An Ode to the Paralegal

An Ode to the Paralegal

I recently attended a paralegal training event. My role was small; I answered questions about Lawyers’ Professional Liability (LPL) insurance. It nevertheless gave me time to think about the roles of paralegals and how important paralegals are to the legal profession.

I had exposure at a very young age to the world’s best paralegal, my mom. My dad is and always has been a solo practitioner. He’s a smart guy and an amazing lawyer. Everyone knows that. What people don’t know about is his office’s unwritten rule that my mom (his paralegal, bookkeeper, office manager, IT & HR department) proofreads every document that my dad prepares before it leaves the office. They put three kids through college doing it this way and I’m 100% certain that my siblings and I would have been paying our own way but for the work of my mom.

Next, following in my mom’s footsteps, my first job out of college was working as a legal assistant at a public defender’s office. On one of my first few days, my attorney advisor took me aside and explained to me that the lawyers were not necessarily the smartest people in the office. I couldn’t believe what he was saying! At age 22, I had no idea that all lawyers were not the smartest people around. He encouraged me to speak up and contribute to cases as much as possible. As I look back, two things stand out from this experience: 1) This was an amazing attorney to work for. He made it clear on day one I was an integral part of the team. I in turn believed him and performed as such. 2) Two decades later, I realize there are a lot of smart people around, some of which are lawyers.

Thereafter, following in my dad’s footsteps, when I began my first job out of law school, I (thankfully) started with an assigned paralegal. I recall my surprise while sitting in criminal court training as a city prosecutor when the defendant asked the judge to be “PR’ed”. I sat at the prosecution table likely looking like a deer in headlights wondering what “PR’ed” mean and how I was going to figure it out. Back at the office, my paralegal quietly explained to me that it was short for asking to be released on one’s own personal recognizance. This is just one example of a paralegal’s significant job of training a baby lawyer.

I AM going to tie my trip down paralegal memory lane to something LPL-related and will leave you with this: When an attorney reports a claim, we do not know if you have a trusted paralegal or not. This becomes important when we call to follow up on your initial claim notice and we do not know with whom or what we can share. Often, if the firm’s general phone number is listed as the attorney’s contact number, a receptionist asks about details that we can’t discuss. Until we know otherwise, we must presume that any detail about a claim or potential claim should only be discussed with the involved attorney and/or the authorized firm contact. Frustration can ensue with our inability to give details about why we are calling. Therefore, if your receptionist is your trusted paralegal as my mom was, feel free to authorize us to speak with him or her as part of your initial correspondence. Another option is to give your receptionist a heads-up that you will be expecting our call. A further option is to leave a direct line or cell number we can call and reach you or leave a detailed message.

In conclusion, whether it’s editing letters, documents, or pleadings; substantively contributing to cases; or training baby lawyers, paralegals’ work is immensely important. Shout out to the paralegals. And, arguably related but important nonetheless, are the options for a smooth claim reporting outlined above. Maybe send these reporting tips to your paralegal so you know where they are if/when you need them.

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Martha Amrine has worked as a claims attorney for ALPS since 2011. Before coming to work with ALPS, she practiced law in Washington State, concentrating in trial court litigation. She obtained her B.A. from Seattle University in 1999 and J.D. from Gonzaga Law School in 2003. She is a member of the Washington State Bar Association. Martha currently lives in Missoula, Montana where she runs on the Big Dipper trail running team, coaches boys' soccer and kids running, and spends her free time enjoying Big Sky Country with her husband and two sons.