Anatomy of a Paralegal Office

The cast of characters comprising a paralegal’s office and the roles they play in a law firm begins with the client. Without the client there would be no need for a paralegal’s office. Indeed no need for the law firm either.  Thus, a paralegal must never lose sight of the vital importance of the client and the client’s needs and objectives, as that is the primary purpose of the paralegal’s existence.

With the client ever present in the background, the leading role is played by the supervising attorney who produces work through relationships with the clients and directs, or prioritizes, the many different duties, responsibilities, and general activities of the paralegal. The supervising attorney will assign or delegate individual items of professional work to the paralegal for performance and prioritize the importance of the assignments so the paralegal can efficiently and properly organize his or her work.

The non-supervising attorneys in a law firm are akin to bit players in a play or movie; characters with whom the paralegal associated and must co-exist but with whom the paralegal is unlikely to have much, if any, direct professional role or interaction. They may interact in connection with matters the paralegal’s supervising attorney is working on with each of them. Occasionally, they might receive assistance from the other attorneys who are willing and interested in helping mentor the paralegal’s career. The paralegal may develop very beneficial and rewarding professional relationships with these attorneys.

Additional paralegals may be employed in the firm with whom the paralegal associates as professional colleagues.

Some firms include investigators as members of their professional staff depending on the nature and size of the particular firm’s practice. When they are utilized as staff, investigators verify reported facts and seek to discover unknown information or whereabouts of various persons that may be relevant to the particular matters attorneys in the firm are handling.  Investigators, like paralegals, are supervised by one or more of the firm’s attorneys.

Legal secretaries play many supporting roles in the law firm.  They perform all types of clerical duties from word processing, filing, and telephone management to appointment scheduling for attorneys and paralegals depending on how a given law office is structured. Sometimes a legal secretary will be assigned or dedicated to the needs of one or more specific attorneys or paralegals and sometimes several will work as a group, or secretarial pool, for all the attorneys.  Legal secretaries may also play the role of notaries for a firm, witnessing signatures on various documents as needed by the paralegals and attorneys.

Clerks and couriers, or “runners”, are support personnel who may be employed by a law firm to handle administrative tasks. Runners deliver documents in the local vicinity. Often couriers take documents to various parties for signatures and wait to return to the office with them after signature or perhaps take them to a court for filing with the court clerk. A courier will usually pick up a firm’s mail at the post office in most firms that maintain post office boxes for their mail delivery.  The same person usually delivers outbound mail to the post office when picking up the incoming mail.  Clerks often take care of handling client billing and various check writing functions.  A clerk may be assigned the duty of issuing and recording the firm’s checks paying for out-of-pocket cost items advanced for the firm’s clients; for example, issuing filing fee checks or witness fees to accompany subpoenas.  This person would typically be called a billing clerk.  Other clerks may perform a host of general duties or be limited to a few specific ones such as maintaining client files so they stay up to date and contain proper information for ready access when the paralegal or an attorney needs it.

Depending on the firm’s personnel structure, a receptionist may monitor the entry to the firm’s offices greeting and announcing visitors, often serving refreshments to waiting visitors, and answering telephone calls for forwarding them to appropriate personnel or taking messages.

At some firms several roles may be played by the same person.

Regardless of how the roles are divided or distributed among the available personnel, a diverse cast of characters is necessary to fully cover all the various roles which must be played in a busy law firm.

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