Why You Should Be Nice to the Paralegal on Your Case

When you hire a personal injury lawyer, he will likely assign your case to a single paralegal in his firm. She (I don’t mean to be sexist using a female pronoun, but most paralegals are women) will be responsible for the day to day management of your case file. She will request and organize your medical records, handle scheduling of hearings and depositions, and most importantly to you — she will be your primary point of contact with the firm. When you call the firm for a status update on your case, she will be the one to give it to you nine times out of ten. She also acts as a gatekeeper between you and your lawyer, keeping you (and all the other clients) from taking up all of the attorney’s time asking questions which don’t require a law degree to answer. So why do some clients treat their paralegals like garbage?

The Paralegal is Not Your Enemy

If it seems to you that the paralegal is keeping you from talking directly with your lawyer, you’re probably right. But that’s her job. Routine questions about what is going on with your case do not require your lawyer’s expertise to answer. When something important comes up, like a deposition, a settlement offer, or an order from the court which affects your case, your lawyer will speak with you directly. Trust that your paralegal knows when you do or don’t need to talk directly with your lawyer. She’s likely been screening calls like yours for years. If she just passed every client call through to the lawyer, she’d get fired. Why? Because, contrary to what you may think, there is no such thing as “one quick question” as far as your lawyer is concerned.

Settlement tip

Most personal injury attorneys will have at least 70 clients at any given time (and for many, I am vastly understating that number). They cannot afford to hold every client’s hand through every step of the process. Between working on existing cases, taking potential new client phone calls, and meeting new clients, your attorney’s free time is practically non-existent.

Think of it this way: if your attorney was in the middle of writing a brief for your case, would you want him constantly interrupted by “status” phone calls from other clients? Of course not. The paralegal, your “enemy,” keeps that from happening. In a way, the paralegal is like a triage nurse, helping to keep the attorney focused on matters of urgency instead of those that can afford to wait. Frankly, a lot of times your case can afford to wait. For those times when it can’t, your paralegal will work just as hard to make sure other clients don’t distract your lawyer from working on your case. At those times, your paralegal is your best friend.

Bad Manners Won’t Get You Far

There is absolutely no excuse for a client shouting at or cursing at their paralegal. I don’t care how frustrated you are. I don’t care how “stupid” you think the paralegal is. If you are that upset with how your case is being handled, the best thing to do is make an appointment to come in and speak directly with your lawyer. Remember, the paralegal does not work for you. She works for the attorney and answers to him alone. If you have a legitimate complaint about her, address it the next time you speak with your attorney.

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Keep something in mind before being abusive toward your paralegal or grossly overstating your grievance about the paralegal to your lawyer: he can fire you just as easily as you can fire him. Do not think that your lawyer won’t fire you for abusing his staff. Some won’t. I would. Usually, I’d give a client one free pass –anyone can have a lapse of judgment– with a warning that the next time he abused my staff I’d fire him. I was much easier on clients who were abusive towards me (I’m thick-skinned) than my paralegal. So the next time you have the urge to be abusive towards your paralegal, ask yourself if it’s worth losing your lawyer over it.

Thanks for the Thankless

Being a paralegal is often a thankless job. It has many of the downsides of being a lawyer (stress, deadlines, repetitive mundane work, impatient clients) without the major upsides (money, social status, glory). Many paralegals work for a-hole attorneys who abuse them and treat them like personal servants. A little thanks from the client can go a long way in lifting a paralegal’s spirits. A “thank you” note is practically unheard of. So the next time you feel the urge to be mean to your paralegal, might I suggest doing the opposite. If you thank her for the hard work she’s done on your case, and are generally a nice person when you call, you may find that a few more of your phone calls squeeze through to the lawyer. It wouldn’t hurt to try.

