Working with a paralegal is a beautiful thing when it’s the right person in the right role. But getting someone hired to handle the tasks you need to be completed is only part of the challenge. In order for you to work effectively with this person, you need to know what a win looks like with a paralegal. Common mistakes lead some lawyers to stay working with a paralegal who isn’t meeting their needs, so it’s wise to be more involved and check in on these issues earlier on.
There are many different things to think about with your paralegal, but making this effort keeps them happy and productive on the job. It also makes for a better work environment across the board. Here are the most important things to keep in mind.
Hours Paid vs. Work Received
How many hours of work are you paying for each week? Are you getting that same amount of work in exchange? There’s always a learning curve when a new paralegal starts, but tasks should not take as long in week six as they do in week one. If you’re noticing a disconnect between the hours you’re outsourcing and the work you’re getting in return, it’s a reminder that you might need to have a more serious conversation about what’s going on with the team member in question.
When you’re outsourcing new tasks or projects, give them a time estimate of what you think it might take. Allow them to push back if that’s unreasonable, but that way, you’re on the same page about the depth of the work involved. This also keeps you out of the role of micromanager while still setting gentle boundaries.
Is your paralegal tracking their time? This is a good opportunity to dive deeper into where most of their time is being spent. It is certainly the case that there may be opportunities for your paralegal to become more productive, but you might also have opportunities to complete advanced training, create systems, or generate a checklist that they can use to make work go faster without losing any attention to detail.
You’re not using time tracking for the purposes of peering over their shoulder and criticizing your paralegal for how they spend every minute. But bear in mind that some paralegals might come from work environments where that was normal. Use time tracking as a way to meet general goals without diving too deep into the details.
You need to know when you can expect a reasonable response time to your questions. Woven Legal requires a response to client questions within 1-2 hours during the workday, but you might also have your own time goals for response across the firm. Make sure you discuss these expectations upfront and touch base if your paralegal is taking too long to respond, ultimately slowing down your workflow.
You need prompt response times so you can handle your end of every task coming your way, and someone who lets work stack up and then dumps it all back on you only creates more stress.
Getting (and Staying) Up to Speed
When you first hired your paralegal, maybe you had nothing but excitement and hope. But if six months or more have gone by and you’ve dialed down your expectations for what it means to successfully fill this job, you might feel that your paralegal just isn’t cutting it.
If it’s been a long time since your initial hire and you’re still repeating the same information or fixing mistakes you’ve discussed in the past, there’s a problem. Ultimately, you should invest a lot of time in training upfront, but you should begin to see some of that time come back to you as you keep working with your paralegal.
Professionalism in Communication
Have you ever overheard or realized your paralegal has discussed inappropriate details (case-related or otherwise) to coworkers, clients, or others unnecessarily? This creates problems with ethics as well as uncomfortable situations for the parties involved.
Likewise, if your paralegal has become “too comfortable” in their role, in the office, or in their conversations with you, treat this situation seriously. Even if you’re unsure of how to get things back on track, it’s far better to have this conversation now before the problem gets worse.
Ability to Separate Personal Issues from Work
If you struggle with identifying the line of demarcation between being kind & providing grace to the team about personal issues that might affect team effectiveness and service to clients, you’re not alone.
As a leader, you want to be empathetic and help people when challenges pop up in their personal life. It’s inevitable that these situations will happen, and you might want that same grace extended to you in the future.
But the line between someone’s personal life and their work performance can be a thin one when there are issues at home. Ideally, your paralegal should work to keep this line in place and, outside of extreme circumstances, should not allow their job to be impacted. If you notice that someone’s performance is consistently affected by things outside the office, it’s time for a personal conversation.
Even if someone does good work, it’s worth revisiting the paralegal happiness checklist over time to make sure that you’re happy with the other aspects of their role on the job. When you hire someone to help you, it’s about so much more than the knowledge and ability to complete the tasks at hand. You’re building a team where each person should contribute to a solid work environment, and your paralegal should be able to support you on an ongoing basis.