What Is The Role of a Litigation Paralegal?
Litigation paralegals are invaluable to attorneys before, during, and after the litigation process. Litigation paralegals form the backbone of the trial team. They manage the thousands of details involved in trial preparation, trial execution, and post trial work.
The major duties and responsibilities of the litigation paralegal (beginning with the investigation phase and ending with the appeals phase) include the following:
Litigation paralegals often take the lead in the pre-claim investigation. The paralegal’s role may involve locating and interviewing witnesses, taking witness statements, gathering documents and evidence, creating case investigation notebooks, organizing documents, and creating a chronology of facts. Litigation paralegals on the plaintiff side may conduct initial client interviews and perform initial case assessments.
Litigation paralegals on the plaintiff side may assist in drafting pleadings including the summons, complaint, and supporting affidavits. Paralegals on the defense side may collaborate with the client to investigate the allegations and formulate responses. Litigation paralegals are often charged with the task of creating and maintaining pleadings indexes and filing pleadings with the court. Paralegals are also responsible for calendar hearing dates and filing deadlines with the court.
The majority of a litigation paralegal’s time is spent working on the discovery phase. Litigation paralegals aid attorneys in drafting interrogatories, requests for production, requests for admissions, and other discovery. Paralegals on the defense side may be called upon to track down knowledgeable persons within the client organization to help develop responses to interrogatories and other discovery requests.
Paralegals also create and maintain discovery indexes; organize voluminous case files; calendar discovery deadlines; organize, review, and analyze documents for production; prepare deposition summaries; organize, summarize, and analyze medical records, and assist with e-discovery.
Litigation paralegals often conduct legal research, analyze issues, and craft legal research memos. Many are also tasked with some of the same responsibilities as a typical journalist. They must conduct factual research and gather relevant information from a variety of resources such as newspapers, libraries, police, and fire departments, trade associations, and traditional and social media.
The litigation paralegal’s communication and organization skills are invaluable in the pre-trial stage of litigation. Litigation paralegals organize and index exhibits, prepare trial binders, and manage document-intensive files.
Litigation paralegals also serve as a liaison between the trial team and third parties such as witnesses, clients, vendors, expert witnesses, and courtroom personnel. If the trial takes place out of town, litigation paralegals are often tasked with coordinating logistics such as setting up the war room, reserving hotel rooms and office space, and renting or purchasing necessary equipment.
During the trial phase, litigation paralegals are indispensable for the attorney. Paralegals organize exhibits, documents, and evidence. They also transport and set up files and exhibits in the courtroom; prepare and issue subpoenas; assist in preparing witnesses; research and evaluate prospective jurors; and serve as a liaison between clients, witnesses, experts, vendors, and the trial team.
In the courtroom, litigation paralegals assist with voir dire and jury selection. They also handle exhibits; pull together necessary documents; prepare witnesses and witness files; observe the jury; take notes on the attorney’s behalf; order and review trial transcripts, and interact with clients, vendors, experts, and courtroom personnel. Paralegals may also help prepare jury instructions and conduct post-trial interviews of the jurors.
Litigation paralegals often assist attorneys with case settlements. Their role may include gathering and organizing data and information needed for settlement; creating settlement brochures; distributing statements or negotiations checklists; drafting settlement agreements and releases, and assisting at pretrial conferences.
Litigation paralegals help to identify issues for appeal; gather and organize documents for a record on appeal and/or a joint appendix; index cases for a table of authorities; assist in the research phase; help in the drafting of appellate documents, and file documents with the court.
How Do You Become a Paralegal?
The path to becoming a paralegal differs from one person to the next. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the most common educational path leading to work as a paralegal is an Associate's degree, which generally takes approximately two years to earn. That said, if you already have a Bachelor’s or Associate’s degree in a different field, a Paralegal Certificate Program can provide you with the specialized knowledge base you will need for the job without requiring more years of schooling.