The 5 Paralegals You Meet in a Law Firm

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It takes a special kind of person to be a paralegal at a law firm. 

I should know because I was a paralegal for eight years. I received my two-year degree in paralegal technology and earned a four-year bachelor’s degree at night while working for a mid-size law firm in Charlotte, NC. When I wasn’t “paralegal-ing”, I was writing, which I’ve done professionally since age 13. Yes, 13.

Paralegals in a law Firm

Now that I’m with Modus, I blend my paralegal experience with my writing passion to bring “slice-of-life” stories that paralegals (and other legal professionals) can resonate with in a realistic yet fun fashion. Plus, I can take more naps since I work from home now. It beats falling asleep in the small closet labeled “The Sick Room” at my previous law firm from noon to 1pm every day. I would huddle close to a bag of Dove chocolates and forget about the work on my desk for one blissful hour.

But enough about my sleep deprivation.

I welcome you to the first of a series of blogs written by a paralegal for paralegals. I know what it feels like to dig into a box of Famous Amos cookies while an attorney screams your name and rips a file you just made for him. I also know the joys of a genuinely kind attorney who gives you a bath set from The Body Shop for Christmas and says, “You’re an important member of the team!” Being a paralegal means expecting the worst and welcoming the best.
This week, we’ll talk about the five types of paralegals you meet in a law firm. Believe me – you’ll recognize them, as you likely fall into one of these stereotypical categories yourself.
Paralegals have to do more than treat their supervising attorneys like bears at a state park, chucking fish into their offices to keep them from mauling legal staff and attorneys that dare walk past his or her office. While many paralegals share a similar educational background, they come from different work situations and have unique personality traits.

So, Which Paralegal Are You?

1. The Stickler
They’ve got a drawer full of red pens and they’re not afraid to use them. This paralegal is going to mark up your legal brief until all you’re seeing is red circles, strikethroughs and little question ???? marks. They’ve been in the business for 15+ years. Detail-oriented, and the master at finding a mistake in the land parcel statement, they read out-loud to co-workers to ensure its accuracy. Plus, they also catch the mistakes of their attorneys, which makes them invaluable. Get this Wonder Woman or Superman more red pens so they can continue saving the legal galaxy from careless tiepoes. I mean typos.

2. The Litigator
If there’s a mountain of case files that needs shuffling, this paralegal is going to be the first to dive head-first into that dusty box. They come in on weekends to organize filings that didn’t get done during the week because they were too busy drafting briefs and doing interrogatories with a client. They are the litigation process (just ask them), from complaint to appeal and back again. If you’re a baby paralegal, you’ll want to be this person’s shadow. Take them to lunch so they can avoid that five-year-old Lean Cuisine in the freezer. It might be the first time they’ve been out of the office for two years.
3. The 2nd Careerist
If you’ve met this paralegal, you’ll hear “Well, when I was a nurse” or “When I was a lawyer back in Russia” on loop. This paralegal can be an emergency room nurse turned medical malpractice paralegal – a powerful transformation that causes “one-careerists” to stand up and do the infamous slow clap. You’ll find this professional under a stack of medical records. If it’s a paralegal with a law degree in another country, current attorneys should doubly respect them. A gift card to their favorite restaurant won’t cut it. Falling to your knees accompanied by bowing and saying, “I’m not worthy” is your best bet.

4. The Do-It-All
A whirligig has nothing on this one. They’re the receptionist, office manager and attorney wrangler of every law firm’s dreams. They’re definitely underpaid, but what they make up for in salary is the death-glare they can give to their attorneys that says, “I can turn this firm into chaos by taking off for a few PTO days you know.” They know their worth, even when they’re ordering the deli plate for the mediation lunch while simultaneously scheduling a client for a deposition and making sure their attorney has sweat guards under her new white shirt before going into a trial. Whew. Is it 5pm yet?
5. The Quasi-Attorney
It’s hard to tell who’s the attorney and who’s the paralegal when you have someone this experienced and reliable. Yes, their hourly billable rate is still considerably lower and they can’t set fees or give legal advice, yet the quasi-attorney is the go-to-person for most clients instead of the attorney (sorry Esq Smith). Need to know the status of your case? This paralegal will know the answer with a quick search and a quicker smirk. If you’re the client, you might wish the quasi-attorney was your actual attorney. But then again you’d probably never get them on the phone anyway.

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3 comments:

Anissa Burns said...

This was great! I'm the do-it-all.

Truth in Justice Files said...

And then there are the paralegals who combine these types, such as the litigator and the quasi-attorney, and so forth.

Anonymous said...

Being as I am at a smaller firm now, I am 4/5 (paralegal was my first and only career). Love this article and sent it to my attys and they said yep, these are all you :)

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