What Does a Paralegal Do at Trial?
Paralegals assist New York city personal injury attorneys in a variety of ways. Some of the most demanding and important tasks are during a trial. While attorneys are the spokespersons in the courtroom, paralegals are the backbone of the trial team. They can spend countless hours coordinating the thousands of details that must be accomplished before, during, and after a trial.
Here is a breakdown of the personal injury trial process and how paralegals might aid in each part:
Before the trial even begins, a paralegal has many tasks to accomplish. Many paralegals who work with trial attorneys will take the lead in pre-claim investigation.
During investigation, the paralegal may perform many tasks including:
- Locating and interviewing witnesses
- Taking witness statements
- Gathering documents and evidence
- Creating case investigation notebooks
- Organizing documents and evidence
- Creating a chronology of facts pertaining to the case
Not every case goes to trial. In fact, a lot happens before a case even makes it to the court room. Paralegals play an important part of the pre-trial pleading process. Paralegals on the plaintiff side may assist in drafting pleadings including the summons, complaint, and supporting affidavits. Paralegals who work with the defense may collaborate with the client to investigate the allegations and respond. Paralegals also perform the task of creating and maintaining pleadings indexes and filing pleadings with the court. In addition, paralegals keep a calendar of hearing dates and filing deadlines to ensure all documents or appearances are timely.
The majority of a paralegal’s time is spent in discovery during the trial process. During discovery, paralegals aid attorneys in drafting interrogatories, requests for production, and requests for admissions and other discovery.
In addition, paralegals:
- Create and maintain discovery indexes
- Organize case files
- Calendar discovery deadlines
- Organize, review and analyze documents
- Prepare deposition summaries
- Organize, summarize, and analyze medical records
- Assist with e-discovery
Voir Dire, or the jury selection process, is the first part of the trial process. Attorneys are engaging with the jury during this process, so it is up to the paralegal to take thorough notes. Paralegals who have experience with voir dire can even be called upon to assist the attorney in the selection of the jury.
Paralegals spend a lot of time with the client(s), witnesses, evidence, and other parts of the case during trial preparation. Because of this, paralegals tend to know their cases better than anyone, even the attorney. Many paralegals will outline the opening statement for the trial attorney.
Working with Witnesses
Paralegals work with witnesses in a variety of ways. Witnesses called by the injury attorney will be prepped by the paralegal before the trial. In addition, the paralegal will ensure the witness is in court when needed and prepared. Paralegals also help attorneys by listening for ways to impeach the testimony from witnesses called by the other side.
One of the most important tasks a paralegal is called to perform during a trial is ensuring all the exhibits that need to be part of the record have been offered and admitted. In addition, all unnecessary exhibits should be withdrawn.
Paralegals serves as a second pair of eyes and ears in the courtroom. Because of this, they have a different perspective than the attorney. A paralegal has great insight into jurors’ reactions to certain topics, which they can relay to the attorney. This can change the course of trial, including knowing which witnesses or arguments to avoid.
Audio Visual Equipment
At trial, an attorney should only be focused on one thing. Because of this, it falls to the paralegal to run all the audio visual equipment. This likely includes recording the trial so the attorney can listen to it later if needed.
By the end of the trial, everyone is tired. This is especially true of the attorney. It is the paralegal’s job to keep him or her going. This often involves drafting closing arguments for the attorney.
If one side decides to settle before the judge or jury reaches a verdict, paralegals will assist attorneys in the process of case settlement.
- Gathering and organizing information for the settlement
- Creating settlement brochures
- Distributing statement or negotiation checklists
- Drafting settlement agreements and releases
If a case goes into appeal, a paralegal, especially one who worked on the original case, will assist with a variety of tasks, including:
- Identifying issues with the appeal
- Gathering and organizing documents needed for the appeal
- Indexing cases for a table of authorities
- Conducting research
- Drafting and filing appellant documents with the court.
From case inception to the appeals process, paralegals are involved every step of the way.
Paralegals may not stand before the court to speak, but they play a pivotal role in the trial process.
Article provided by Fremont College – College of Legal Studies