Paralegals are entry-level professionals in the legal world. Not qualified as a solicitor, barrister, chartered legal executive or conveyancer - paralegals support with particular legal tasks, mainly the administrative focussed ones.
The majority of this role consists of preparing legal documents, undertaking research to support cases and only occasionally would a paralegal give legal advice.
Whilst a paralegal may not be qualified, as a hiring team or manager you will want to identify candidates with a genuine interest in law and who possess the skills required to make them proficient in supporting senior team members.
This article is going to explore the soft skills, abilities and expectations of a successful paralegal employee along with a strategy to test for these qualities - helping you to find the best candidate for your paralegal vacancy.
What should a paralegal be able to do?
Paralegals operate across a number of organisational structures, industries and specialisms which can impact their responsibilities but there are some core tasks that any paralegal would be expected to perform in their day-to-day role.
Starting out with office administration such as billing, writing letters, scheduling meetings, filing court documents, transcribing conversations and inputting legal data, paralegals are hired to keep a larger legal team moving towards a resolution and must employ their best organisational skills to achieve this.
Progressing from administrative tasks, paralegals will start to work on creating and contributing to official documentation. From drafting and proofreading contracts to writing official reports and taking witness statements - keen attention to detail and written communication is needed here.
Your next paralegal hire should also have some experience or the ability to conduct legal research to help progress cases. This takes an investigative nature, inductive and deductive reasoning as well as good comprehension to process data.
Lastly, you will want to see a prospective legal employee demonstrate negotiating, networking and holding meetings with clients and team members alike. All of which require interpersonal and communication skills to be effective.
Skills to look for in a paralegal
We've already mentioned a few of the critical skills a paralegal needs to perform in their role, but the following will dive into what this looks like and why they are required.
Reading Comprehension: When tasked with reading and analysing jargon-heavy legal documentation, paralegals must understand and digest large bodies of written information with ease.
Active Listening: When it comes to the law, there is no time to lose. Paralegals need to be able to actively listen to meetings, court hearings and interviews without distraction to attain all of the relevant detail.
Verbal Communication: Being able to talk with others, be it colleagues, clients, lawyers, law enforcement or field experts is essential to a paralegal carrying out their duties. They must be able to articulate their requirements and questions confidently and concisely.
Writing: Paralegals quickly progress to scribing, drafting contracts and other written responsibilities, which if incorrect can have serious consequences. For this reason, candidates must be able to demonstrate an accurately written ability.
Critical Thinking: This entry-level role does ask for a certain level of analytical thinking, reporting and the occasional legal advice. To ensure this is all sound, candidates should be able to use logic and reasoning to identify solutions, conclusions, or approaches to a problem.
Useful abilities for a paralegal
Further to the essential skills needed, a good paralegal would also have abilities such as:
Speech Recognition: Paralegals will spend time listening to and transcribing countless people's voices, with different accents, articulation and verbal communication. With good speech recognition, a paralegal will be able to record information with speed and accuracy.
Problem Sensitivity: This is the ability to identify a potential problem or incoming problem before it is an issue. This skill does not rely on the ability to problem solve but having the perceptiveness to recognise the early signs of a problem. This, paired with strong verbal communication can prevent large delays occurring in cases.
Deductive Reasoning: Paralegals will have rules and procedures to apply to problem-solving. Deductive reasoning will be most exercised by a paralegal when conducting legal research and similar tasks. Applying a set of known rules or processes to thoroughly investigate an area.
Inductive Reasoning: On the other hand, inductive reasoning will be used by paralegals when analysing legal data and interviewing witnesses. Connecting hard evidence with unexpected or invisible relationships to draw viable conclusions.
Perceptual Speed: Being able to quickly and accurately compare information, be it data, text or images will help a paralegal identify inconsistencies and trends - giving the team a firmer grasp on the information surrounding a case.
Which soft skills tests could I use to hire a paralegal?
To ensure your candidates possess the essential soft skills we've discussed you can carry out pre-employment skills tests. For paralegals, we recommend:
Time management test: Designed to recognise candidates that can effectively manage their time and deliver what is expected of them, the test uses workplace scenarios to get a realistic measure of how a prospective paralegal candidate would manage their varied workload.
Teamwork test: Whether you are hiring a paralegal into your legal team, or as an individual to support your business, it will be essential for them to work well in a team. This test has been created to highlight candidates who have the natural behaviours and approach to become productive team members.
Which technical or aptitude tests could I use to hire a paralegal?
You might use pre-employment technical and aptitude tests in the following areas to identify job-ready candidates that will require little training. For paralegals, we recommend:
Verbal reasoning test: This test measures a candidate's ability to read, comprehend and draw conclusions from passages of text. Your next hire will use this skill across a wide range of their responsibilities including legal research, writing articles and analysing information.
Microsoft Word test: Designed to highlight how proficient a candidate is in using Microsoft Word software. If a candidate doesn't meet the benchmark for this test, they are likely to be slower, less accurate and require additional training to carry out daily duties - therefore a strong score in this test should be a minimum requirement.
Our recommended test battery for a paralegal
Paralegals have to master many skills, often at the same time to perform their everyday tasks.
Finding out whether a candidate possesses these via an interview alone would be incomplete, which is why we recommend the following pre-employment test battery to find the ideal paralegal candidate for your vacancy.
The test battery we recommend include:
- Interpersonal skills test: to ensure the who you hire is able to confidently and effectively build relationships with others
- Verbal reasoning test: to ensure comprehension skills are spot on
- Teamwork test: to ensure your employee will contribute at a team level
- Time management test: to ensure your prospective hire knows how to manage their workload and complete tasks in a timely manner
- Microsoft Word test: to ensure the candidate will be able to work with standard word processor software on a day to day basis
For more information about hiring a paralegal, you can check out Picked's paralegal test guide.