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10 admin and procedural skills to learn to be a successful US paralegal from India

We will continue with our discussions around how to succeed as a freelance paralegal doing work for US clients while being in India.

We already talked about global trends in IP law and new opportunities arising for lawyers, Part 1 and Part 2

Here we talked about 3 kinds of clients with the most amount of IP law work and the problems they are facing.

Here we explained talent arbitrage and why Indian law students and lawyers should take advantage of opportunities in the US.

Here we talked about 10 IP law skills that are in demand big-time and therefore you must learn them if you want to make a career in IP law.

Here we talked about how paralegal work can open up opportunities for an international IP career for you.

We even offered a self-assessment exercise for you to check how prepared you are for a career in IP law here.

With all the above, we are assuming that you now have some interest in earning some money on the side from freelance US paralegal work.

As we have discussed and demonstrated earlier, it is possible to earn over Rupees 1 lakh per month by working part-time as a paralegal for US attorneys. It can also open doors for working in the US later on as a lawyer.

However, it is not easy to do the work of a paralegal.

There are several challenges, which we have been discussing. You need to prepare for paralegal work. 

We have discussed challenges like credibility, knowledge and skill gap, and access problems and some possible solutions.

Today let’s take a step forward, and go a little deeper.

Today I will tell you about the 10 most common types of admin and procedural work that you should learn if you are looking forward to working as a paralegal successfully.

Learning these skills will help you to be recognised and perform as a top-notch paralegal.

Once you learn these skills, it is our suggestion that you offer to work for a month or for 50 hours for free as a part-time paralegal which will make it very easy to establish your skills if you are looking for your first gig as a paralegal. Remember that any decent lawyer, including beginners, usually earn above $100,000 in the USA per year, making the $12,000 you are looking to earn around the year a very affordable number for them. 

Also, they are likely to be able to increase their income with your support, which is why they are hiring you in the first place. As you will help them with their administrative and procedural work, they will be free to do other more high value stuff, including spending more time on business development. Many paralegals help with business development as well. I will soon write about business development skills that paralegals can do; watch this space if you are interested. 

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There are two places where this list of skills will be very useful for you.

At the time of application, or submitting a proposal, you need to list the useful skills you have which will massively increase your chances of selection. I recommend that you use this list while preparing your proposal or job applications, showcasing what different work you can help the lawyer with. Since you are applying from another country, it is also important to highlight your knowledge of the US legal system and procedures.  

Remember, you have to position yourself as someone who knows the US legal system, relevant laws and legal procedure quite well, as someone who is clued in and useful, and not come across as a clueless foreigner just hoping to get some work without adequate skills or knowledge.

Once you are selected for a demo-gig or assessment-internship as a paralegal, you have to prove that you have these skills and you will have to actually do the work. So learning theoretically is not enough, but being able to do it in practice will also be necessary.

One trick is to apply to a successful paralegal himself or herself as an apprentice to get some experience. You can spot successful paralegals all over the internet on freelance websites. While they are probably not looking for apprentices, you can still approach them and try your luck. If you offer to work for free for them for a while as you are trying to learn the work, they might just agree!

Please note that people have very little patience to teach you, so the more actual work you learn before giving your first job a shot, the better off you will be.

LawSikho has a relevant course in the works which would be a part of the Skill India project. If you are interested in paralegal work, join this whatsapp community here: https://chat.whatsapp.com/LqfyiazVi5TBXzyk6g58RS

So what are these administrative and procedural skills? Let’s talk about them.

This list will also give you good ideas about the work you may have to do as a paralegal apart from the skills you need to learn.

I have categorised all the work in 10 different buckets. It is ok if you do not know all of it when you are starting, but the more you know, better your chances of finding work and increasing your rates quickly.

Case management

A paralegal is expected to organize and manage client records and case files related to legal matters efficiently, so that the attorney can access the client’s entire case file from anywhere at any time. It is also important for future records.

You have to store legal documents, evidence, drafts, correspondence and scanned documents separately for each matter in a searchable location and organize them in a way that finding the relevant document becomes very easy. Keeping case files organized and orderly by following protocols and systems is very important. In a relatively new practice, you may even be called upon to establish proper protocols, processes and systems for smooth operations. 

Usually, specialised software is used for client record management, but it can be done on Google Drive or Microsoft OneDrive too using normal online folders. You need to learn about the most common software that is available and how to make the most of it.

