Litigator’s Notebook: Paralegals Without Parallel
IJ’s paralegals are the unsung heroes of our cases. They don’t get the recognition of standing up in court. Their names don’t appear in the newspaper. But they contribute so much to our litigation, from beginning to end.
Paralegals know—and sometimes help find—our clients. They comb through local court records to find someone who meets the criteria of a particular legal challenge. They come to hearings and trials and talk to the clients about what to expect.
And of course, they are intensely involved in the legal work. IJ practices throughout the country, and each court has a different set of rules. Most paralegals merely need to know how to do something in one or two courts. IJ’s paralegals know the ins and outs of dozens of different court systems. When we have to serve legal papers on slippery government actors, IJ’s paralegals make sure it happens. When we have a motion for summary judgment with 60 or 100 exhibits (each of which requires a separate docket entry), IJ’s paralegals file everything without a hitch. Some courts accept only electronic filings. Some accept only in-person filings with ink signatures. IJ’s paralegals talk to court clerks to make sure we do it correctly in every court.
We have seen that IJ’s paralegals frequently know the rules better than either our local counsel or the lawyers on the other side. When another lawyer accused us of filing something at the wrong time, the IJ paralegal pointed to the rule (which the other lawyer missed) saying we had done it correctly. Recently, a judge asked if we had remembered to send out this one notice—in a case we filed two years ago. It was a technicality, but the case could have been dismissed without it. And of course, it had been sent out. One state has a completely counterintuitive rule that, when suing government actors for their official actions, we have to sue them in their personal—and not official—capacity. A paralegal noticed this quirk and passed it on to the attorneys.
IJ’s paralegals don’t just do procedural work. They understand our cases and claims. We’ve had IJ paralegals prepare exhibits for use at a trial. Even the other side couldn’t find fault with them. They find difficult-to-locate historical documents. They notice patterns in evidence or lines in a deposition that turn out to be important. They participate in moot courts and ask insightful questions.
They know what we are trying to do, and so they can anticipate what we will need next. It’s a joke around the office that when you ask the case paralegal to do something, she’s usually already done it.
In preparation for writing this article, I asked the lawyers for some examples of especially helpful things that our paralegals had done recently. Within minutes, I had received 23 responses. That’s how much we love the paralegals who make all of our groundbreaking legal work possible.
Dana Berliner is IJ’s senior vice president and litigation director.
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