By: Sheena Foley, PHP
There are many different avenues of specialty available for paralegals to build solid job experience and strong resumes. This article will focus on the job duties of a personal injury paralegal. Depending on the size of the firm and the actual job duties assigned to a paralegal by the handling attorney, the following responsibilities must be mastered by any top paralegal.
Intake and Client Contact
Paralegals must possess the ability to properly screen and interview potential new clients (PNCs). This means knowing what questions to ask during the initial intake and with which tone to ask them in. A useful paralegal will already have a questionnaire on hand to ensure that no information is omitted. It is the paralegal’s job to be as patient and thorough as possible in order to gain all information required for the attorney to review the claim effectively.
Personal injury paralegals understand the importance of medical and billing records being organized, on file and admissible in court. As a paralegal, you may be required to order, summarize, supplement and produce medical records to opposing counsel, insurance adjusters, experts, etc. throughout the case. A useful paralegal understands what to look for within the medical records and how to determine whether they are insufficient.
Ordering and receiving is only a small portion of the overall goal in reviewing a client’s medical records. Familiarity of medical terminology is critical to a paralegal’s ability to identify various injury types and any long-term effects those injuries may cause. This data is critical in the process of effectively moving personal injury cases along. A paralegal must understand medical jargon and have the ability to follow treatment recommendations and orders from treating physicians. I cannot stress enough the importance of understanding medical terminology in order to determine whether surgery or future medical care and expenses are required.
In addition to mastering the art of ordering medical records, a paralegal must also understand what non-medical records may be required to move a case along. Depending on the initial intake, some of these record types may include employment records, academic records, financial records or a declaration page from an insurance adjuster. Useful paralegals also understand FOIA requests and the importance of performing legal, scientific, technical and medical research relative to the claim.
The primary purpose of a paralegal is to make their attorney’s job easier and to assist in the process of effectively moving a case along to resolution. Therefore, it is a paralegal’s job to prepare legal motions/pleadings, demands, settlement proposals and discovery for attorney review. Top paralegals can equally draft discovery and discovery responses, inclusive of all relative objections, for their attorney’s final review and modification. Most importantly, top performing paralegals will have these items already drafted, prepared and saved to the file for the attorney’s review based primarily on staying current with the pleadings thereby staying ahead of the game. Always overachieve.
Docket Control and Calendaring
Regardless of the area of specialty, it is understood that a litigation paralegal is responsible for monitoring all deadlines and calendaring all items of importance. This item was included based only on its general importance to any paralegal’s job duties.
Expert Retention and Medical Scheduling
Upon review of a client’s medical records from treating providers, a paralegal may be required to retain and thoroughly vet a medical expert as assigned by the attorney. This will also involve obtaining dates, scheduling treatment and arranging transportation if required. This will be required for any defendant medical examinations (DMEs) as well.
Trial Preparation and Trial
Paralegals organize exhibits, trial documents and evidence into trial binders to prepare for trial. Many paralegals are responsible for setting up any peripherals and exhibits in the courtroom and they assist attorneys in preparing witnesses, submitting bench books, issuing subpoenas and assisting with voir doir. Top paralegals may also be required to assist the attorney during trial by controlling the flow of exhibits, usually with a trial software like Trial Pad. Trial paralegals are the primary intermediaries between the clients, witnesses, attorneys and court staff throughout trial.
Regardless of your current job duties or responsibilities at this stage in your career, there should never come a time when you stop learning and striving to be a better paralegal. Always utilize your peers and share information that will lead to the growth of your team. I have worked with some amazing paralegals during my career and from them all; I have gained something substantial, inspiring, thought provoking or informative at the very least. Being trainable, approachable, flexible and self-starting are all traits which will lead to a successful paralegal career.