You may be required to keep track of every key date and deadlines coming up for each case / matter. You may have to give reminders to the lawyers, and ensure that they never miss a deadline by setting up appropriate reminders. It may also be part of your responsibility to manage the calendars and schedules of the attorneys. 

Here are some important tasks and skills you have to learn:

  • Monitoring calendars
  • Deadline management
  • Documenting actions and keeping records
  • Inputting information into file database and case management software 
  • Confirming case status with attorney and keeping clients updated of progress
  • Casefile review, organization, and summary 
  • Correspondence with opposing counsel, and the Court 

Trial & litigation managment

Managing a trial or a litigation is no easy task. Lawyers prefer to delegate this work on paralegals and assistants while they focus on strategy and arguments. Here is a range of tasks you can help an attorney with:

  • E-filing court documents
  • Assistance in collecting evidence, getting information,organizing meetings by maintaining contact with people involved in the case (remember the Erin Brockovich movie? Watch it if you have not.)
  • Preparing case summaries and notes or transcription from client conferences, mediation sessions, etc
  • Preparing pleadings and organizing research materials for review by attorneys
  • Organizing evidence, preparing exhibits, scheduling witnesses, ensuring that witnesses are ready when needed, taking notes in courtroom
  • Preparing and forwarding summons and subpoenas
  • Prepare chronologies and timelines
  • Editing of documents using Adobe Pro and other pdf editing software is also a frequently recurring task for paralegals
  • You will also be expected to identify and keep a running agenda of tasks that need to be performed during a case (such as topics for legal research, helping a client locate documents to prove a claim, hiring expert witnesses, etc.) 
  • Paralegals may have to perform different kinds of data and intelligence gathering and investigative tasks. A quick and thorough investigation can help a lawyer to build a solid case. Very often, without gathering enough data, a lawyer cannot even decide whether they should take the matter, and they may rely on paralegals to find relevant information at the first instance. Hiring a professional investigator is often necessary, but paralegals are the ones who take the first shot and they can find out a lot of evidence and information, sometimes simply using a computer or a phone. At other times, they may personally meet people to find out information which will not be possible if you work remotely. 
  • Paralegals should have the skill to convert data or information to a spreadsheet which makes it easy to understand. They can also make it easier to visualise the data through charts. 

Discovery

Discovery is the formal process of exchanging information between the parties about the witnesses and evidence they’ll present at trial. 

Discovery enables the parties to know, before the trial begins, what evidence may be presented. 

One of the most common methods of discovery is to take depositions.

Electronic discovery (also called e-discovery) refers to discovery in legal proceedings such as litigation, government investigations, or Freedom of Information Act requests, where the information sought is in electronic format (often referred to as electronically stored information or ESI).

There are two scenarios here.

One is where your attorney is initiating the discovery.

The other is where the other side has initiated the discovery and your side has to respond. There is a bit of difference in what you have to do in these two scenarios. 

Lawyers need help from paralegals for the following tasks, related to discovery:

