Editor: W. Patrick Tandy
Paralegals: A Permanent
By Carolyn Hess Johnson
Each spring law students begin a tireless
search for the perfect summer internship. Some students seek experience at a law
firm, perhaps hoping to secure a position upon graduation. Some students pursue
non-profit work, eager to put their newly acquired legal skills to the test in a
“hands-on” setting. Others look to find positions in government work: local,
state or federal. Although summer employment or internships can be rewarding for
the student and may help the student to determine a future career path, the
employer may have a different perspective. At the end of the summer employment,
the employer is often left feeling as if they had only just gotten started.
Finally the summer associate was “learning the ropes” and was just beginning to
require less supervision, asking to take on more complex projects, becoming a
part of the family. As the date by which the summer associate must leave draws
near, the employer may be left without assistance in a large-scale project, in
the middle of a complex trial or with clients wondering what happened to that
summer associate who had been working with them on their case.
Although law students are an invaluable
resource in the legal field, paralegals are an often overlooked permanent
solution to providing stability for employers. They can be the “point person”
for large projects, allowing the supervising attorney to feel confident that the
project is being properly managed. They can also provide comfort and security
for clients and witnesses who can become unsettled when being introduced to the
third new summer associate working on their case.
When a paralegal is most efficiently
utilized, he or she is able to work with the employer and the new or short-term
employee to provide a seamless transition from orientation to departure. If the
summer associate is working on a project alongside the paralegal, the paralegal
can be counted on to continue the work, even after the employee’s departure. In
this manner, summer associates can become involved in larger projects while the
employer is secure in the knowledge that, regardless of how long it takes, the
paralegal will be available to finish the project long after the associate has
left, perhaps even introducing the next associate to the project. As educated
legal “paraprofessionals”, paralegals can help attorneys teach summer associates
everything from legal research techniques to how to prepare for trial. In a busy
firm where attorneys may not have as much time as they wish to educate and train
associates, a paralegal can be an effective resource in orienting and sometimes
supervising summer associates.
A paralegal can be further utilized as a
permanent solution to the needs that arise when employers hire new attorneys.
Many new associates spend weeks just trying to learn where things are and how
things are done. They may be unfamiliar with the library that their employer
maintains, whether it is electronic or in book form. Paralegals are able to
guide new associates through the research tools available as well as providing
training on tools that associates may be unfamiliar with. Most paralegals keep
frequently used forms and documents on file and can provide such forms to new
associates as a starting point.
However, whether a new hire is fresh out of
law school or a seasoned attorney, he or she can look to their paralegal for
guidance and direction. Paralegals can provide training for new employees,
educating them on research tools, case preparation and protocol in that
particular firm. They can also act as a liaison between attorneys and their
clients or witnesses, promptly returning phone calls, conducting research and
helping with case preparation. Paralegals are educated and well-versed in
researching, writing (including proper Blue Book citation forms) and oral
speaking. They can compile and analyze data, prepare and present research
findings, interview witnesses and provide invaluable trial assistance to
As dedicated permanent employees, paralegals
have the ability to provide security and stability for their employers.
Paralegals are an untapped resource that many legal employers have yet to
discover. In both the private sector as well as the public sector, paralegals
are an indispensable as well as cost-effective solution to the ever changing
legal environment. With an educated and experienced paralegal, legal employers
can maintain stability and profitability while offering a learning environment
for summer associates and new associates, as well as experienced attorneys.
Carolyn Hess Johnson is a family law
attorney in Towson, Maryland, and an adjunct professor in the Law Department at
Villa Julie College.