Being a paralegal isn’t easy. It’s certainly not easy if you’re a paralegal student or new to the profession. Sure, certain concepts get easier to understand. Certain documents become easier to draft. Yet, there are challenging times for paralegals throughout their entire career. Make sure that regardless of whether you’re considering a paralegal studies program, a current paralegal studies student, a new paralegal, or well established in your paralegal career that you avoid these 10 mistakes.
Giving Legal Advice to Friends and Family
Only attorneys who pass the bar are allowed to give legal advice. Not only is a paralegal giving legal advice to friends, family, or clients unethical, it is also the unauthorized practice of law. In some states, you could face criminal charges and lose your job. It can be tempting to give advice to people regarding matters you deal with or are knowledgeable about, but it just takes one person being upset because what you said didn’t work for them to get you into big trouble. (Canon 2, 3, & 4, NALA Code of Ethics & Professional Responsibility)
Not Informing Your Supervising Attorney of An Ethical Issue
There are a multitude of ethical issues that can surround any given case. If you notice an ethical issue and your supervising attorney appears not to recognize it, say something. This ethical issue could involve you in some way such as when you start working at a law firm and notice that the law firm’s new client once was named in a case you worked on for a previous firm. Mitigating ethical issues is an important job and can protect you, your supervising lawyer, and the law firm from negative allegations.
Signing Documents on Behalf of Your Supervising Attorney
Never sign documents on behalf of your supervising attorney. If your firm uses a rubber stamp for a signature, do not stamp the document until you’ve received permission from the supervising attorney. Remember that only lawyers and pro-se litigants may sign petitions, motions, and answers filed with the court. (Canon 2, NALA Code of Ethics & Professional Responsibility)
Not Identifying Yourself as a Paralegal to Clients or Potential Clients
Whether you’re on the telephone, in person, or signing a letter of some sort, always identify yourself as a paralegal. This helps minimize the likelihood that anyone will be under the impression that you’re acting as an attorney. Identifying yourself as a paralegal can protect you from violating paralegal ethics. (Canon 5, NALA Code of Ethics & Professional Responsibility)
Not Completing CLEs
Although CLEs are not legally required for paralegals, it’s a good idea to complete them. This helps you remain competent. Check your state bar guidelines for the suggested number of hours you should complete each year. Also, talk to your employer about whether they cover the cost of CLEs.
Unable to Find Court Rules and Procedures
Something you learn in a paralegal studies program is how to format basic types of petitions, memos, answers, and objections. However, what you don’t generally learn is how to format them for your specific jurisdiction (district court), the appellate court that covers your jurisdiction, or for your state Supreme or Superior court. Make sure that you find those state websites, where their court rules and procedures are located online, and bookmark their requirements for these items. This is important because certain types of responses or petitions submitted to certain courts may be limited by page count or request that a specific font is used. You’ll also learn just how many copies of any document you should provide to your state appellate and Supreme Court. Failure to follow those guidelines may result in your client’s case being dismissed or the document not being accepted.
Not Creating and Using Templates
If you really want to save time, create and use templates. How? Well, the best way to do it is to review existing digital documents and copy out the style information as well as the name of the document, the font, the font size, the prayer for relief, and the signature block. Take out all personal information and perform a Save-As for the file.
Failing to Properly Manager Your Time
Whether you are a student or working as a paralegal, time management is essential. Always stay a step ahead of the game. Know your deadlines and work ahead where possible. If you fail to plan, you’re planning to fail.
Failure to Properly Docket Deadlines for Yourself or Others
Understand the calendaring in your jurisdiction. Is it calendar days or business days? Then, make sure that you work in holidays where necessary. If you’re using a docketing program, make sure that you understand how it works and that you’ve chosen the right docketing format (calendar or business days).
Falling Behind on Your Billing
If you’re responsible for billing or if you’re subject to billable hours, do not fall behind on your billing duties. It is much faster to work on your billing each day than to save it all for the middle or end of the month. Make notes of what you’re working on and how long it took you.