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12 Responses to Why You Should Be Nice to the Paralegal on Your Case

  1. Twania says:

    What do you do when you ask questions about your case and the paralegal is bing nasty to you and you have not given them a reason to be that way what happens

    • fl_litig8r says:

      Well, the worst thing you can do is answer her nastiness with nastiness of your own. I’d suggest politely calling her out on it with something like “Look, I know your job is stressful and hard, but is there some reason you sound like you want to bite my head off every time I call?” or “Did I do something to piss you off, because you sound angry at me?” It may just be that she’s dealing with lots of clients repeatedly calling with the same repetitive questions and you’re just the victim of some misdirected anger.

      If you can’t resolve the problem with the paralegal that way, you should let the lawyer know the next time you speak to him. Don’t be mean or over the top. Just let him know that his paralegal is being rude/curt/whatever whenever you call. He may not be aware of the situation.

  2. boccagna says:

    I have asked the paralegal (via email) when service was perfected on an impending law suit and he refuses to respond. This has been going on for the past month.

    • fl_litig8r says:

      Are you sure that your e-mails are getting through? Some spam filters are pretty aggressive, especially when it comes to certain e-mail providers, like aol, hotmail and yahoo. I know we had an issue with this at a firm I used to work for, where the e-mails got intercepted at the server level, so they never got downloaded into outlook (you had to log into the webmail to see the ones the spam filter caught). We only caught on because the filter started catching inter-office e-mails.

      Give him a call. A phone call is a lot harder to ignore than an e-mail, anyway.

  3. michael says:

    SORRY to put this here , how does one post a question

  4. Robert says:

    I awoke 17 months ago to learn that I, a 53y/o gay man, had become the co-defendant of a contentious Partition lawsuit pitting myself and my ailing mother against an Ex. It was my fault for not paying him off years ago, but I had what I felt were valid moral reasons. So much for that. Long story short, there was a MUCH happier ending for me than he.

    I can’t say enough about the quality of service I received from my Attorney and his paralegals. Their handling my case with over the last 17 months was stellar. They were there for me from day one. Supportive and compassionate as family before and after the loss of my mother midway through. On top of it during the mediation. Finally, I saw my investment in their expertise was worth every cent when the Judge of the District Court issued an order to the ill advised Plaintiff to accept the terms of settlement and sign off or else.


  5. Meredith says:

    Halfway through my case, the paralegal assigned to my case has changed (the previous one retired). The new paralegal has been generally courteous, but for some reason is not replying to emails or phone calls. I’m not calling/emailing every day, only when I have a specific question, and all my communication has been polite. However, in the last three or four months, I have never gotten a response to a basic question about my case without at least two follow ups, generally spaced at least a week apart (I know they are busy, I don’t expect a response immediately). In the most recent example, I have emailed in a form my insurance company sent me regarding medical treatment tied to the case, asking if their office was supposed to handle such forms, no response. I waited a week, and followed up via email. Waited another week, phoned the office, no response, and after five more days phoned again. I’m now on phone call number three more than four weeks after I sent them the form and the question and still no answers. At what point do I need to say, make an appointment with my attorney about this?

    • fl_litig8r says:

      If possible, I’d be frank with the paralegal about it first before going over his or her head. Do it by phone, not e-mail, and just explain how these delays in responses since your case was handed over can’t continue. Say that you wanted to speak directly with him or her about it without having to involve the attorney because you don’t want to be that client, but if it continues you’ll have no choice. Do it in as diplomatic a way as possible and hopefully you’ll get results without creating any bad blood. If that fails, then definitely talk to the attorney about it.

  6. John Doe says:

    I call BS on this statement “he can fire you just as easily as you can fire him” Not true, he can file a motion to be released from your case not “fire” due to the fact he is being employed by the plaintiff not vice versa.

    I do like the name of your website but, after reading your advise’s I wouldn’t Hire you anyway!

    • fl_litig8r says:

      Instead of re-arguing what is largely an issue of semantics, I’ll direct you to another comment thread where the issue of a lawyer firing a client is thoroughly discussed. I wouldn’t want someone who thinks that “advise’s” is plural as a client, anyway (sorry, but you really asked for that).

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