Okay, sure, paralegals make plenty of mistakes. The difference is that you take care of your own mistakes—fall on your sword when you miss a filing, stay late and clean up contract language when you screw up a draft.
You would think that would earn you a little slack when it comes time to dealing with the mistakes the lawyers in your firm make. But you’d be wrong: you get to clean up their mistakes, too.
Legal mistakes are legion… without them, there would be no bad lawyers, and without bad lawyers to beat, well, what’s the point of being a good lawyer?
But the biggest mistakes that most paralegals see lawyers making aren’t always strictly of a legal nature. Even the best lawyers are susceptible. And it’s usually left to the office’s paralegals to pick up the slack and sort out the mess.
Here are the top five mistakes you’ll be bailing lawyers out of throughout your career.
Failure to Appear
In our list of top paralegal mistakes we have the same entry. It’s true that paralegals tend to be the people in the law office who are responsible for tracking and meeting deadlines. But lawyers are ultimately responsible for everything that happens on a case, even if the mistake is made by their staff. And there are many deadlines that can onlybe met by the lawyer. You can’t very well fill in for them in court, can you?
Worse, sometimes lawyers are the cause of paralegals missing deadlines by failing to communicate or provide necessary information in a reasonable amount of time, or failing to be available to sign or approve filings. It’s common for filings to go right down to the wire, and that leaves no room for error when it comes time to get the paperwork in.
Guess who gets the blame, though? You don’t have to guess, do you?
Practicing law involves a lot of legal writing. This is often a team effort with paralegals and lawyers exchanging drafts and revisions, working between one another to craft the best and most convincing briefs. Training in legal writing is a prominent feature of both law school and paralegal degree programs. Good legal writing has an emphasis on clarity and concision, and always has a view toward convincing the court of the validity of the argument being made on its merits.
But some lawyers fall a little bit too much in love with their own writing. Sometimes they get wrapped up in their cause and try a little too hard; sometimes they just missed their calling as a writer of histrionic bodice-ripping romance novels.
In either case, they can crank out some awful legal hyperbole that is cringeworthy reading for paralegals and absolutely fatal in front of a judge.
Who has the tough job of telling these guys they sound more like a bad B-movie writer and less like a Supreme Court jurist? That’s right, you do. Buckle up, because we all know how well lawyers take criticism.
Hiring the Wrong Staff
Graduating at the top of their class from law school doesn’t make anyone a brilliant office administrator. But there are a lot of lawyers who persist in making personnel decision in their offices without any real experience or advice.
Then they retreat to their offices, and you’re stuck listening to the vapid musings of the new administrative assistant about their wild bar-hopping expedition from last night. They’re supposed to be filing papers for the case you’re working on, but you don’t dare let them anywhere near it—who knows what you’d open up in court?
The higher up the food chain the bad hire is, the worse it is for paralegals on staff. It’s awful when a bad paralegal is brought in. It’s catastrophic when a novice attorney is slotted in.
Failing to Keep Up With Accounting
Billing is the alpha and omega of most legal practices. It’s also monstrously complicated. Most substantial firms bill out in tenth of an hour increments, which means a record has to be kept of every six minutes of every ten hour day (if you only work eight hour days, you’re not working in a law office!) for every professional on staff. The record-keeping piles up quickly.
On top of that, various expenses related to cases or client files have to be accounted for and apportioned properly for reimbursement. Plus, many clients will have retainers that have to be tracked against the expenses and kept current.
Attorneys aren’t thinking about any of these details, of course. They’re thinking about taking the profits and hitting the links Wednesday afternoon. And, inevitably, they goof when they make a few entries.
And do clients get tetchy when your attorney screws up those allocations? You bet they do! Who are they going to get on the phone when it happens? Probably not the attorney! You’re going to have some explaining to do, even if it wasn’t your fault.
Going Into The Wrong Career In The First Place
Let’s face it, most lawyers wanted to become lawyers because of the money. They don’t always stop to think about what it is they have to do for that money. Pushing papers, reading dusty old law books, working crazy hours, getting blamed by both clients and judges for everything that goes wrong with a case… it’s definitely an acquired taste. Not all lawyers find it palatable.
And while it’s true that there’s a lot of money floating around in the legal profession, it’s not exactly evenly distributed. While some lawyers pull in mid-six figures easily, the median starting salary in law is only $62,000 according to a 2014 article in CNN Money. That’s down 13 percent from 2008. Yet at the same time, law school tuition has climbed.
Working at a job you hate, climbing a $140,000 mountain of debt while making less than a basement-dwelling code monkey who never even went to college? That’s enough to push a lot of lawyers into pure misery. But by then, it’s too late—practicing law is the only path they have left to service that debt.
Who has to deal with the apathy, ennui, and incompetence? Yeah, you guessed it… the office paralegals are once again going to find themselves picking up the slack.