Personal Injury Paralegal Skills and Abilities
Personal injury paralegals assist personal injury lawyers in all aspects of personal injury litigation, from case inception through appeal. Jamie Collins, a paralegal for Yosha Cook Shartzer & Tisch in Indianapolis, Indiana, and founder of The Paralegal Society relates what skills and knowledge are necessary to succeed as a personal injury paralegal. For more information on working in the area of personal injury law, including daily responsibilities, challenges, and tips for breaking in, review this Personal Injury Paralegal Practice Profile.
In order to succeed in the area of personal injury/wrongful death, you must know how to interview and screen prospective clients, review a file to determine what the client’s case involves and know its current status. The ability to interact with clients to learn about their injuries and how their daily life activities are affected is also important.
Personal injury paralegals must be able to handle the medical aspects of a case to ascertain which medical records and bills you will need to obtain and determine if future cost projections or experts are needed. You must also have knowledge of medical terminology and know how to prepare medical chronologies, medical expense itemizations, deposition summaries and demand packages.
In addition, you must familiarize yourself with prescription medications to learn which ones may be related to your client’s claim, understand the typical nerve root distribution pattern for injuries involving radicular symptoms (pain that radiates from the spine into a person’s extremities), become familiar with the human anatomy and gain knowledge regarding various types of injuries (e.g., if they pose permanent implications or may necessitate future surgery or lifelong expenses).
Drafting skills are also important in the job of a personal injury paralegal. You must be able to draft discovery responses and assert all necessary objections to ensure that they are nearly perfect prior to the attorney’s review. You must also prepare witness and exhibit lists, draft motions, final instructions, and verdict forms, and be ready to tackle any special writing projects that come your way.
Personal injury paralegals must also become well-versed in the trial realm. Important tasks include witness preparation (helping to prepare the clients for trial) and preparing voir dire outlines, opening and closing statements and witness outlines. You must also determine what exhibits will be utilized and ensure that they are properly prepared.
Personal injury paralegals play an important role at trial. At trial, the personal injury paralegal may:
- Assist the attorney with the entire voir dire process (e.g., taking notes, striking, and selection of jurors);
- Pull and pass exhibits to the attorney as needed;
- Act as a liaison to the client throughout trial;
- Ensure the attorney doesn’t inadvertently waive an objection during trial by allowing certain evidence to be read into the record;
- Communicate with the bailiff or court reporter if issues arise or information needs to be shared;
- Bring witnesses into the courtroom when it is their turn to testify;
- Rework exhibit binders if an exhibit is added or needs to be removed prior to presenting it to the jury (this is an event which often transpires just outside the courtroom when a last minute issue arises with an exhibit);
- Help the attorney to elicit key pieces of testimony from each witness based upon your vast personal knowledge of the case;
- Assist with all aspects of trial strategy, and act as a second set of eyes and ears (and another legal mind) in the courtroom.
It is also helpful to know the trial rules in your area, the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure and the Federal Rules of Evidence for trial purposes. Trials are very exciting! They are the highlight of my career. (Read about Jamie’s most memorable trial). As with any area of litigation, a personal injury paralegal must also be:
- an excellent multi-tasker
- organized and efficient
- a proficient writer
- capable of prioritizing and reprioritizing tasks
- willing to learn new material regularly
- able to work at a fast pace
- accurate and consistent
- willing to assume full ownership over all assigned work
- well-spoken and personable
- poised and professional
- exude a positive attitude