Litigation Paralegal Practice Tip: Get to Know Your Courtroom Pre-Trial

A trial consists of a compilation of complex processes of courtroom procedures and rituals, which can often change from jurisdiction to jurisdiction and can seem like a strange and mysterious world if you don’t know what those procedures and rituals are.

Since ritual and tradition play a large part in the trial process it is integral that as paralegals we make it our business to understand what those procedures are. I think one of the most important things we can do as paralegals, once our case has reached the Courtroom, is to know the layout of the land. What I mean by this, is “Knowing your Courtroom” - being aware of your surroundings and its inhabitants.

Simply put: “Don’t Be a Stranger in a Strange Land.”
Jonathon Swift, the author of Gulliver’s Travels, was correct when he said:
“… A stranger in a strange land, he is no one: men know him not - and to know not is to care not for.”
Think about it, do you really want to be in a venue where no one knows or cares about you? I think not. If you are on trial, you’ve got enough to worry about, right? So let’s start with some rules.

The Rules of the Courtroom
All Courtroom procedures are governed by a series of rules. The rule of law which governs our justice system is derived from a number of sources. It remains fundamental however, that as Paralegals, we realize that while procedural rules have their part to play in regulating the trial process, there are also practical rules, which are equally important.
Know your Courtroom Staff
By the time your case reaches the Court, you will know who your Judge is. The Courtroom Staff will consist of a number of people. Do your best to get to know each and every one of them because you never know when you will have to call of them for assistance. Being aware of what each staff member’s Courtroom function is, will save you time and stress.
Know your Courtroom’s Clerk
The Clerk of Court is responsible for a wide range of duties, including the supervision of the internal administrative function of the Court itself as well as the planning and administrative direction.
Know Your Courtroom’s Administrator
A Court’s Administrator functions under direction of the Court to help develop and implement administrative policies and services. The Court’s Administrator’s office ensures court operations and judicial administrative needs are identified, and manages the daily operations of the court, under the direction of the presiding Judge.
Know Your Courtroom’s Security
The Marshal or Bailiff of the court is responsible for building security, Courtroom security and personal security for all persons working for and doing business in the Court.
Know Your Courtroom’s Legal Staff
Legal Staff within the Courts may include Primary Legal Counsel, Staff Attorneys, Research Attorneys and Law Clerks. They examine briefs, case records and legal authorities. They also perform legal research, analysis and writing under general supervision.
Know your Judges' Support Staff
Judges’ Support Staff may include Judicial Executive Assistants, Judicial Administrative Assistants and Secretaries. They may type and edit opinions, agendas, and correspondence; create and maintain administrative files; coordinate and arrange meetings; coordinate travel arrangements; and answer or direct telephone inquiries, mail and visitors to appropriate staff.
Know Your Courtroom’s Court Reporter
A Court Reporter records judicial proceedings verbatim; reads back requested portions of records or notes; transcribes stenographic notes and files by computer aided transcription to a finished transcript in official format; keeps a detailed log, marks, receipts, secures, and files all exhibits with the Clerk's Office.
Know Your Courtroom’s Jury Supervisor
A Jury Supervisor in the trial court reviews the lists for potential jurors and determines whether an individual is qualified to serve as a Juror; determines the number of Jurors to be summoned; issues summonses; and handles requests for postponement, exemption or disqualification. The Jury Supervisor also meets with summoned Jurors to explain procedures and other aspects of jury service and to answer questions; selects jury panels and directs them where to go; and dismisses Jurors from the jury assembly room at end of the day or of the Juror’s service.
Remember: All of these individuals don’t have to be your best friend but you should have a working professional connection with them, it’s worth it. Trust me.

Know your Courthouse

Know the layout of your Courthouse. If you are like me, when you are at a trial you only want to be focused on the Attorney’s needs, on your Client, on the Jury and the trial exhibits. Placing yourself in a comfort zone is integral to being able to function effectively. To reach this comfort level, I suggest that you know your CourthouseFor Example:
  • Where are the copying/fax machines?
  • Where is the vending machine or cafeteria?
  • Where are the media outlets?
  • Where is the storage for media equipment and materials?
  • What type of computer system does the court use?
  • Where are the small conference rooms for witness conferences?
  • Where are the restrooms?
  • To gather all of this information, be sure to go to the Courthouse ahead of time.

Be Nice

Doing something nice for someone always brings a pleasant response. You will feel good about yourself, plus you will gain the respect of others. Remember the jury is watching you, so be your “Best Self.”
Finally, as Ralph Waldo Emerson said: “There is no knowledge that is not power.” So be knowledgeable about your Courtroom. I want you all to be empowered.

Ms. Sherry Kubanyi received her B.A. in Political Science and has worked as a paralegal for plaintiffs and defense firms throughout the State of Georgia for over 15 years.

This Silicon Valley start-up wants to replace lawyers with robots

As reported by Elizabeth Dwoskin of the Washington Post.

