Legal Practice

Legal Assistant For a Senior Lawyer

Legal Assistants play an important role in the efficient operation of a law office. The role requires a variety of skills in order to provide the support and organizational assistance that most lawyers require. Although a legal assistant in a criminal defense law firm has a completely different day than a legal assistant in an intellectual property firm, they will share a common thread in performing duties akin to what an actual lawyer does.  A legal assistant is a legal professional who does much of the same work that lawyers do.

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The real magic happens outside the law office. More likely than not, the keys to your success will be found in the relationships you develop, not only with clients and potential clients outside of your law firm but just as importantly, with the lawyers and staff with whom you work.  Make no mistake about it:  the practice of law is a team sport.  To construct the building blocks to a successful career, particularly early on, when you may not have regular client contact or the tools to build a book of business, junior lawyers need to learn to communicate effectively and build relationships with members of their law firm “team,” from the legal assistant to the managing partner.

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These common-sense and experience-based tips will help you effectively communicate and build relationships with non-attorney staff, other associates and partners that will increase your chances of navigating the sometimes perilous waters of law firm life.

  • Those supporting a senior lawyer can only give the required help they need if they know what is expected of them, so it makes the expectations clear.  This holds true for specific tasks and projects they are assigned, and day-to-day matters staff members handle.  It pays to encourage an open dialogue to avoid a communication breakdown, and senior lawyers can anticipate problems and obstacles in order to deal with them more effectively.
  • Not only do staff need to know when they are doing something right, but it is also just as important to let a staff member know when his or her performance is not meeting expectations.  While it can be tough to provide constructive criticism, particularly for lawyers new to a firm, it is important for the staff member’s professional growth and their efficiency in supporting you. 
  • Litigation legal assistants can expect to be the first point of contact for clients and opposing counsel a variety of files. They will also likely be the person who coordinates multiple schedules for the setting of meetings, discoveries, and applications at the courthouse. Some of the responsibilities of a typical legal assistant can include general file management, the preparation of various documents including correspondence and pleadings, the managing of timelines for the production of documents, and the day to day interaction with clients. At all of these points of contact, the confidentiality of the client’s information must be maintained.

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  • Part of the legal assistant’s role is to help keep the lawyer and the file organized. A skilled legal assistant can help keep multi-party litigation well organized and make it easy for the lawyers to find what they need when they need it. It will also minimize the number of instances of accidental disclosure of confidential information to other parties. 
  • The competency of the legal assistant will dictate the level of supervision that will be required by the lawyer they are working with. The more junior an assistant is the more supervision that will be required. If a legal assistant is asked to perform a task that they do not feel qualified to do, it is important that they be honest and upfront about it. 
  • Juniors and assistants also maintain case costs by verifying outstanding balances with counterparts, clients, and providers. Supports case preparation by preparing case summaries and materials for mediation conferences; preparing pleadings; monitoring and obtaining discovery responses; organizing materials for a team case review.

There is no magic bullet in developing good relations with senior lawyers. No single encounter can make and break a relationship. While the work is important, those people you work for and with, as well as those people who work for you, are every bit as important to your long-term success.  Following the tips above in your law firm dealings will go a long way toward helping you build a successful legal career.

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by ashish padhy

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