Tools of the Trade

Surviving in the Legal Industry: What Makes a Paralegal Indispensable?
guest author: Tina M. Ziegler, ACP

Even though the economy seems better now than in prior years, firms are still undergoing changes including the downsizing of staff. While it may save a firm more money to let an attorney go, paralegals are not excluded from this process. How can you avoid being one of the paralegals who are shown the door, especially if you have been with your firm for a long time?

Paralegals are a vital part of any law firm or legal department. There are certain characteristics and skills which are common among the best of them. These are what you should strive to master and what attorneys should look for when hiring a paralegal.

  1. Ability to multi-task and prioritize tasks - An excellent paralegal is able to multi-task and prioritize their responsibilities simultaneously. They are also flexible, able to quickly adapt to change, and work well under pressure. Client needs and case demands are constantly changing, and the paralegal must be able to keep up. Additionally, paralegals must have a lot of patience and stamina. They may be expected to keep long hours, especially those who assist at trial.
  1. Job experience - Experienced paralegals understand legal terminology, are familiar with the Rules and the flow of a case, and know how to create and format documents. Their prior experience makes them invaluable as they already know what needs to be done with little or no instruction. Hiring such individuals will reduce the amount of time needed to train them.
  1. Strong writing skills - These are a must since paralegals are expected to draft legal documents and assist in the review of documents prepared by their attorneys. They are also in constant communication with clients and attorneys through email and letters and, in doing so, are a reflection of their attorney and their firm. Poor grammar and misspellings make you look unprofessional.
  1. Technological skills - Constant advances in technology change the way law firms practice. Highly effective paralegals keep up with these changes and are often called on to create presentations, draft documents, conduct online research, and maintain spreadsheets. Most attorneys don't have time to keep up with the latest technology, so they often rely on their paralegal for assistance.
  1. Professional communication - Paralegals communicate with clients, attorneys, and court personnel on a daily basis. This includes written communication such as e-mails, in-person contact, and verbal communication over the phone. Having great communication skills is vital for paralegals in their role as representatives of their firm.
  1. Organizational skills and attention to detail - A first-rate paralegal knows their cases and deadlines. They are also expected to fact-check legal research conducted by their attorneys and ensure documents are properly formatted and grammatically correct. An organized paralegal doesn't prompt their attorney regarding important deadlines at the last minute. They provide their attorney with plenty of advance notice to allow ample time for completion.
  1. Foresight - An indispensable paralegal is always one step ahead. The ability to foresee potential problems enables one to resolve any issues that may arise before others do. They also anticipate what their attorney wants or needs before they ask.
  1. Independent - Most of a paralegal's time is spent organizing documents and reading through case files on their own. Paralegals should be focused, maximizing their time by avoiding distractions.
  1. Integrity - Exceptional paralegals are both loyal and honest. They are able to admit mistakes when made. Accepting fault prevents a situation from getting worse and avoids future errors. They are loyal to their attorney and firm and avoid gossip and complaints, especially on social media sites.
  1. Willingness to Better Themselves - Conscientious paralegals strive for knowledge and continuing education. They attend seminars and workshops and keep up with current events. Doing so strengthens their skills and increases their understanding of legal issues, making them more valuable to their firm.

Paralegals who possess the above talents and skills are a true asset to their firm. If an attorney is lucky enough to find one of these individuals, they should do everything they can to keep them around. Those looking to enter the legal field should keep these qualities in mind and endeavor to become an indispensable paralegal once hired.


Tina M. Ziegler is an Advanced Certified Paralegal and the Director of the Paralegal Division at the law firm of Hammerman & Hultgren, P.C. in Phoenix, AZ which specializes in collection law. She has worked for the firm since October 1994 and is the paralegal to Partner, Stanley M. Hammerman. Ms. Ziegler also oversees the Legal Department, managing a paralegal and a legal assistant. She earned her Associates degree in Legal Assisting from Phoenix College, graduating with high distinction in May 1995.  She went on to obtain her Bachelor's degree in Applied Sciences from Arizona State University, graduating summa cum laude in December 2002.  Ms. Ziegler has extensive knowledge of collection law and the process of obtaining and enforcing a judgment. She provides in-house training for her firm and has also spoken at various seminars over the last 15 years on collection law and civil trial practice. Ms. Ziegler is a Past President of the Maricopa County Bar Association's Paralegal Division and was selected as the Paralegal Member of the Year by the Division in 2012 and 2014.  She was selected as the MCBA's 2016 Recipient of the Robert R. Mills Member of the Year Award and was the first non-attorney to receive this honor.  She is one of the first non-attorney Members to be elected to the MCBA's Board of Directors.  She is the current Secretary for the Maricopa County Bar Foundation, the charitable arm of the MCBA. She is also a member of the NALS of Phoenix association and was selected to receive the 2017 NALS of Phoenix Award of Excellence.

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