A Paralegal’s Guide to Relationship Building with New Attorneys
by Faye Bass, Ragsdale Liggett, PLLC
When you are assigned to a newly licensed attorney, you can be a very valuable asset in the attorney’s transition from the classroom to the courtroom. Many of you have already been in that position, perhaps multiple times, and already have a vast knowledge of how to assist a new attorney in preparing for transition from the classroom to the courtroom. For those of you presented with this challenge for the first time, these are just some suggestions that may prove helpful to both the attorney and you.
First of all, remember to put yourself in their place. Think back to the first day that you started your career and how uncertain and unfamiliar things seemed to you. This will give you an insight as to how they must be feeling, knowing that they are facing many new challenges. This will allow you to help build their confidence.
As each office is set up differently, ensuring that they have items they will need on a daily basis at their disposal is a good way to start. Try to find just a few minutes to show the attorney where the supplies are located so they will be able to find them without having to waste time looking for them. You might also want to set aside a few minutes as soon as you can to go over the instructions for the office equipment. This could include copiers, printers, fax machines, and even postage machines. This may sound trivial, but as you know, it can be daunting to have to deal with not having the appropriate supplies on hand, or a “temperamental” copier or printer or other office equipment when working on a deadline.
The new attorney has likely already interned at a law firm before starting practice. You may find that it is helpful to chat with the attorney for a few minutes and go over skill sets of both the attorney and you. This will also help in establishing a working relationship that will make meeting the challenges of everyday schedules easier for both of you.
Most law firms have a policy and procedure system in place that is unique to their own firm. These policies and procedures probably include many various procedures from scheduling conference rooms for mediations, depositions and other client meetings to an internal website that provides valuable information pertinent to your particular law firm. Reviewing those policies and procedures with the new attorney will also provide resources to turn to when needed.
During law school, attorneys are taught rules and regulations and how to practice law itself, but you will likely also play an important role in assisting the new attorney in the mechanics of how to get things done, such as filing pleadings with the various branches of the Courts. Most of you already have a bank of valuable contacts in most of the court offices that you can rely on for assistance when needed. The attorney will more than likely rely on you to handle these tasks, but by sharing this information with the attorney, the attorney could then reach someone that could assist them with any issue should you not be available at a time when a quick answer is needed.
As you already know, different counties have different procedures, especially when it relates to scheduling matters, calendar requests, and notices of hearing. The attorney will need also to be familiar with these procedures should an emergency arise and neither you, nor any other staff member is available to assist them. I have always found that it is a good idea to review the local rules, and if necessary, a simple phone call to the court can answer the question at hand.
Most of you also have a docketing system in place to insure that no deadlines are missed. You are already aware that one of the main sources for such deadlines are contained in the Case Management Order received from the Court for any given case. Reviewing these deadlines with the attorney as the case progresses will assist in everyone being on the same page as to what date a document is due or dates for hearings and/or trials.
Unless your firm has a database in place to update cases daily, it is a good idea to keep a chart or at the least, a list of all the cases that the attorney is assigned to. If this chart or list includes such information as the client number, name, description of the case, a list of the deadlines for each case, and what person is assigned to a particular task and any other needed information about the case, the chart or list would prove to be very helpful to have handy. It is important to review deadlines or hearings, deposition dates, etc. with the attorney as often as necessary to ensure that all the deadlines are on schedule.
If you are as proactive as possible yourself, and constantly review the caseload and deadlines, this will enable both you and the attorney to work on upcoming deadlines/documents to try to avoid last minute filings. As you have already experienced yourself, these last minute deadlines cause greater stress on both the attorney and you. Anything you can do ahead of time to ensure that the deadline is properly met will prove to be most beneficial.
I have found that the most important goal to establish with the attorney is communication, communication, communication! A reliable, set plan of communication with the attorney will be necessary for everyone involved with a case in order meet all requirements and deadlines, and to avoid duplicative work or last minute issues.
These are just a few of the ways that have assisted me in doing my best to be a valuable asset to a new attorney, as well as seasoned attorneys, and I hope that they will also be helpful to those of you presented with new challenges.