. May be conceptual or keyword-based.

  • Spoliation: The alteration or destruction of relevant evidence, or the failure to preserve relevant evidence when litigation is likely or already underway.

  • Structured Data: Electronically stored information that is maintained in a structured format such as a database.

  • Technology Assisted Review: The use of conceptual search tools to assist in the document review process. Sometimes also called computer assisted review.

  • Unstructured Data: Electronically stored information that resides in various unstructured formats, such as word processing documents kept on a hard drive.

5 Common Paralegal Interview Questions with Answers

When preparing for an interview for a paralegal position, anticipate questions to be directed towards your organizational, research, writing, decision-making and analytical skills. In addition, equip yourself with examples of your experience handling confidential and sensitivegoogle information, time management techniques, and work ethic.   

Below is a list of commonly asked interview questions for paralegals. I have given general answers that can be tailored to your experience.  Go into specifics with your interviewer. For example, instead of mentioning that you use " legal software" to track hearings and depositions, mention the name of the software,  what it does, and how you utilize it so that the interviewer is made aware of the various skills you have. 

1. The legal profession can be very stressful at times, and you may often find yourself dealing with attorneys or clients who are behaving in an angry or unreasonable way. Please describe how you would deal with such a situation.
I take pride in my ability to present a calm and professional demeanor even in tense situations. Along with this, I do my best to find constructive solutions to the issue that is causing the problem. When employers and clients see that I understand the urgency of their problem and am doing my best to resolve it, this often defuses the situation. My approach is to do the best job I can under all circumstances. (Staying calm under pressure is important in the legal field!)

2. What steps do you take to keep up to date with legal developments in your field?

As a real estate paralegal, I make sure to peruse the relevant rulings in our local law journal. In addition, I regularly pursue professional education opportunities, including conferences and webinars. If, in the course of my job, I do encounter a concept I am not fully familiar with, I make sure to educate myself as soon as possible.  (This can be adapted to any niche you are working in.)

3. What are some ways in which you have contributed to the efficiency of your firm’s operation?

At my previous place of employment, I assembled a set of sample document packets for various types of cases and stages of litigation, from initial filings to trial preparation. This has enabled other paralegals and attorneys to reduce the amount of time spent writing up a document in which large parts consist of fairly standard language. At the same time, I reviewed the sample documents to ensure that they are of high quality and up to date in order to avoid the problem encountered in many firms where older document samples continue to be passed along without review or modification. (Make your answer your own and really show off your accomplishments in the efficiency arena.)

4. Can you tell me about a time when you had to interact with a difficult client?

One incident that comes to mind is when a client was very unhappy with the way his attorney was handling the case but not unhappy enough to leave the firm. This client would constantly look up legal information on the internet, which often proved inaccurate or incomplete, and would insist that the attorney use it to handle the case. As the paralegal, it often fell to me to interact with this client and explain why his attorney’s recommendations made the most sense. I had to employ a lot of diplomacy in order to ensure that the client felt heard and understood, while at the same time persuade him of the correct course of action. Eventually, the client came to trust his attorney’s handling of his case and was ultimately satisfied with the outcome. (Solving difficult situations is an important part of a paralegals job, and its a skill we use in several situations.)

5. What steps do you take in order to manage your workload and meet deadlines?

I use paralegal software to organize my cases and make a timeline for deadlines and priorities for each case. At the beginning and end of each day, I take a few minutes to review my current workload, add any changes and input new tasks. This allows me to constantly have in mind the total picture of my work obligations and ensures that tasks or projects do not fall through the cracks. (Be sure to tell the interviewer how you personally manage and track your time.)
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