Intellectual Property – Tips, Shortcuts, & Tricks of the Trade

Sure Shot Tips for the Career Paralegal*

by Victorialei “Nohea” Naka’ahiki, RP

Carlsmith Ball, Kona, Hawai’i

ETHICS CAVEATS by Therese A. Cannon, Esq.

Never Assume

Never assume that someone else has done what he or she was supposed to do when he or she was supposed to do it. In other words, confirm completion of tasks. When your case has a filing deadline, do not assume that your attorney has remembered that the deadline is upon him or her. Double-check the calendar, remind your attorney that a filing deadline is looming, and then ask if there is anything, you can do to help meet the deadline.

Inquisitive Minds Want to Know: Ask

When an attorney gives you an assignment, before you walk out of his or her office, ensure that you understand the scope of the assignment. Turn the instructions into a question format to clarify they are as you understand them to be. Start out by saying, “Just to make sure I understand, you would like me to… [proceed with instructions].” When you delegate work out and the project comes back to you completed, verify that the project is in fact complete. Ask for systematic processes used to complete project, ask whether the data has already been quality-checked for accuracy, and ask if all the proper references were utilized. Make it a habit to ask questions in all that you do to ensure completeness, accuracy and to avoid additional time, effort and expense in the end.

Embrace Technology; it is here to stay.

In today’s litigation practice, the normal course of discovery includes requesting electronic data. Therefore, it is important during the collection phase to identify all electronic data housed by your client and client employees. A checklist now incorporates searches of, to name a few areas, personal computers, memory cards, network servers, external hard drives, CDs, and DVDs. Information technology people or employees familiar with a client’s system are tapped for information to include electronic retention policies and archive files.

When all of this data is collected, using databases to organize the data (e.g. Summation, Concordance, Microsoft Access, and other electronic management systems) is crucial. More and more productions are being exchanged through CDs and DVDs, with confidentiality markings and Bates brandings imaged on the documents. We must embrace and keep up with technology if we wish to remain marketable in today’s profession and if we wish to remain a valuable asset to our employer. Take a continuing education class in electronic discovery management, look into the various e-discovery management vendors out there and take them up on their free demo software. Read up on the changes in e-discovery and technology and tap into experienced paralegals to mentor you in this area.


Be sure that documents that are given electronically to others are scrubbed of metadata such as, previous versions and comments.

Be Prepared for the Unexpected

It helps to be aware of the fact that unexpected situations are common in the legal field. If you are one-step ahead, you will never be completely caught off guard. Some examples of unexpected situations require that you be prepared for notice on Monday that you need to travel to another state on Tuesday to attend a last minute meeting with client representatives. (Note: prepare your family ahead of time – let them know to expect last-minute travel notices or that you may have to work late in the coming week.) Be prepared when your attorney tells you at 2:00 p.m. that you must go over to the client’s office to pick-up documents or to extract data onto an external hard drive. Be prepared at 4:00 p.m. to help on a fellow paralegal’s case for a rush filing. The list goes on. Be prepared. (Note: have extra hard drives, CDs, DVDs, banker boxes on hand, just in case).

Never Give your Attorney Original Documents

It is usually disastrous when you give an original document to an attorney. With all the documents and files they work on throughout the day, that original document is bound to get lost in the shuffle. Keep the originals, and always give your attorney a copy of whatever it is he or she is asking for. Keep a back up working copy for yourself in the case they have dismantled the set you gave to them, and they come to you telling you that they have scattered the documents about and can’t find a specific document or set of documents. Do not give in to their pleas for original documents or their promises that they will guard them with their life. You will sleep better at night knowing that the original documents are safely stored away, and that your attorney is shuffling through copies that if lost, can be copied and provided to your attorney easily and quickly.

And that is All I Have to Say About that…Speak Up…Voice your Opinions

You are part of a team, and together work towards a common goal of successfully resolving a client’s case. When you attend team meetings, speak up, and voice your opinion. If you have ideas about case management, organization, electronic databases, certain aspects of procedures and processes for a case, speak up. Your attorneys will appreciate your input and may even consider implementation of your ideas. Your ideas will not be used if you do not speak up. If you have suggestions, offer them.

