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Paralegals - views from the coalface, part 1

The view from: Third Year Commerce/Law student with a particular interest in taxation and employment law; aspiring litigator.  

Nuts and bolts: what kind of work do paralegals do? 

"Paralegals carry out a wide range of legal tasks within organisations, and operate as support personnel for supervising lawyers.

Having been employed as a ‘Class Actions’ department paralegal at a mid-tier firm for 12 months, I have gained an appreciation for the work completed by law firms.

Due to the large number of clients we serve, paralegals generally operate as the first point of contact for client correspondence. This is most often conducted over the phone, and is useful to understand and respond to any needs, concerns or enquiries clients may have. Often, this progresses into drafting letters to clients, or recording file notes to detail matters for solicitor review. Affidavits and other court documentation are also initially drafted by paralegals, before being presented before the Supreme Court as Class Action progress updates.

A large part of our work is database-focused, and paralegals are responsible for designing, optimising and maintaining databases which contain client details and electronic records. This requires proficiency in working with Excel spreadsheets, as well as proprietary software systems. This is particularly vital in the Class Actions department, where each case can account to over 10,000 clients.

The close relationships paralegals have with clients, and the broad reach of their tasks, also lends itself well to making suggestions to departmental heads. For instance, these may be aimed at optimising processes to better serve clients or to make tasks less resource-intensive.

Finally, paralegals are often tasked with conducting research on various topics relating to the work at hand, which can involve statutory interpretation, case-finding and drafting case summaries for the perusal of solicitors. This lays the groundwork for case planning, and is an area where academic legal experience is very relevant.

To excel as a paralegal, organisational and time-management skills are crucial. Often, paralegals need to manage an on-going list of outstanding tasks of varying importance. The scope of a paralegal’s employ is multifaceted, making it an interesting and practical introduction for students to the legal profession."

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