What Does A Paralegal Do At Trial (Series)

By: Christina Roberts, CP

Most paralegals never get the chance to go inside a courtroom. That fact may be lost on most of the legal population.  Approximately half of the paralegals in the Civil Litigation job category of the National Association of Legal Assistants 2012 Job Analysis Study listed Trial and Pretrial work as important in their day-to-day activities. That could be because their cases never go to trial, or because the attorney may not realize how helpful a paralegal can be during pre-trial and trial. Preparation is key, but trial is the ultimate goal.

Most paralegals have probably wondered why attorneys can be so crazy about the organization of a file. It can feel like they are over-preparing at your expense. There is a very good reason for that crazy “I’m-going-to-trial!” mode most attorneys switch to the week or so before trial.

Pre-Trial Organization

We have all heard the saying popularized by American author, Reverend Charles Augustus Goodrich, “A place for everything and everything in its place.” This is not just the motto of OCD moms everywhere; this should be the civil litigation paralegal’s motto as well. We paralegals could add to that, “and there should be a way to find it quickly.” That sounds goofy, but hear me out. If you know where everything is but no one else does, that means you have to stay up around the clock at a trial. Especially if you are in a different time zone than you live/work. Everyone associated with the case will have no choice but to come to you and ask where they can find every, little item. No, thank you. I had a teacher once who told us to, “Work smarter, not harder.”

Pre-Trial Organization is organizing, analyzing, and then indexing each piece of paper related to a case. There is amazing software on the market that will practically do all of this for you. In my past life as a trial paralegal I did not have always the benefit of the latest technology, so we did it old-school. While every paralegal will eventually work completely electronic with the advent of e-Discovery and other technological advances, knowing the old-school way of organizing and preparing a case for trial will always give you an advantage because you understand the WHY of what you are doing.

At trial the attorney could turn to you and ask for anything. You have to be on your toes and ready to find any document or exhibit, no matter how minute it may seem. An obscure issue could become the most important issue of a trial within minutes. While being ready for any request, a paralegal has many other duties at trial as well. This aspect of trial should be the easiest because it can be done ahead of time and the trial attorney can guide you with any specific requests/issues. Trust me, you do not want to be the one the Judge gives the evil eye because you are digging through a box, completely unprepared to produce a single Affidavit. It’s never a good day when that happens.

It’s important to have indices of your indices. You must have your important documents further indexed and analyzed in such a way that no matter what comes up, you can find any documents related to any topic that happens to become a point of contention during trial. No matter how large or small a case may be, it should never take more than a five minute break to find any document. If the paralegal can find it without a break, she will have arrived at trial paralegal superstar status. That’s the best feeling a paralegal can have – that is what paralegals strive for their entire career.

In the next article, I will discuss setting up and organizing the trial “war” room.

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