Knowledge, Experience and Skills Equal Power: Take Control of your Paralegal Career

You are the master of your career. You decide where you want to go and how you are going to get there. If you want to develop yourself as a career paralegal, and set yourself up for advancement, then you need to expand your knowledge, skills, and experience. Enroll in an ABA-approved paralegal program. If you already have a certificate or degree from a paralegal program, take continuing legal education courses in areas that interest you or in areas you wish to develop your skills in (e.g., electronic discovery).

In the words of Yoda, the Great Jedi Master, “There is No Try, Only Do.” Be Proactive.

Do not wait for the work to come to you or for the attorney to ask you to work on a certain project. Be assertive, observant, and proactive. When you see discovery requests come in, ask your attorney if you can take the first stab at drafting responses or better yet, go ahead and prepare a summary of the requests and circulate it to the team as a roadmap to responding to the requests; prepare an objection/response chart for your attorneys to work with.

If you obverse madness and chaotic rushing going on in another case because of a last minute filing or production, approach the lead paralegal on the other case and ask what you can do to help. If you see, secretaries and other support staff collating an inordinate amount of exhibits to a filing that has to get out the door, step in, and help them. As you gain experience, you will learn to anticipate the needs and know what you can do before being asked to do it.

Get your Hands Dirty: the Life of a Paralegal is not all Glamor.

If anyone has ever told you that the only responsibilities that fall under a paralegal job description are to conduct research, draft documents, meet with clients, and assist their attorneys at trial, they were clearly wrong. As paralegals, we work in the trenches (i.e., we work the entire case), doing whatever it takes to get the job done. We will dress in grubbies, go to warehouses, review, and collect thousands of documents that have been drenched in water that had seeped through cracks in the roof of the building. We will pull out old, stinky, moldy files from boxes with bugs crawling about. We will cart boxes of documents to and from collection sites, court hearings, and trials. In addition, we will get in there and stand at the copy machine all day long to help support staff collate pleadings and exhibits for a rush filing. We will accompany experts on site inspections and climb through attic spaces looking at drywall and construction defects; we will attend site inspections wearing hard hats and safety glasses on highway bridge construction defect cases. The list goes on. Our job description is endless. the bottom line is this: we will do what is necessary to get the job done.

Take Heed to the Three “C’s”:

QC = Quality-Check

DC = Double-Check

TC = Triple-Check

ETHICS CAVEATThis advice is so important to the paralegal’s ethical duty to perform competently.

Always check your work, the work of your assistants or support staff, the work of the vendor, your attorney, or anyone else when it comes to documents that will be exchanged with other parties, documents to be filed in court, documents to be sent to the client, third-parties, experts, witnesses, the judge, and others. Check data entry in databases, charts, logs and other document management tools; check for proper citations, grammar, and spelling.

Moreover, after you finished checking these items, you should check again. Have someone double-check your work, or make sure you double-check the work of others. Then when all that is done, right before the documents are going out and labels have been prepared, check the contents of the box, package, and envelope, or e-mail one last time before transmission.

When paralegals or support staffs under your direction have gone the extra mile on a project, have worked long hours to complete a project, or have otherwise helped you or your team complete a project, thank them, tell them how much you appreciated their work and their assistance. Be thoughtful and pick-up lunch for them when they are working through their lunch-hour on a project or grab them a cup of coffee. It does not matter how you express your appreciation, just as long as you remember to thank them.

Be a Jedi Master…Serve as a Mentor

Share your knowledge, your experience (trials and errors), and your insight with junior paralegals. By serving as a mentor, you play a significant role in the development of young rising paralegals, ensuring that our profession continues to strive for excellence. When you delegate work to a junior paralegal, be sure to take the time to explain how you want the project done and when you would like the project completed. Some junior paralegals are college graduates, with little hands-on experience, so it is important to take the time to explain systematic processes, the why’s and the how’s. Review the completed project with the junior paralegal offering praise and constructive criticism for future similar projects.

Develop process manuals or trial binders that junior paralegals may use as training guides in such as areas as discovery. Provide in-house brown bag seminars or workshops on specific topics. Incorporate training sessions for all incoming junior paralegals to cover all areas they will learn and job responsibilities they will perform. If you have time, serve as an instructor or team-teach a course in a local paralegal program. Be creative and choose your own method of serving as a mentor.


*Excerpt from Lessons From the Top Paralegal Experts, the 15 Most Successful Paralegals in America and What You Can Learn From Them  [(c) Carole A. Bruno, 2008 (NY: Delmar Cengage Learning)]