Paralegals form an essential part of legal firms’ support staff and can help your law firm become more competitive. Here’s how to avoid common mistakes when hiring.
Usually, smaller law firms resist hiring a paralegal, and you may be thinking you cannot afford the extra salary. However, hiring a paralegal can help your law firm offer cost-effective legal services, especially if clients complain about your quality of legal attention or there are time management issues.
If you are juggling too many cases without the proper support, it could mean an endless struggle to meet deadlines or costly errors for your firm.
Also, work overload may undermine your billable hours, something which the assistance of a paralegal can help you increase. The services of a paralegal will not only help your law firm keep your existing clients happy but can help you land more clients and handle a more significant number of cases.
Hiring a legal assistant is not as easy as you think. These are the five most common mistakes to avoid.
1. Not understanding the actual job description of a paralegal
Paralegals are not licensed to be lawyers. As their name implies, they work alongside lawyers, assisting them with practical legal work. Paralegals are either qualified through their education and training or years of work experience. Attorneys always remain responsible for the legal work delegated to these legal assistants.
When you decide to hire a paralegal, you need first to define the tasks you will expect from them since that will determine the qualifications they will need. Examples of some of the functions required include legal research, preparing memorandums, letter writing, and witness interviews.
You may need your legal assistant to answer the phone, run errands, and help with marketing. Some tasks, such as conducting investigations, preparing depositions, and notary publics, require special qualifications.
Therefore, have a clear idea of your expectations from your paralegal. Determine the job description and include it in the employee policy book of your law firm. This will help you post the correct job listing and find the person with the right job qualifications.
2. Misunderstanding the qualifications of a paralegal
Looking at applicants, you may find some have only job experience while others may have completed paralegal courses. A certificate of completion of a course allows you also to make the paralegal’s qualifications known to your clients.
Of course, not all paralegal courses are equal. Usually, the more extended programs offered by trade schools, community colleges, and universities are best, but there are some excellent online programs.
Not all good candidates will have an ABA-approved certificate because they may be from areas where such courses are unavailable. Reputable certifications may indicate a higher achievement level, but these applicants are hard to find in some markets. They will also have a higher salary demand.
3. Not looking for experience
Besides qualifications, an experienced paralegal can offer you practical experience to match your case law and theory experience. Look for this skill, and remember that billable hours worked by an experienced paralegal will be cheaper for your clients as they handle the various required tasks while making your law practice more profitable.
4. Failing to ask the right questions during their job interview
When you conduct interviews to fill a paralegal position, make sure you understand all the paralegal skills. They must meet your job description. Of course, you must look at the person’s certifications and previous job experience.
Additionally, inquire about their previous job and the tasks they handled. This will give you a good idea of the experience they have in tackling your legal firm’s day-to-day functions. Find out how good their legal research skills are, observe their communications skills, and ask for writing samples.
Finally, note their personality. You want someone who will take the initiative to get on with their work and have a good working rapport with you. After all, you will be spending plenty of time together.
5. Not knowing where to look for a paralegal
Advertising the position online may not be in your best interests because you will be inundated with autogenerated and unqualified applications. The time and attention required to do this can be better spent elsewhere.
There are better options for finding the right paralegal. Reach out to legal colleagues and ask them or their paralegals for recommendations. Also, you can advertise locally, contact law schools, career placement offices, or reputable staffing agencies in your area. Paralegals often leave their resumés there. Finally, use a paralegal portal on LinkedIn to find the right candidate.
These tips will help you avoid the five most common mistakes when hiring a suitable paralegal to assist you in growing your law firm.