Paralegal Stories: Litigation Paralegal

Part Detective, Part Counselor, Part Magician

Robin Gomez, Office Manager and Litigation Paralegal

Robin Gomez has worked as a paralegal for 33 years. She currently works for the law firm of Brownstein Hyatt Farber Schreck in Albuquerque, New Mexico. She has an AA in Business Management and an AA in Paralegal Studies.

Robin is very involved in the State Bar of New Mexico as well as the Albuquerque Bar Association, the Association of Legal Administrators, Central New Mexico Community College's Paralegal Advisory Board and Keep New Mexico Beautiful.

This is her story.

Civil Litigation Paralegal

I have always worked in civil litigation and always on the defense side. In the civil litigation arena, I work in employment law, contract disputes, personal injury cases, and just about anything on the defense side. I like investigating and this is important in assisting my litigation attorneys in any defense case.

Daily Responsibilites as a Litigation Paralegal

In our office, we have a litigation team of three attorneys, two paralegals and one secretary. Each Friday, we review the calendar to see what we need to get ready for the coming week. I am lucky – my attorneys don’t like surprises so we calendar and draft projects well enough before the deadline so that working on the project is comfortable. None of us like the constant drama of last minute filings.

Each day I work on ongoing projects such as:

  • Summarizing records;
  • Researching background information on opposing parties or past lawsuits;
  • Updating file materials;
  • Drafting pleadings; and
  • Gathering and identifying documents that are responsive to discovery requests.

I also spend time helping others – copying, binding, running the postage machine – whatever it takes to get the project out the door. I feel it is important not to leave my fellow staff members behind when they are struggling with a project.

The Best Part of Working as a Litigation Paralegal

The investigation and research into the background facts is my favorite part of the job. I have always loved puzzles and that's what a case is like to me. It is interesting to start with an issue and work backward to piece together the whole picture.

As a defense paralegal, I enter the story when the Plaintiff has filed a lawsuit. Of course, there is so much more to the story that led up to the lawsuit. Part of my job is to go back to the beginning and look into all the cast of characters and activities that led them to file the complaint. It's never what it seems and it's always very interesting. There are always a few surprises added to the mix.

My second favorite part of the job is document control. I love big document cases! Other paralegals don't like dealing with tons of paper but it doesn't bother me at all. I enjoy reading and organizing everything.

Challenges of Working as a Litigation Paralegal

Time is the biggest challenge of working as a litigation paralegal. There never seems to be enough of it! When there are so many cases waiting for attention, you can't just skim over things to save time. Every piece of paper must be read, understood and responded to and that takes a lot of time.

The other challenge I face is balancing the duties of office manager with my duties as a paralegal. Sometimes, both positions require immediate attention and I find myself struggling to meet the demands. Although I have been a paralegal for many years, I have only been an office manager for four years, so I have a lot to learn and each day is a challenge. I am constantly amazed at the day-to-day details that have to be addressed in order for the office to run smoothly. As a paralegal, I never asked how things got done, I just assumed everything would be in place when I needed it. As an office manager, I know the deadlines and pressures that paralegals face and work hard to help alleviate some of those pressures.

Employment Opportunities for Litigation Paralegals

In my opinion, opportunities for litigation paralegals are on the rise.

Paralegal skills can be utilized in so many ways - research, drafting, investigation, management, filing, and customer relations, to name a few. And don't forget about the varied computer skills needed to do the job.

A paralegal can specialize in one area of law or legal technology. The demand for specialized skills can be great.

Skills Needed to Excel as a Litigation Paralegal

To succeed as a litigation paralegal, you need to be part detective, part counselor, and part magician. In addition to the obvious skills, you must be able to approach a problem with creative ideas and find new ways to query the Internet for information. Problem-solving skills and creative thinking are key in finding your way through a maze of issues.

Being able to juggle several things at once and keeping your cool are also necessary skills. I often have six or seven projects going at the same time and new ones constantly arrive that need immediate attention.

Advice for Those Considering the Litigation Field

Working as a litigation paralegal can be a very rewarding career or it can be a horrible job. The law office is not for everyone. Sometimes a paralegal has to work in several areas in order to find the area of law that best suits them. If litigation does not feel like a good fit, then think about trying another area of law. Once you find your area, then dig in, learn as much as you can, spend time with other paralegals, volunteer for activities and join organizations available to you.

One of the best things I did personally was to become involved with the New Mexico State Bar, where there is a wealth of support and information available to me.

We are very fortunate in New Mexico to have a state bar that embraces paralegals.

Most Memorable Moment as a Litigation Paralegal

One of the funniest things I remember happened when I volunteered to answer phones on a free Law Day call-in. People in the community could call in and get free advice on how to deal with various legal problems.

As a paralegal, my function was to forward the call to the volunteer attorney who specialized in the area of law in question.

I will never forget the woman who wanted to sue the person who had messed up her eyebrows. She had gone to a beauty parlor that applied permanent dye cosmetics. Unfortunately, the eyebrows had come out uneven and she was now going through life with one eyebrow furrowed down as if in anger and the other eyebrow arched up high as if in perpetual surprise. I think I forwarded that call to a personal injury attorney because I was not sure who could help her! I learned that legal issues come in all shapes and sizes, literally.

Litigation Technology

We use CompuLaw for calendaring and Summation for document management. The firm also uses Hummingbird as the data base management system. With 13 offices across the country, these programs allow us to easily transmit work between offices when help is needed.