Litigation paralegals are the rockstars of the paralegal world. It’s a role that puts paralegals in the thick of the action, supporting lawyers in evidence discovery, researching caselaw, and retaining expert witnesses while preparing cases for trail. Litigation paralegals are sometimes even in the courtroom as trials unfold, keeping exhibits and documents organized and at the ready to present at the precise moment its needed to punctuate an argument and sway jurors.
High-stakes trials are determined by details and a comprehensive knowledge of the law and precedent. Lawyers trying these cases demand some of the very best trained paralegals in the field.
Litigation paralegals must be highly organized and pay close attention to details. It is often their job to ensure that all necessary documentation for a trial is obtained and organized, all necessary court documents are prepared and filed, and all exhibits are prepared and available at trial. Performing these job duties often takes coordinating a team of people and liaising with both internal departments and external organizations.
Hitting all these marks mean that litigation paralegals must have excellent communication and organizational skills.
Increasingly, litigation paralegals also have to be comfortable with information technology. Not only are most references becoming computerized, but electronic document management and scheduling software, such as Summation and CompuLaw, are becoming de rigeur for managing complex cases with hundreds of critical dates and thousands of documents.
Litigation Paralegals Lead the Way in Investigation and Discovery
One of the most interesting parts of the job comes before the trial even starts. Paralegals are a key part of investigative efforts made to uncover the facts of the case before determining a trial strategy. They may conduct most of the interviews with their client, and in fact the rapport they establish early on can lead to their being the primary client contact throughout the case.
The process continues through the discovery phase, when volleys of paperwork fly between the litigants, each demanding the other produce information and evidence important to their case.
This can involve a lot of research and sifting through documents, or interviewing and deposing witnesses. Occasionally, paralegals will coordinate with private investigators to uncover particularly hard to find evidence or witnesses.
With the facts in hand, paralegals are also expected to help draft pleadings, both for the court and aimed at the other side. A flare for writing and an ability to quickly conduct legal research with resources such as LexisNexis and the Law Library of Congress are helpful.
This also carries over into preparation for the trial itself. Paralegals may be responsible for assembling information into a format that allows lawyers to quickly reference it during trial, and also into exhibits that can be shown to judge and jury. Paralegals assemble documents such as:
- Chronologies of key events
- Catalogs of evidence
- Specific legal citation references
- Videos, posters, and other visual aids
What Do Litigation Paralegals Do?
If lawyers handle the big picture of taking a case to trial, it’s down to the paralegals to track and tidy up all the messy little details that can completely derail major litigation.
At the trial itself, while the lawyers argue the case, paralegals continue to serve as a valuable organizing force. At one step removed from the verbal back and forth, they can observe and make suggestions, or closely track the responses by judge and jury to certain lines of argument.
Throughout every phase, litigation paralegals must keep track of the volumes of paperwork involved and the calendar and deadlines that must be met. Judges do not take kindly to lawyers who ruin trial schedules. Paralegals, despite being junior members of the team, help keep the entire effort on track and hound their attorneys to get work in on time for filings and other important dates.
Most cases, of course, never go to trial. But paralegals play a key role in settlement negotiations, also, often laying much of the groundwork for agreements in discussion with their opposite numbers on the other side of the case.
And in cases that do go to trial, appeals are almost always in the cards. Here, too, litigation paralegals fill critical roles by:
- Identifying legal issues for appeal
- Maintaining documents from the trial that will be required on appeal
- Researching, writing, and filing appellate documents
How to Become a Litigation Paralegal
Experience is usually the key factor in hiring paralegals in litigation firms, but having a solid education is nothing to sneeze at. All three of the major paralegal certifying bodies in the U.S. offer specialized or advanced certifications in litigation and related areas of the law.
- NALA, the National Association of Legal Assistants
- Criminal Litigation
- Personal Injury (8 subspecialty options)
- California Advanced Specialization in Discovery
- NALS, the association for legal professionals
- Civil Litigation
- Criminal Law
- Personal Injury Law
- Trial Management
- Appellate Law
- National Federal of Paralegal Associations (courses by the Advanced Paralegal Institute)
- Litigation and Alternative Dispute Resolution
It’s common to specialize, just as lawyers do. Litigation paralegals might work primarily on the plaintiff or defense sides of the case. Depending on the type of firm, you might find yourself specializing even further… there are litigation paralegals who only work on commercial or insurance cases, for example. Although the price is taking some of the variety out of the types of cases you will work, the benefit is getting a priceless and in-depth familiarity with a particular body of law. That’s knowledge that can pay dividends for both lawyers and clients.
But specialization doesn’t have to mean boredom. Litigation is often exciting work—every trial is different.