Skills and Personal Qualities

The skills required of paralegals are listed in the IOP Competency Standards for Paralegals (see our Standards pages).

In addition, successful legal practitioners such as paralegals have important personal qualities.

This does not mean you need qualifications. It means you need to be able to understand sometimes complex situations; understand, analyse and make sense of many different facts and to work out the possible implications rising from those facts.

This means more than not stealing, not cheating and not lying. It also means looking after your client's interests generally even when it is uncomfortable or to your disadvantage.

It means being willing to disclose when you've made an error so it can be corrected. It means admitting when you do not understand something so that when employers or clients put their faith in you and rely on you, you do not let them down simply because your pride would not let you admit that you do not know everything in the world!

This means that you can work out what needs to be done, and do it step-by-step, not missing anything out. A lot of problems that clients face arise because they are not methodical and so fail to do essential things - which leads to legal problems. They will rely on you to methodically look at every potentially relevant issue and to resolve every potential problem. Legal practitioners have to know what needs to be done and then do every step with care.

Legal work involves lots of communicating. You might communicate by phone, or in meetings or by e-mail or letter or even by the terms contract you have drafted. It is essential therefore that you have good spoken and language skills.

As a legal practitioner you will operate in a world where the meaning of just one word can change a great contract into a terrible contract. It is a world where what is not said can be as important as what is said. In such a world you have to be meticulous - always paying close attention to the detail.

Everyone claims to be a professional nowadays. However a true professional assumes obligations above and beyond the strict interpretation of the law.

Put simply you are expected to act to a higher standard of behaviour, conduct, probity, competency, client care and general ethics than the average businessman or woman.

You are also expected to have up-to-date legal knowledge and so professionals are expected to undertake regular continuing professional development (CPD) so their skills and knowledge are not just kept up-to-date but are actually increasing.

Very often what you are trying to do as a legal professional is convince people. During litigation you try and convince the other side and the judge that your interpretation of the facts and law is correct; in business matters you try to persuade the other side that your client's offer should be accepted or his/her preferred contract terms should be adopted. If you do welfare law then you are often trying to persuade the Council or Welfare office or a landlord or employer to treat your client better etc. This is much easier to achieve if you are good with people. Being good with people does not mean being able to flatter those you think important, whilst treating poorly those people you think irrelevant. That is the opposite of good people skills - if only because in the law it is not always clear at the outset of a case who is important and who is not!

One important area where many legal practitioners fail is the way in which they communicate with clients. Most clients have not had legal training and therefore do not understand the legal jargon used by many legal practitioners in their letters etc. A good legal practitioner will tailor his/her style of communication so that it is easily understood by the client.

As with any business, it does not matter how good your service is if you have no clients. Good legal practitioners - even junior ones - will be thinking about how to promote himself/herself and his/her employer to potential new clients.

Your clients do not want to receive law lectures. They (usually) do not want to have court cases and Acts of Parliament cited to them. They have come to you because they have an opportunity they wish to exploit, a problem they wish resolved or a matter they wish explained. In other words, they want practical, usable, advice tailored to their personal situation. It is very difficult to do this for, say, a construction company if you know nothing about the construction world. Good legal practitioners therefore make sure they understand the sector that their clients work in so that they can give proper tailored advice, couched in the correct terms and addressing all the relevant issues.


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