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Seven ways you can reduce risk in your firm as a paralegal

Accountability and responsibility are major factors in your work as a legal professional. Though paralegals cannot be held personally liable for malpractice, this is an official challenge to bring a higher sense of integrity to your firm that you can bring to the table daily. The risk of malpractice for lawyers is high, and in many ways, they rely on you to expose risks by developing systems and protocols of protection against them.

We’ve compiled a list of ways to assist your firm regularly in reducing these risks:

#1: Use an online deadline management system

Scheduling errors are the root cause of many legal malpractice claims. You want to have systems in place that help you to consistently catch calendaring mistakes. Use a calendaring system that is cloud-based and receives automated updates to get the most out of this tool. Scheduling errors in other industries are considered just a missed deadline, but within a law firm, they are considered failures to properly plan and produce the agreed-upon work.

When scheduling, take it a step further by ensuring you are getting the right dates and understanding the mechanics of the specific scheduling software you are using. Incorporate reminders, countdowns, and other bells and whistles that will reduce risk and reveal your level of accountability and responsibility for legal calendar management. You can lead the charge on encouraging everyone to use one collaborative calendaring system

#2: Ensure you’re using reputable professional service providers

When it comes to choosing outside vendors for things like eFiling, Service of Process, and deliveries, research goes a long way. It’d be wise to do things like check customer reviews, get recommendations from other trusted paralegals, and perform other types of due diligence that will make sure these procedures are handled correctly.

There should also be a review process that takes place post-onboarding that allows you to gauge the quality of their work and performance. Incorporating some project management tactics, like creating a project scope or seeing yourself as a stakeholder, can also help you better manage the tasks and progress of service providers more efficiently. Also, ensure that your firm always has a backup service provider if there is an issue with the current one.

#3: Maintain client confidentiality

One of the main canons of the American Bar Association’s scope of the paralegal’s responsibility in the law firm involves having a high level of integrity as well as competency for their position. One of the most important duties a lawyer has to their client is that of confidentiality. NALA, Canon 7 requires the same duty of confidentiality from a paralegal to a client.

The paralegal’s canonical codes of ethics should always be handy, in case you need to reference them, or update yourself about an impending issue. Keeping copious records as it relates to client communication as well as document management can help you to maintain accountability records should you need them. Sometimes, those records are what can save your client’s case, or even your job.

#4: Speak up about conflicts of interest

As with most risks that arise in the law firm setting, the ultimate responsibility for avoiding conflicts of interest falls on the lawyers within a firm. That said, lawyers aren’t mind readers. If you begin working at a new firm and recognize that you have done prior legal work against the interests of one of your new firm’s clients, speak up. Your conflict of interest may be imputed to the firm.

Don’t worry that by bringing up the conflict you risk losing your job. To the contrary, law firms are well prepared to put safeguards in place to avoid your conflict from harming their interests or the interests of their clients.

#5: Go the extra mile for clients

Supporting attorneys can be quite demanding, but as a paralegal, your position commands a certain level of customer service expertise. You are often given a tremendous amount of responsibility—especially when it comes to client management. Depending on the firm, you may also be responsible for things like exhibit preparation, adherence to local rules, and more.

Do your part to ensure your client’s best outcome by doing your best work. Become the expert at the tasks your firm needs by studying best practices, trends, and ways to improve your workflows independently. It will all show up in the quality of your work in the end.

#6: Pay attention to disaster recovery procedures

Are you fully acclimated with your firm’s disaster recovery plan? Instead of being surprised in the event of a disaster, stay informed on the general plan and any updates or changes that may occur. Oftentimes, you may be tasked with communicating status updates or other support tasks, which means you must be one of the experts on the plan as much as everyone in leadership.  As a support professional, you can also develop some business continuity procedures to deploy for disaster recovery.

You should be well-versed in your firm’s staff contact plan, data management procedures, and contingency plans for relocation if necessary. Once you understand the details of the plan, you will be much better prepared to work against risk for your firm.

#7: Mentor and be mentored

One of the most valuable things for people in any career is to find a good mentor and then, when you’re ready, be a good mentor to someone else. While it is human nature for young professionals (especially legal professionals) to want to “know it all” from day one, the truth is, we don’t. Talking to someone who has “been there, done that” can help you avoid costly mistakes.

Likewise, once you have several years of experience under your belt, you can become a valuable mentor to someone else. There is something invaluable about having someone present who can encourage you toward perseverance on a bad day or give you sound advice about how to handle a procedure more efficiently.

Even if risk reduction isn’t on your radar as a paralegal, taking the steps to protect your integrity and up-level your accountability can be highly rewarding. Doing the work to support your firm in risk reduction regularly, will help to raise the bar for both your internal team and those that depend on your firm for legal advice.

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