  1. Drafting appropriate discovery requests to the opposing party
  2. Calendaring the due dates associated with the outgoing discovery on your own and the attorney’s calendar 
  3. If the due date passes without any responses being received, you will record this in case file, inform the same to the attorney
  4. You may be asked to prepare a follow-up letter to the opposing counsel or opposing party regarding non-receipt of information. 
  5. Assist in drafting a “Motion to Compel Discovery” which would then be argued by your attorney before a judge. This is a standard document, and you will probably use a template for this, which would then be reviewed by the attorney after which you can file it with the court.
  6. When discovery responses are received from the opposing party, you are expected  to make an in-depth review of the answers and responses. You may prepare a summary for the perusal of your attorney. 
  7. You will be expected to read through all “Answers to Interrogatories” and review the documents produced and the accompanying discovery pleading entitled “Response to Request for Production of Documents.” 
  8. You will also review, log (date-stamp) and organize the incoming documents. 
  9. This exercise is very useful for developing an awareness about the issues in the case. For instance, you will understand the positions taken on important issues and questions being litigated by the opposing party. 
  10. A good paralegal will also be expected to make a list of deficiencies in the response received. You can prepare a chart and write a letter or mail addressed to the opposing counsel regarding all the discovery deficiencies that are critical to the case. 
  11. Again, you may have to assist with preparation of a detailed Motion to Compel Discovery in the event that the discovery responses are lacking and are not sufficiently addressed by the opposing party.
  12. Paralegals are usually responsible for assembling documents to be produced for courts and opposing counsel as a part of discovery. So when you receive a request for information from the opposing party, you have to take responsibility for sending the information. 
  13. After this initial exchange of discovery, you will compile all of the data exchanged and prepare a comprehensive chart of relevant information received to be utilized as a working document throughout the case. 
  14. You have to update values on this chart as may be required throughout the course of the matter. This chart will be utilized by the attorney in formulating arguments and settlement proposals. 
  15. You may also assist in drafting subpoenas duces tecum (subpoenas for documents) to be directed to non-party persons or entities as may be appropriate. Again, do not be scared as you will have templates to work with.
  16. You have to keep track of due dates for subpoenas duces tecum, put the same in the calendar and receive, log and review any documents received in response to the same. 
  17. Depending on whether enough information was received, the attorney may determine whether further depositions are necessary. 
  18. In the trial stage, your knowledge from the discovery process can be used to identify the crucial documents that will be utilized by the attorney as exhibits during trial.
  19. You may have to help with medical records requests, review, organization, and summary – this may be required for insurance cases, personal insurance cases, divorce cases and a lot of different matters.
  20. Public records research and retrieval – your lawyers will guide you on what they are looking for and where you have to look, but with experience you are likely to develop your own judgment.
  21. Drafting interrogatories, requests for production and requests for admissions during the discovery phase of a lawsuit.

Depositions

During a deposition, the oral statement of a witness is taken under oath. Deposition requires physical presence, but online depositions are becoming more common post pandemic. The attorney asks questions and the deponent, or the person providing the deposition, answers the questions. 

The deposition helps the attorney to find out what the witness knows and the witness’ testimony is recorded and preserved to be used before a judge or jury if necessary.

A paralegal cannot take a deposition. A paralegal may attend a deposition and assist the lawyer during the deposition by taking notes and coordinating documents and exhibits.

Here are some ways in which paralegal can help their attorneys during the deposition:

  1. Paralegals can help with the preparation of witnesses before they appear in a deposition before an opposing counsel by telling them what to expect and how to respond to questions so that they do not jeopardize their own case out of nervousness or are not taken advantage of. The aim here is to avoid instances where witnesses are being taken advantage of by the process and not being able to give their best evidence at the hearing. Unethical coaching of witnesses is not allowed.
  2. Paralegals can explain the process to witnesses and opposing parties who show up at the deposition, especially when they are not accompanied by their own lawyers, as such people may have no idea about how deposition works and may require some guidance.
  3. Paralegals coordinate with expert witnesses, explain to clients and deponents about how to respond to objections, rules of deposition and consequences of breaking those rules and when to let attorneys sort things out before opening their mouth.
  4. You will be expected to work with the lawyer to determine the issues at hand and research those issues to find information that the attorney can use to frame questions during the deposition. You will typically try to help find evidence that disputes some of the information shared by the witness as well.
  5. Before deposition, you may do case law research that helps the lawyers to choose certain legal strategies and frame certain questions accordingly.
  6. Paralegals arrange the evidence already collected that helps the lawyers during questioning in a deposition as lawyers often show the evidence to the witnesses. This is sometimes called document and exhibit compilation and management.
  7. Very often, paralegals have to work hard to find evidence that disputes the testimony of witnesses from the other side. Sometimes they have to take on some investigative work related to this, which may include looking up information available online or from other public sources. 
  8. They need to conduct background research on the witnesses as well.
  9. Paralegals can be asked to organise mock depositions and even mock trials at times.
  10. Paralegals have to schedule depositions, put the same on the calendar of their attorneys and prepare deposition digests that would be used later. 
  11. They might be asked to prepare accurate deposition transcripts, and prepare a summary of the same.

Legal drafting

The more legal drafting you can do, the better it is for your career as a paralegal, especially if you are aspiring to be an attorney later. You should try to pick up as much legal drafting work and skills as possible. 

Especially if you are working remotely, drafting is one of the most important skills for you as a paralegal. If you are good at legal drafting, that is a big asset for you as a paralegal.

A majority of paralegals in the US work in litigation and spend a lot of their time drafting, revising, formatting, proofreading, referencing, finalizing and reviewing documents for attorneys who are preparing for trials or other legal proceedings before courts and government agencies. Some of the documents that they draft that require legal drafting skills are client communications, emails, correspondence, notices, complaints, pleadings, motions, applications, subpoenas, interrogatories, deposition notices, and legal briefs.

