Paralegals are often tasked with legal research and document drafting tasks on behalf of the attorney they work for. If you've been thinking about a new career as a paralegal, it means a commitment to a college degree program. Before you commit to the classes, you'll want to carefully consider how your own personal skillset applies to the demands of the job. Here are a few of the key skills that are important for those working as paralegals.
Organization is a key aspect of any paralegal's job. With so much paperwork and digital information involved in day-to-day legal activities, you'll have to juggle a lot of information. From gathering documents to sorting and organizing evidence, case files and motions, there's a lot to keep track of. You'll need to be well-organized, especially in a fast-paced environment. Your ability to keep things straight and find things quickly will directly affect how effective the attorney you work for can be.
Because a significant part of a paralegal's job is drafting briefs, pleadings, discovery, and various legal correspondence, having strong written skills is essential. You'll need to be concise, clear and have a strong grasp of persuasive legal terminology to succeed in this kind of role. In addition, excessive time spent proofreading for grammatical errors can render you inefficient at your job, so you'll want to have above-average grammatical and mechanical writing skills.
Since paralegals spend their days communicating with clients, court officers, attorneys, and support staff, having strong communication skills is essential. You need to be able to convey messages clearly and concisely so that there are no misunderstandings. In addition, you should be able to handle yourself professionally in any conversation, including both telephone and in-office communications. Spend some time refining your oral presentation skills so that you can stand up in an attorney's meeting and present information with confidence.
A key part of working in the legal field is having the ability to infer meaning from the information you receive. You'll need to be able to interpret the information that you receive as well as the applicable laws. Having the ability to look at things from many different perspectives or to offer an outside-the-box approach will make you more valuable to lawyers.
In the practice of law, there are strict ethics requirements that must be followed. Confidentiality is of the utmost importance, both in terms of protecting the clients as well as the attorney you're working for. In addition, each state has its own ethics code for paralegals, so make sure you understand yours and can abide by it. For example, most states limit what paralegals are permitted to do and prevent paralegals from offering actual legal advice.
To succeed as a paralegal, you need to be skilled at research. That means not only knowing what to look for but also where to look for it. You'll need to understand how to use legal databases to find necessary information, but you'll also need the skills to understand when you need to dig deeper or look in other places for the information.
These are some of the core skills that most paralegals need to have. If you're not particularly strong in one or more of these areas, that doesn't mean that it's not the career for you. Most paralegal education programs offer detailed and specific training in those necessary tasks. By the time you complete your paralegal education, you'll be prepared to handle any tasks that come your way. For more information, talk with a representative at a college like ASA College about the paralegal program you're considering.