Friday, August 26, 2011

How a paralegal assists attorneys at trial

I realized during a call with my mom the other day that some people have no clue what paralegals do to assist attorneys at trial. My mom basically thought I was there to sit in the back of the courtroom and look pretty (thanks, mom!).

Here is a list of 10 things a paralegal does to assist an attorney in the courtroom during trial. Attorneys can use this list to reform the way they use their paralegals to streamline their trial practice (there are too many to list, so I picked 10):

1. Voir Dire (jury selection). This is the first opportunity that an attorney can partially present their case to a jury. Properly formulated questions will lead jurors to draw some conclusions about the case they will be deciding. The best attorneys do not take notes during jury selection because they are engaging the jury with their personality and intriguing questions. A paralegal assists that process by taking notes for the attorney about prospective jurors' answers. After paralegals have enough experience, attorneys will take their paralegal's recommendations for juror dismissals. This is one of the most exciting parts for me.

2. Opening statements. Paralegals know their cases better than anyone, even the attorney. I like to outline our opening statement for my attorney. The attorney will present the opening argument to the paralegal before trial, and the paralegal offers feedback about how the attorney sucked and which lies are most convincing. Additionally, during opening (and throughout trial), the paralegal will often run the audio-visual equipment and assist with the trial board presentation.

3. Questioning witnesses. While witnesses are questioned during trial, paralegals will listen for ways to impeach the witness. Among many things, paralegals can make deposition clips during testimony, bring an exhibit to the attorney's attention, or make faces at the witness or opposing counsel to distract them. Sometimes I will bring special masks or voodoo dolls to court, just for that purpose. I'm nothing if not prepared.

4. Preparing witnesses and  babysitting the client. You can tey to plan your trial down to the second. However, there is no way to know exactly what anyone will say at trial. If you remind them seconds before testifying what is going to happen and what they said at their deposition, they are less likely to screw-up. A five minute meeting in the hall can change your game. There have been times when testimony changed for the worst and I recommended we not put a witness on the stand. Clients are also infamous for screwing themselves over by testifying incorrectly. The problem with clients versus witnesses is that clients have a lot at stake and they make stupid mistakes under stress. The best way to deal with those clients is to give them a shock bracelet and activate the shocking mechanism at critical points in time.

5. Coordinating jury view details with onsite vendors. Jury views are a fun thing to be a part of because the jury can view the site or property at issue. They are not fun to coordinate. Idiots run the world, and vendors who are needed to facilitate a jury view are no exception. Inevitably, someone is late or in the wrong place. Sometimes, I bring my special laser pen to light up the sky with my Superlegal logo, so vendors can find me. Then, when they finally arrive, I point the laser pen straight at their retina.

6. Exhibits. One of the most important tasks a paralegal has at trial is ensuring all the exhibits that need to be part of the record have been offered and admitted, and all unnecessary exhibits have been withdrawn.

7. Strategizing. Paralegals have a different perspective at trial than do attorneys. A paralegal's insight into jurors' reactions to certain topics can change the course of trial, including whether to call certain witnesses and deciding which arguments to make and avoid.

8. Audio Visual equipment. I think we can all agree that attorneys are most effective (and sometimes ONLY effective) when they are dealing with a single task, especially at trial. Running AV equipment, even for the most experienced attorneys, can prove problematic. We're back to the problem with attorneys pushing those pretty shiny blinky buttons when they shouldn't.

9. Lunches. This is probably the least glamorous of all tasks. However, sometimes there is no time for the attorney to go get lunch. Paralegals can handle those little errands. Have fun with it though. Add some extra hot sauce, Wasabi or horseradish and you've some good entertainment!

10. Closing arguments. By the time attorneys are preparing their closing arguments, they are tired and even more brain-dead than usual. Paralegals have endured some long hours too. Between two half-brains, you're more likely to come up with some cohesive collaborative arguments.  Be sure to remind your attorney that s/he couldn't have done it without you!


  1. You always look pretty ... and, actually, I thought you would be in the office while the attny was in the court...

  2. That's awesome! I've also prepared some paralegal advice on my blog, check it out:


  3. This is what so many more attorneys need to understand. Well-trained paralegals are quite useful in the same way associates and tag along partners are, yet at a significantly lower hourly rate. Oftentimes, we deal with the clients more than the attorneys and the associates and do become more acclimated to the case such that the client even trusts us a bit more at times. This is simply b/c they know you are clear about the substance of their matter, even if not from a purely legal standpoint.

  4. True dat, sistah! If only they would listen...

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  8. This is a fantastic post! I recently wrote a blog post covering the general Paralegal job description, but this post covers it on another level.