There are paralegals working in specialty practice areas too, where they may have to draft unique documents. For example, a patent paralegal may assist with preparing patent and trademark applications for the USPTO, and helping lawyers to respond to office actions. This would require specialized knowledge. You can read more about IP law work that paralegals do over here.

Apart from pleadings and motions, if you are able to draft contracts of various types, that would be the cherry on the cake. Paralegals working in corporate law firms need more contract drafting skills.

Paralegals also help with properly formatting documents, footnoting and pagination, researching legitimate references and supporting precedences, proofreading and editing all legal documents that lawyers prepare.

Drafting legal briefs is also important. In the United States, a legal brief is a written document  that is presented to a court stating the facts and reasoning why the court must pass a decision in favour of one person. Legal briefs are also required to be presented to senior lawyers before they argue a matter, and sometimes even before they accept a matter. Paralegals should learn how to draft a legal brief.

Records management

Records management is a science of its own, and paralegals often find themselves to be custodians of a huge amount of documents and data. A lot of this data needs to be stored, but safety of such records and data is also very important. 

Remember the Panama Papers? That happened when secret client files were stolen from a law firm. Basically, that is disastrous for the law firm.

On the other hand, storing closed case files is very important for law firms sometimes, to deal with future issues that the client may face. It is also useful for conflict checks, and also old clients can request information from time to time. Also, old cases are sometimes valuable reference points for new cases, apart from the possibility that old cases may actually reopen at times and hence lawyers like to store their old client files indefinitely. 

In the US, this is definitely the practice, though in EU lawyers are rethinking this practice due to data privacy issues and huge risks associated with holding data unnecessarily which exposes them to risk of data theft and subsequent fines.

In the USA also, there is a limit to how many physical files lawyers can store, as huge files can take up a lot of space. As a result, lawyers now prefer to store their data online. This means each document has to be scanned, and then stored in a manner that they can be found and retrieved even years later.

Because of this, most top law firms have very well developed document management systems and protocols. 

Apart from client data, records of a law practice or law firm also includes financial records, administrative records, minutes of meetings, and policies. In any legal practice, client records are extremely important for conflict of interest checks.

Data security and maintaining confidentiality of client data is also critical, and hence access control is also very critical with respect to records management. 

Financial administration

Financial administration of the law firm is probably looked after by a CFO in large organizations, but very small law practices often rely on a paralegal or legal assistant to keep track of basic expenses, billing and recovery while relying on an accountant for accounting purposes. 

In any case, paralegals may have to keep track of expenses being incurred in a matter, may keep clients informed of expenses, and ensure that bills go out on time from their attorney. 

Their responsibilities may include:

  • Maintaining spreadsheets that track costs for a client or profitability of a practice area or a monthly information system (MIS);
  • Maintaining records of costs and fee receipts by verifying outstanding balances with attorneys, clients, and service providers;
  • Managing legal billing software, sending invoices, collection, sending reminders to clients for payment;
  • Preparing their own and the attorney’s timesheets.

Knowledge management

The principle behind knowledge management is that law firms and lawyers are in the business that is driven by knowledge, and they need to sharpen their skills and knowledge at an individual level as well as collectively. 

They need to be constantly updated about the latest legal developments too. 

A lot of knowledge management can be client facing as sharing updates as well as training with clients has very much become standard business development practice at law firms. 

Also, lawyers repeatedly do similar tasks over time, and it is important to preserve and leverage the research accumulated, skills learned and templates developed in a way that they can be leveraged in the future for other assignments. 

Legal knowledge management typically involves the following tasks:

1. Internal training programs;

2. Development of standard for precedents and templates;

3. Updates – case laws, statutes, regulatory and sectoral developments 

4. Converting ongoing legal research, innovation and strategic breakthroughs for client work into tangible resources – articles, videos, blog posts;

5. Client-Facing initiatives such as training and updates.

As a freelance paralegal, you can offer the following knowledge management services:

  1. Organizing and managing templates and standard form precedents for future use;
  2. Making best practice checklists;
  3. Designing workbooks, playbooks, training manuals and study material;
  4. Identifying CLE programs for attorneys;
  5. Planning weekly knowledge sharing sessions, discussion groups, training programs;
  6. Creating weekly updates or digests;
  7. Creating slides and pitch decks;
  8. Helping to write blog posts, newspaper articles, publication in journals and newspapers;
  9. Organizing webinars and sending regular industry relevant updates to clients.

