Picking your perfect paralegal is like choosing your doctor. You need a good blend of education, skills, experience, and personality. Apart from all these, you should click with them. The relationship between an attorney and a paralegal is very special. The attorney brings in decades of experience while paralegals help them in staying organized and looking good overall.
The prefix ‘para’ in the word ‘paralegal’ stands for “bear or beside”. So a paralegal is someone who stays in the general vicinity of law. This description is so broad just like the job itself, it can take so many forms. Just saying that you want a paralegal isn’t enough, you should know how you want them to spend their time which will help in deciding what skills they’ll need to do it. Being clear about what you’ll be offering at the beginning of the interview process helps both parties.
Once the job description is set, you can tap into your network or connect with a good paralegal school to call for applicants. You can also contact specific employment agencies with experience in legal staffing. After receiving the applications, the first step is to look for the educational background of potential candidates. Since there are so many fly-by-night courses that promise a paralegal certificate after the completion of the course, anyone can hand out a resume saying they are a paralegal. Filtering applicants already familiar with legal terms, litigation process, and general parameters of law will save you a lot of money and time in the future. Although experienced paralegals will need better payments, they will also be easier to train.
Interviews should be like those depositions where you want witnesses to reveal things they are bottling up inside. Use those interview skills, start off with very light questions to get the applicant comfortable building the pace gradually. Unlike movies, big wins are not from a clincher question or closing argument, rather determined through briefs and answers. And attorneys who are masters in oral arguments are often not patient enough to write them on papers. So, paralegals end up doing a lot of written work which makes writing a very crucial skill for them. A paralegal who knows legal writing can be a great asset and the cover letter of applicants can give a good picture of this skill. Alternatively, you can also give a small writing assignment at the time of the interview process. Another important skill to look at while interviewing is organizational skills since attorneys don’t have time to tidy their files. Also, your paralegal will be the first person to greet your client while they walk into your office, so they should be a person loaded with soft skills.
At last, the best paralegals want to be a part of a legal team, not just an instruction follower. This means that you have to be a team player too. Paralegals often complain that attorneys are demanding, co-workers are competitive and jealous, clients are cranky, and vendors are difficult. You can help them in navigating this and create a good working environment for them.
If you don’t feel great about any applicant, then you should probably wait. It’s a pain to work while being understaffed but it is a greater pain to hire the wrong person. Eventually, you will find that special someone for your law office with the right tactics.