Learn About the Role of a Litigation Paralegal
Litigation paralegals provide an invaluable aid to attorneys in the litigation process. Litigation paralegals are the backbone of the trial team, coordinating the thousands of details that must be accomplished before, during, and after a trial.
The major duties and responsibilities of the litigation paralegal (beginning with the investigation phase and ending with the appeals phase) include the following:
Litigation paralegals often take the lead in the pre-claim investigation. The paralegal’s role may involve locating and interviewing witnesses, taking witness statements, gathering documents and evidence, creating case investigation notebooks, organizing documents and creating a chronology of facts. Litigation paralegals on the plaintiff side may conduct initial client interviews and perform initial case assessments.
Litigation paralegals on the plaintiff side may assist in drafting pleadings including the summons, complaint, and supporting affidavits. Paralegals on the defense side may collaborate with the client to investigate the allegations and formulate responses. Litigation paralegals are often charged with the task of creating and maintaining pleadings indexes and filing pleadings with the court. Paralegals are also responsible for calendar hearing dates and filing deadlines with the court.
The majority of a litigation paralegal’s time is spent working on the discovery phase. Litigation paralegals aid attorneys in drafting interrogatories, requests for production, requests for admissions, and other discovery. Paralegals on the defense side may be called upon to track down knowledgeable persons within the client organization to help develop responses to interrogatories and other discovery requests.
Paralegals also create and maintain discovery indexes; organize voluminous case files; calendar discovery deadlines; organize, review and analyze documents for production; prepare deposition summaries; organize, summarize and analyze medical records, and assist with e-discovery.
Litigation paralegals often conduct legal research, analyze issues and craft legal research memos. Those working in this job are also tasked with some of the same responsibilities as a typical journalist. They must conduct factual research and gather relevant information from a variety of resources such as newspapers, libraries, police and fire departments, trade associations, and traditional and social media.
The litigation paralegal’s communication and organization skills are invaluable in the pre-trial stage of litigation. Litigation paralegals organize and index exhibits, prepare trial binders, and manage document-intensive files.
Litigation paralegals also serve as a liaison between the trial team and third parties such as witnesses, clients, vendors, expert witnesses, and courtroom personnel. If the trial happens to take place out of town, litigation paralegals are often tasked with coordinating such logistics as setting up the war room, reserving hotel rooms and office space, and renting or purchasing necessary equipment.
During the trial phase, litigation paralegals are as essential as the attorney’s right hand. Paralegals organize exhibits, documents, and evidence. They also transport and set up files and exhibits in the courtroom; prepare and issue subpoenas; assist in preparing witnesses; research and evaluate prospective jurors, and serve as a liaison between clients, witnesses, experts, vendors, and the trial team.
In the courtroom, litigation paralegals assist with voir dire and jury selection. They also handle exhibits; pull together necessary documents; prep witnesses; prepare witness files; observe the jury; take notes on the attorney’s behalf; order and review trial transcripts, and interact with clients, vendors, experts, and courtroom personnel. Paralegals may also help prepare jury instructions and conduct post-trial interviews of the jurors.
Litigation paralegals often assist attorneys with case settlements. Their role may include gathering and organizing data and information needed for settlement; creating settlement brochures; distributing statements or negotiations checklists; drafting settlement agreements and releases, and assisting at pretrial conferences.
Litigation paralegals help to identify issues for appeal; gather and organize documents for a record on appeal and/or a joint appendix; index cases for a table of authorities; assist in the research phase; help in the drafting of appellate documents, and file documents with the court.
How Do You Become a Paralegal?
One of the most common concerns for anyone interested in this field is the amount of education needed—as well as how long it takes to become a paralegal. While the path to becoming a paralegal can look very different from one person to the next, the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) states that the most common educational path leading to work as a paralegal is an Associate's degree, which generally takes about two years to earn. That said, if you’ve already earned a Bachelor’s or Associate’s degree in a different field, a Paralegal Certificate Program can provide you with the specialized knowledge base you’ll need for the job without requiring more years of schooling.
What Does a Paralegal Make?
The median annual salary for paralegals in 2016 was $49,500, according to the BLS. That is $12,500 more than the national average of $37,000 for all occupations. This is pretty encouraging for a job that doesn’t require a Bachelor’s degree or require potentially dangerous manual labor.