Paralegal Survival Skills: Know Your Assignment

Most attorneys, by the nature of their work, are pressed for time. It is important to understand that "time is money" can mean so much more in a law office setting. Attorneys and paralegals are judged, evaluated, and valued on how many hours they can bill each day to clients. Time spent re-doing or editing assignments is time that must be made up elsewhere, probably over a lunch hour or in the evening, and no one really wants that. Keep this in mind when you are notified the attorney has a project for you to complete, and be prepared to get complete instructions the first time around.  

Don't make the mistake of not asking enough questions to properly perform your job. If after asking your questions and receiving some answers you are still unclear on what is wanted, you need to make a decision. If the attorney appears to be relaxed and willing to spend time with you, go ahead and ask for clarification. If, on the other hand, the attorney has the phone in his or her hand and is giving you one of those "are you finished?" looks, you may want to retire and either try to figure out the answers yourself or seek clarification from another attorney or paralegal. Use the list below as a question guide when meeting with your attorney about upcoming assignments. 

Information to Get about an Assignment

Who is the client? What is the file number? (You will need this information so that you can properly bill your time.)

Legal and factual background of the case. (The more you know about the case, the better job you can do.)

What task are you being given to do? (If the assignment seems vague, ask for more specifics.)

How does that task fit into the big picture of the case? (If you know how your finished product will be used, it will help you focus your work.)

Does the attorney want a written report of your work, or will an oral report suffice?

How much time should this project take to complete? (This will help you budget your time for the day. Also, it will help you know if you are spending too much time on a particular task. See the section on billing, below.)

What is your deadline for completing the project? (This will help you prioritize your many ongoing tasks.)

Is there a particular way your attorney wants the work presented ie: printed paper, CD's, flash drives, or in memo format? 
Will you be working with any others on the project?

What resources are available to us to complete the project? 

Having complete answers to these questions should get any paralegal off on the right foot and finish a project efficiently and in a timely manner. 

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