Working Conditions for Paralegals

Law Library DVDs

Law Library DVDs (Photo credit: William & Mary Law Library)

Paralegals working in corporate law departments and government agencies typically work a 40-hour week. Paralegals working in law firms may enjoy a little more flexibility in work scheduling but generally work longer hours overall. Some law firms reward the dedication and loyalty required of their paralegals with bonuses and additional time off.

Paralegals handle many routine assignments, particularly until they reach an experience level sufficiently qualifying them for more advanced tasks. With increased experience paralegals should expect more varied and challenging tasks and additional responsibility.

Because the supervising attorney always remains responsible for not only a paralegal’s work content and accuracy but also his or her conduct and manner of handling the work when dealing with clients and other outside parties, it’s common for a paralegal beginning a new job, whether he or she is experienced or not, to be watched or scrutinized much more closely than those with whom the attorney has worked with long enough to develop a satisfactory comfort level of awareness and understanding regarding the paralegal’s conduct, permitting him or her to give the paralegal increased independence and flexibility in handling professional paralegal job duties.

So, don’t be annoyed or irritated if it seems like your new supervising attorney is constantly “watching over your shoulder” and doesn’t trust you or have the confidence in your ability you think he or she should have and know you deserve.  He or she has a lot of professional responsibility at stake and has taken a big step deciding to delegate professional work to you as his or her paralegal. The next step is up to you to demonstrate by performance that the attorney’s confidence in you is justified. You’ll know you’ve accomplished this when you realize that you’re more relaxed and don’t feel like you’re constantly under a microscope—if you ever did.

Similar to attorneys, paralegals complete most of their work in offices or libraries, occasionally traveling outside the office, and perhaps out of town, to gather information and perform duties such as assisting with depositions and trials. A paralegal may occasionally meet with clients at their homes or businesses for interviews or to review documents they are drafting with the attorney’s supervision. When you meet with a client under such circumstances you should remember to mention that the work you are doing will be reviewed and approved by your supervising attorney so the client continues to realize that you are not rendering legal advice or engaging in other activities that could be interpreted as the unauthorized practice of law. Paralegals will perform work outside their office when they provide courtroom assistance to attorneys during hearings or trials, or during depositions.

Practically all paralegals now use computers in their work. Computer software packages and the Internet are increasingly used for legal research, factual investigations, and even in locating people who may be potential parties, heirs, or witnesses. In litigation involving many supporting documents, paralegals may use computer databases to retrieve, organize, and index various materials. Imaging software allows paralegals to scan documents directly into a database, while billing programs help them to track hours billed to clients and costs advanced on behalf of clients. Computer software packages may also be used to perform tax computations and explore the consequences of possible tax strategies for clients. Working at a desk in front of a computer monitor using a keyboard a great deal of the time can almost be guaranteed for just about any paralegal today.

Paralegals, specialized or general, typically work in safe, friendly environments that are reasonably comfortable. What one person thinks is socially acceptable behavior might be unacceptable or offensive to another. Most any professional legal environment where you will find paralegals has established standard policies to make the workplace a safe and comfortable environment for all and to serve a formal notice to all of the behavioral rules and policies they are expected to follow. Larger law firms and corporate employers have usually adopted a formal policy of zero tolerance regarding any manner of employee harassment. This will customarily be a written policy including a procedure for investigating harassment complaints. Creating and empowering a Harassment Committee is an essential element for maintaining a truly effective harassment policy. If a Harassment Committee concludes that an individual has violated the policy, the committee should be empowered to terminate a violator’s employment, thereby ensuring continued existence of proper working conditions.

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