Maryland Bar Bulletin
Publications : Bar Bulletin

Editor: W. Patrick Tandy

January, 2004


Paralegals: A Permanent Solution
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 litigators.

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.

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Publications : Bar Bulletin: January, 2004

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