Knowledge management is a dynamic area. New tasks could get created any given day! However, if you can do the above tasks, you will be able to adapt to the new tasks as well.

Legal projects and law firm management

If you work for a small firm, you could be responsible for the management of the entire office. In a large law firm, they would have a large administrative staff, and you would more likely be asked to only help in the administration of a small team at best. 

However, project management and practice management skills are super valuable for paralegals. They are also extremely valuable when you become an attorney, should you follow that path.

Proper office management is crucial to the productivity of any law firm or practice environment, and most lawyers really need a lot of help with this. If you are able to help with this, you will be a very valuable resource.

Managing everything when everyone is working virtually is another challenge. A physical environment and proximity sometimes allow for more mentorship, camaraderie and learning by observation. That is harder to find in the online remote work environment. 

One way you can bring method to the madness at managing legal matters is to look at them as projects. Legal project management is a new way of thinking, but it is very helpful from a management perspective as project management techniques are adopted in a legal context.

Whether you can do this at your job will depend on whether the lawyers have adopted a project management technique or whether they are open to doing so. As a paralegal, if you learn project management techniques you can pitch those to your superiors and see if they would be interested.

You can offer your services as a freelance project management trainer or specialist project management services provider as well. High quality legal project management will improve the profitability, certainty and the overall client experience. 

However, managing a law firm goes beyond just project management, and as a paralegal not all of it will be your responsibility. However, you may be given tasks like deadline management, billing management, responsibility for some headhunting work etc as well.

Some good examples I can think of are:

  • Setting up and implementing a law firm practice management software; 
  • Productivity tracking of associates;
  • Implementing an OKR project;
  • Creating forms and templates to automate and standardize processes;
  • Drawing up project plans for client matters.

If it is important for the practice to function, it would be good if you can deliver it. 

Documents review and legal transportation

Document review becomes important during discovery. Which documents do you hand over to the other side and what are you supposed to hold back, for example when you are served with an interrogatory or Request for Production? Usually a checklist is created, using which, paralegals, usually under the supervision of lawyers, have to go through hundreds of documents in the form of emails, scanned documents, presentations, memos, forms, anything that exists on a folder or a drive and then decide whether those are relevant or not.

Sometimes you have to redact some documents before turning them over in order to protect privileged or confidential information. 

Usually paralegals examine documents for the following four factors: relevance, responsiveness, privilege, and confidentiality. They may have to summarize, tab, highlight, chart, and collect certain documents or information gleaned from the documents and present it in a comprehensive manner. They also create privilege and redaction logs.

This work becomes vital in large cases, but this is kind of low skill. Which is why, such work is often palmed off to LPOs. You do get such work as a paralegal at times.

What is much more common though, is legal transcription.

Lawyers often need paralegals to transcribe a legal proceeding from audio or spoken format into a typed format. The transcription must provide an accurate, verbatim recording of witness testimonies, meetings and other recorded content.

This is again low skill and relatively easy, but the premium is on accuracy here. 

Good thing about document review and transcription work is that you can do these things without much prior knowledge of the legal system, statutes or procedure. However, it is important to learn more skills to grow in your career and not get stuck with low skill work that gets you pigeonholed as a commodity. 

Where can you learn these skills?

I know this is a huge list and there is quite a bit to learn.

Luckily, you do not have to learn all of it at once.

It is always a great idea to get started with what you know, while you keep learning more. 

If you want to be a paralegal in the specialised IP domain, look up this course and get certified.

We have a workshop on 28th where I will show you how to network with US lawyers and land paralegal jobs that pay your $1000 per month. See you in the workshop. You can register here.

Join our whatsapp paralegal aspirants group if you are interested in getting content like this about paralegal freelance work and opportunities. Share your whatsapp number by email with [email protected] requesting clearly in the subject line that you want to be added to the paralegal aspirants whatsapp group. You will receive a link to join one of our groups. 

If you are interested, you can directly join our group by clicking on the link below. The group is specifically curated for paralegals.

https://chat.whatsapp.com/LqfyiazVi5TBXzyk6g58RS

You will also get access to some other amazing resources through the group as well.

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