Silicon Valley’s next hot start-up isn’t likely to be a video chat app. Nor is it likely to be an on-demand service, like Instacart or Uber.
But maybe it could be — and this isn’t a joke — a law firm.
That is, at least, the ambition of Justin Kan, a serial entrepreneur who knows a thing or two about hot start-ups. The 34-year-old Kan built the video game streaming Twitch, which he sold to Amazon for nearly a billion dollars in 2014. He then helped launch hundreds of companies as a partner at the prominent Silicon Valley start-up incubator, Y-Combinator.
Kan’s months-old legal technology start-up, Atrium, is actually incorporated as a law firm — and may be the only Silicon Valley start-up ever to have done so. It has raised $10.5 million so far, and it is even more unusual in a region where rule-breaking and rule-bending are celebrated, and lawyers are among a start-up founder’s last and most reluctant hires.
Walking into Atrium’s sleek, 34-person offices in San Francisco’s design district, is in some ways like stepping into the prototype for a law firm of the future. In it, lawyers and paralegals wearing T-shirts and jeans sit side by side with coders on bean bag chairs (who are wearing the same attire).

The Paralegal Job Interview: Top 7 Behavioral Based Interview Questions and How to Answer Them

paralegal job interview questions

Are you ready for your paralegal job interview?  Knowing what type of questions that will be asked ahead of time is key. The behavioral interview is a tool that a potential employer will use to assess your work style.  Behavioral interviewing is based on the assumption that past behavior is the best predictor of future behavior. Behavioral interview questions focus on how you handled various work situations in the past and how you responded. Your responses display your skills, abilities, and personality and how you may fit for a specific job.

Per LinkedIn, behavioral interview questions are the top tool hiring managers use to evaluate soft skills - those important traits such as leadership, teamwork, and prioritization. More than 60% of hiring managers say that soft skills are critical, but tough to find. So, it makes sense hiring managers will be asking you behavioral based paralegal job interview questions to see if you are a fit for their company.

Here are our top Paralegal Job Interview behavioral based questions  you should be prepared to answer...

Have you gone above and beyond your job description? If so, how?

Law firms are not looking for average paralegals, they are looking for exemplary paralegals. You need to add value to your employer, so be prepared with specific stories about doing whatever it takes to not just get the job done, but how you have gone above and beyond. Make sure you share a story that clearly illustrates your abilities to put forth an extra effort.

Give an example of how you prioritize your work schedule.

No law firm wants to hire paralegals who do not know how to manage their time and meet deadlines. After all, it's one of, if not the most important skill paralegals have, Come up with examples of when you've managed your time efficiently or coped with competing deadlines. Explain how you budget your time throughout the work day, and explain why it works for maximum productivity. 

Give an example of a goal you reached and tell me how you achieved it?

This question is in line with the traditional question, where do you see yourself in 5 years? If you want to grow with a law firm, you first need goals and then you need to figure out a way to meet them. If you have not been promoted or accomplished a milestone, think about small successes. For example, if you had the goal of completing an important trial exhibit that worked very well, tell how you did it.

Did you ever not meet your goals? Why?

It is hard to talk about when you did not meet your goals and this seems contraindicatory to getting a job. Many of us have had  goals and  have met them. However, at some point many paralegals are disappointed when a goal was not attained. It could be as simple as, not obtaining a certification, or being a paralegal manager by a specific timeline. When answering these paralegal job interview questions, make sure you do not blame others as to why you have not met specific goals. Show goals that point out you have career ambition and are a hard worker. Also talk about how you have not given up and plan on still obtaining those goals.

Give an example of how you worked well on a team?

Most paralegal jobs in larger firms require working in a team or collaborating with others at work on a case, so being prepared to talk about your teamwork skills and how well you work with a team is critical. How did you work with others?  What types of projects did you collaborate on?
What were your specific contributions to the team? 

What do you do if you disagree with a co-worker?

This question is designed to see how you handle conflict. Conflict can show up at any time and law firms want to hire paralegals that handle conflict well.  Try to come up with a situation where you ended up working out the problem with the co-worker, which was best for the law firm.  Perhaps you were able to diffuse an angry client, or settle a dispute with a vendor. 

Have you handled a difficult situation with a supervisor? How?

This question is a little trickier than the last, because it is a supervisor, HR manager or an attorney that you have the conflict with. Conflict can be as simple as not agreeing with a work bonus, missed deadline, or how to handle a difficult client. When handling a difficult situation with a boss mention the traits or past experiences that you depended on to work past the difficulty or conflict. Tell the interviewer about the strategies that you used to address the issue. Share what you learned about handling disputes or other problems with your superiors. Make sure you never criticize others that you have worked for or disparage other firms.

Whenever you are looking for a new paralegal job you need to prepare. Although you do not know exactly what a hiring manager is going to ask, there are typical paralegal job interview questions that give hiring managers the answers they are looking for. Prepare for traditional interview questions and behavioral interview questions and you are on your way to a having a great interview. 

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