The litigation paralegal provides invaluable assistance to lawyers during the litigation process. These paralegals are considered the true backbone of a trial team. During a trial, it’s the paralegal who’s responsible for coordinating thousands of details before, during, and after a trial.
In the paralegal career, the major responsibilities in litigation include research, investigation, interviewing clients, drafting legal documents, and much more.
Investigations and Pleadings
In this field, the paralegal will typically take the lead during the pre-claim investigation phase. Their role can involve taking witness statements, interviewing or locating witnesses, gathering evidence, and documents, organizing documents, creating case notebooks, and creating a chronology of facts. On the plaintiff side, the paralegal may perform initial case assessments and conduct initial client interviews.
On the defense side, the paralegal is usually in charge of maintaining and creating pleadings indexes. They will also be required to keep track of important dates and deadlines.
Most of the paralegal’s time will be spent focused on the discovery phase. They will aid attorneys in drafting requests for production, interrogatories, and requests for admissions. On the defense side, they may be required to track down people within the client organization in order to develop responses to discovery requests such as interrogatories.
A paralegal will also maintain and create discovery indexes, analyze, review, and organize documents for production, calendar discovery deadlines, organize voluminous case files, analyze, summarize, and review medical records, and prepare deposition summaries.
These paralegals will often craft legal research memos, analyze issues, and conduct legal research.
Paralegals working in this position will also be tasked with many of the same responsibilities as a journalist. They will be required to gather relevant information and conduct factual research, through a variety of resources including trade associations, fire and police departments, newspapers, social media, and traditional media platforms.
Pre-trial and Trial Duties
Organization and communication skills are invaluable during the pre-trial phase of litigation. These paralegals will index and organize exhibits, manage files, and prepare trial binders.
They also serve as a liaison between third parties such as expert witnesses, vendors, clients, and the trial team.
Should a trial take place out of town, the paralegal will usually be tasked with coordinating logistics including reserving hotel rooms, purchasing any necessary equipment, renting office space, and setting up the war room.
During a trial, the paralegal will be the one the attorney relies on the most. They will organize evidence, documents, and exhibits. They will also set up and transport exhibits and files in the courtroom, assist in preparing witnesses, issue and prepare subpoenas, and evaluate and research prospective jurors.
In court, the paralegal will assist with jury selection, handle exhibits, prep witnesses, pull together necessary documents, observe the jury, and prepare witness files. They will also take notes on behalf of the attorney, review transcripts of the trial, and closely interact with courtroom personnel, experts, and clients. The paralegal will also help to interview the jurors after the trial.
Settlement and Appeal Processes
Assisting attorneys with case settlements is another job the litigation paralegal must tackle. Their role often includes organizing and gathering information and data needed for a settlement, distributing negotiations or statements, creating settlement brochures, assisting with pretrial conferences, and drafting settlement agreements.
It’s also the job of the paralegal to identify issues for appeal, organize and gather documents for a record on the appeal, index cases, assist during the research phase, file documents with the court, and help with the drafting of appellate documents.
Education Requirements for Paralegals in Litigation
The path to becoming a paralegal can look very different depending on the area of law you want to specialize in. Many successful paralegals in litigation chose to obtain an associate degree or bachelor’s degree in paralegal studies. However, it’s also possible to earn a degree in another field and enroll in a paralegal school certificate program.
Why Many Paralegals Choose Litigation
Are you a crime buff? Do you often follow major trials in the media? Paralegals often choose this field, not because it offers a higher than average paralegal salary, but because they enjoy the fast-paced, challenging work that comes with working in the litigation field.
Probably the most interesting part of this job comes before a trial even begins. The paralegal is a key part of investigative efforts and they’re in charge of uncovering important facts of a case before the attorney chooses a trial strategy. They will conduct most of the client interviews and will even be the ones to establish client rapport early on, which is why they are often the primary client contact throughout the duration of a case.
The action continues through the discovery phase when the paperwork starts piling up. During discovery, the paralegal will be under immense pressure to produce evidence and information that’s important to the case.
These cases involve a lot of sifting through documents and research or deposing and interviewing witnesses. On occasion, the paralegal must coordinate with a private investigator in order to uncover new leads, potential witnesses, or hard evidence.
A flair for writing and the ability to conduct legal research will be helpful. These duties also carry over into preparing for the trial itself. Paralegals are often responsible for assembling information into a format that will allow the attorney to easily and quickly reference important information, details, and facts during a trial. Attention to detail, excellent organization skills, and communication skills will get the paralegal far. However, most attorneys will usually handpick paralegals who have a degree, extensive experience in legal research, and two to three years in the field. If you’re just starting out in litigation, you can expect to work as part of a team, under the supervision of a seasoned paralegal for the first few years of your career, before you can take the next step up the ladder and qualify for a more hands-on position where you’ll be the attorney’s go-to paralegal during a trial.