Professional Paralegals Deserve More Respect (2023)

Professional Paralegals Deserve More Respect (1)Law firms typically take a few different approaches to how they treat paralegals. Some shops view paralegals as temporary, somewhat transitional employees, who will likely depart the firm after a certain period of time. Indeed, some prospective law students often take paralegals jobs to get legal experience before heading to law school, and others may wish to work as a paralegal for a year or two to see if they want to become attorneys. Moreover, there is an extremely inaccurate and unfair perception among some in the legal community that many paralegals are simply individuals who did not have the skill, time, or patience to become lawyers (which I always thought was weird, since many attorneys regret their own career choices!). However, some firms view paralegals as integral, long-term members of their team and invest time and resources to develop their paralegal staff. For a variety of reasons, professional paralegals can be extremely valuable to law firms, and more shops should respect and invest in professional paralegals.

Legal Knowledge

As many attorneys know from first-hand experience, professional paralegals often learn valuable information about the practice of law. This can be important to shops, especially if there is a high rate of attorney turnover at a firm. For instance, after leaving Biglaw, I landed at a “street law” shop at which I had to appear in court several times a week and understand the hands-on mechanics of litigation. As an associate in Biglaw, I basically just wrote memos and conducted legal research, and I did not learn any practical know-how about litigating cases.


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Within my first week of working at this “street law” firm, I was given the simple task of drafting and filing a stipulation extending the time for us to oppose a summary judgment motion. I had absolutely no idea how to write such a document or how to file the stipulation with the court. However, the paralegal (and secretary) assigned to my team helped me draft the stipulation and told me what provisions needed to be included in this document. They then provided me with detailed instructions on when I needed to submit the document to the court, which courtroom I had to submit the document to (Room 130, of course, as my New York City colleagues would know!), and what I had to say to the clerk when I submitted the document. I relied on my paralegal (and secretary — I might have to do another article on how valuable legal secretaries can be!) heavily during my first few months at that “street law” firm before I learned the ropes of litigation, and that shop benefited greatly from the professional paralegals who were working there. Moreover, when I moved to a different firm that focused on a few mass torts matters, the paralegals provided invaluable advice on how procedures worked in those cases. Mass torts cases often develop their own rules and procedures, and professional paralegals can help attorneys stay on top of how issues are handled in those matters.

Client Relationships

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Professional paralegals are also important because they can forge long-term and strong connections to in-house counterparts. If a paralegal leaves a firm after a year or two, it might be difficult for in-house professionals to forge connections with paralegals, which can influence a client’s decision to stay with a given firm. However, if paralegals stay at a firm for years, these connections are easier to make.

For instance, I once worked at a mass torts shop that handled a few large mass torts matters for several big clients. Even though the other associates and I rarely had contact with individuals who worked for our clients, the paralegals were in communication with in-house people all the time. Our paralegals would consistently send reports, notes, and other materials to in-house people and answer all kinds of questions. In addition, the paralegals were very familiar with the procedures that in-house professionals wanted us to use for billing and other administrative tasks. Since mass torts matters can take many years to be resolved, the paralegals at my firm were well-acquainted with some of the folks who worked for our clients. I am sure that this connection helped our firm retain these clients over the years because clients appreciate the relationships they had with professionals at our firm which would disappear if the clients went elsewhere.



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Knowledge About A Firm

Professional paralegals are also valuable because they can develop a deep understanding about a firm and the people who work there. It might be difficult for new associates at a shop to ask other attorneys how they should approach specific situations or deal with certain people at a firm. However, paralegals that have a familiarity with practices and people at a firm can suggest to attorneys how they can handle a variety of situations. In addition, every law firm has different practices when it comes to billing, document management, organizing work product, and other matters. It can be a lot easier for newer attorneys to inquire about such practices of paralegals than other attorneys at a given shop, since associates often rely on other lawyers for work and may not want to bother senior attorneys about certain matters. The institutional memory of professional paralegals, and the fact that they are not part of the attorney “chain of command,” can help a law firm operate more efficiently.

All told, professional paralegals can be an invaluable resource for many law firms, but many shops do not invest too many resources in paralegals. Indeed, numerous firms do not pay paralegals bonuses, professional development expenses for paralegals, and other costs needed to train paralegals and ensure that they are long-time fixtures at a law firm. However, professional paralegals can not only help law firms provide the best possible legal services to clients but also assist attorneys in navigating administrative challenges.

Professional Paralegals Deserve More Respect (7)Jordan Rothman is a partner of The Rothman Law Firm, a full-service New York and New Jersey law firm. He is also the founder of Student Debt Diaries, a website discussing how he paid off his student loans. You can reach Jordan through email at



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Are paralegals respected? ›

For a variety of reasons, professional paralegals can be extremely valuable to law firms, and more shops should respect and invest in professional paralegals. As many attorneys know from first-hand experience, professional paralegals often learn valuable information about the practice of law.

What are the three qualities a paralegal should have? ›

An indispensable paralegal has an ability to multitask, a strong attention to detail, a willingness to learn, an expertise in organization, and psychic abilities.

What are five ethical considerations a paralegal attorney should consider with respect to billing a client? ›

Paralegals must comply with the following standards, which you'll learn about in your paralegal studies.
  • Demonstrate Professional Competence and Personal Integrity. ...
  • Always Respect Client Privilege. ...
  • Avoid or Disclose Conflicts of Interest. ...
  • Disclose Your Paralegal Status.
Jul 6, 2022

What is the most important role of a paralegal? ›

One of the most important roles of a paralegal is to assist their attorney in preparing for trials, hearings, and closings. A large part of this consists of conducting legal research and gathering relevant information to the case.

Is paralegal a respectable job? ›

In some firms, paralegal is a very good job. Some paralegals are paid very well and work reasonable hours. They do real, substantive, interesting legal work attorneys in other firms might do. They are prized and considered assets to their firms.

What makes a paralegal professional? ›

Integrity and Professional ethics

They are trusted to represent clients to the very best of their ability while staying within the boundaries of the law. Just like lawyers, paralegals are expected to respect and uphold the principles of our justice system.

What are the 5 typical duties of a paralegals? ›

Paralegal Job Duties
  • Research.
  • Case Preparation.
  • Document Management.
  • Courtroom and Legal Proceedings Assistance.
  • Communication and Coordination.

What is the value of paralegal? ›

What exactly does a paralegal do? Paralegals are crucial to the legal process because paralegals help attorneys and other legal professionals. As a paralegal, you can expect to do administrative tasks that attorneys don't have time for as well as conducting research and organising material for legal matters.

Why do people become paralegals instead of lawyers? ›

Paralegals are more affordable than lawyers and may have more experience in court filing and procedures, making them well-suited to handling smaller legal matters. Lawyers have a far broader knowledge of the law and are able to take on the most complex cases.

What type of paralegal makes the most money? ›

Types of Paralegals Ranked by Highest Pay
  • International Law Paralegal. ...
  • Personal Injury Lawyer Paralegal. ...
  • Family Law Paralegal. ...
  • Freelance Paralegal. ...
  • Litigation Paralegal. ...
  • Public Defender Paralegal. ...
  • Estate Planning and Probate Paralegal. ...
  • Real Estate Paralegal.

How stressful is being a paralegal? ›

Being a paralegal is stressful, and paralegal burnout is real. Paralegals work notoriously long hours, and their tasks include everything from office management to doing case research and preparing and editing legal contracts and documents. Paralegal's tasks have a direct impact on the outcomes of matters and cases.


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