7 Must-Have Paralegal Skills Employers Are Seeking
By Brianna Flavin on 10/11/2021
When you picture your future career, the crisp legal environment keeps rising to the front of your mind. You are ready for reliable, interesting work that maximizes your natural abilities and allows you to develop new skills. Life as a paralegal seems to offer that and more.
But it’s hard to make a definitive call on a career without key bits of information. For example, what are paralegal employers looking for in their candidates? What paralegal skills matter most, and what is your aptitude for those skills?
Only you can answer some of those questions—but you will be in a better place to evaluate when you have more information. We analyzed thousands of paralegal job postings from the last year to find the top specialized paralegal skills, as well as the most important paralegal transferable skills.
Exploring paralegal skills employers are commonly seeking
According to our analysis of over 80,000 job postings from the past year, the top skills for paralegals are:
Specialized skills for paralegals1
- Legal documentation
- Legal document composition
- Legal research
- Case management
- Administrative support
- Customer service
- Customer contact
Transferrable skills for paralegals1
- Organizational ability
- Attention to detail
- Microsoft Office®
- Computer literacy
Which paralegal skills matter most, and why?
“Paralegals are the unsung heroes at a lot of firms,” says Minesh Patel, founder and principal attorney at The Patel Firm. And that’s not just flattery—this career requires candidates who take their work seriously and offer a strong representation of the firms they work for.
Of course, what’s found in a job posting can only tell you so much. We also asked paralegals and the attorneys who hire them for some insight into what it really takes to be a good paralegal.
1. Attention to detail
Misspelling someone’s name, messing up a birth date, shifting a decimal on a dollar amount—any of these mistakes can be incredibly costly for your firm, according to Nanda Davis, attorney and founder of Davis Law Practice. “There is no room for error.”
Davis explains that attorneys need to make their clients look professional. “It is important to demonstrate to clients that their cases are important, and that the attorney and staff are paying attention to details.” Paralegals need to be detail-oriented people who understand the damage little mistakes can cause to a case.
Skills relating to organization were all over the job postings for paralegals, and knowing how to stay on top of multiple “to-do” lists without letting anything fall through the cracks is a huge part of that.
“As a paralegal, your duties will change constantly throughout the workday as you process through the litany of cases that are on your docket in varying stages of the legal process,” says Katie Obermiller, paralegal at Breit Cantor Grana Buckner.
3. Observation skills
“The best paralegals in the field aren’t the loudest or boldest people in the room,” Patel says. “There’s this misconception you have to be this confident, even bravado, type of person to enter the law field.” But Patel explains that paralegals especially need to be more circumspect, exercising keen observational skills in every interaction.
After all, if you are dominating the atmosphere of an environment, you are unlikely to notice body language cues, tiny details and everything that goes unsaid by other people in the room.
“The field of law has more to do with interpersonal skills, as well as a sharp, organized approach to work. If you have these aptitudes, you’re already a good fit,” Patel says.
4. A good memory
“Sometimes paralegal work is like an episode of Jeopardy!” Obermiller says. She explains that paralegals may need to tap into scraps of information from old cases, random facts, court deadlines and more at any given moment. Strong organizational skills and the ability to easily recall relevant information can be a big plus in a paralegal’s day-to-day work.
5. Writing ability
“A good paralegal needs to have a strong command of grammar, including a solid command of punctuation, sentence structure and the meaning and usage of different words,” Davis says. Part of what paralegals do on the job involves presenting polished written documents, letters, contracts, pleadings and court orders.
This is why many paralegal programs include courses on writing, covering the mechanics and language usage a paralegal will be expected to understand.
6. Critical thinking
“Paralegals are often at the center of gathering and synthesizing a wide range of information that paves the way to manage a court case or legal proceeding,” Patel says. That task requires strong critical thinking skills and the ability to assess risks. “They must weigh potentially competing interests and information, then cut to the chase with a measured best approach.”
7. Empathy and teamwork
While the work of a paralegal can be meticulous and technical, it also requires some real heart.
“Paralegals are often the go-to liaison between a firm and their clients,” Patel says. He explains that empathy and conflict management are vital not only to represent the firm in a professional way, but also to connect with clients on a personal level and interview witnesses well.
“As the gatekeeper for the attorneys you work with, you will be the frontline person who clients interface with throughout their case,” Obermiller adds. “It is important that you are able to cultivate a good rapport with clients and maintain those relationships for the 18-36 months that it may take to process that person’s case.”
Additionally, a paralegal’s relational skills are crucial as they work with their attorneys. “This is a fast-paced industry, and there are times when tensions run high!” Obermiller says. “As a paralegal, you have to be ready to do everything you can to support the attorneys that you work for and not be rattled if they too are stressed.”
Why working as a paralegal can be rewarding
You can see from these top paralegal skills that this career involves many areas of aptitude. While that can be intimidating at first, it really keeps the job interesting. “It might sound dorky, but I love learning about the law and how to apply it to individual cases,” Obermiller says. “I enjoy reading codes and statutes as well as piecing the puzzle together!”
“Clients will confide in you unbelievable facts about their lives, ranging from funny, to heartwarming, to sad,” Davis says. “To many people, this makes the work interesting, and your days are never dull.” Davis adds that paralegals are essential to keeping law firms functioning and serving their clients. “It can be incredibly satisfying to help clients make it through a time of crisis.”
“If you're looking for a career where you want to make a visible impact during what are objectively stressful, challenging times, then this field is a great option,” Patel says. “The job stability doesn't hurt, either!”
If this is sounding more and more like your kind of role, get more information on what it takes to get started. You might be closer than you think! Our article, “How to Become a Paralegal: 4 Steps to Start Your Legal Career” will help lay out the steps ahead.
1Burning-Glass.com (analysis of 85,069 paralegal job postings, Aug. 01, 2020 - Jul. 31, 2021).
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