Paralegal Skills for Students Pursuing a Legal Career

Last updated: May 16, 2023

In many ways, paralegals are the backbone of law offices. They provide crucial support to lawyers through a variety of duties. From interviewing clients to drafting legal documents, paralegals require many soft and hard skills to be successful.

If you are pursuing a paralegal career, here are the top skills you must cultivate to succeed.


12. Strong Attention to Detail

According to the American Bar Association, the paralegal is often the last person to review and provide feedback on documents being submitted to the court, client, opposing counsel, or opposing parties. So, being able to catch small errors is an essential quality for paralegals to possess. A misspelled name, wrong birth date, incorrect quote — all of these mistakes can be potentially detrimental and costly to the firm.


11. Time Management Skills

Paralegals need to be able to prioritize tasks and manage their time effectively to meet deadlines. They often need to keep track of numerous deadlines and reminders set by the court and balance multiple projects and cases simultaneously. Finally, paralegals also schedule phone calls, interviews, and meetings, so the ability to successfully manage other people’s time is also an important part of the job.


10. Organizational Skills

Paralegals are the glue that holds the cases together for attorneys, keeping everything organized. Maintaining filing systems, scheduling meetings and events, booking travel, updating client information, tracking time, and billing clients — all these duties require meticulous organization.

A paralegal student taking notes for a class.

9. Legal Knowledge

This may seem like an obvious one, but it’s essential for paralegals to know common legal terms and processes and have a comprehensive understanding of the judicial system. Since paralegals help attorneys with substantive work, including interpreting legal documents, explaining information to clients, and communicating with the court, knowing basic legal concepts is vital.


8. Technical Skills

This may not seem as obvious, but paralegals often have to use legal software to create reports, bill for time, and record client information. So, paralegals should be proficient in using technology and software commonly used in the legal profession, such as legal research databases, case management software, and document management systems. Being comfortable in Word, Excel, Westlaw, and LexisNexis can make paralegals competitive in the workforce.


7. Communication Skills

Since paralegals often act as a liaison between different groups, including lawyers, clients, witnesses, court personnel, co-workers, and other business professionals, strong oral communication can go a long way in a paralegal’s career. Effective speaking skills are necessary, as paralegals often conduct interviews with clients, witnesses, and experts and interact with people via telephone or email correspondence.


6. Legal Writing Skills

In addition to oral communication, paralegals typically have to draft legal communication like briefs, letters, and pleadings, so possessing effective legal writing skills is crucial. Since paralegals have to interface with everyone from clients and witnesses to courts, being to write for different audiences is key. That’s why USF’s Paralegal Certificate program focuses on legal writing as a key competency.


“When you take this program, you will draft more documents than a first-year law student,” said Richard B. Herman, Esq., Adjunct Law Professor. “When you go to law school, in your first year, you usually draft a brief or a memo of law. That’s what you spend the whole year preparing and drafting. Here, you open up with a thin file on day one, and at the end of four months, you’ve drafted ten documents on your own, including a memo of law, as well as interrogatories and discovery.”


5. Interpersonal Skills

Since paralegals spend most of their time working with clients and other professionals, they must have the ability to develop good relationships, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Having a strong rapport with clients and maintaining those relationships throughout the case helps everything move more efficiently. Paralegals often interview witnesses as well, which takes empathy and understanding. Since the environment can be fast-paced and stressful, the paralegal has to be able to stay grounded and supportive.

Three paralegals having a conversation in an office.

4. Research Skills

Do you like to gather information across different sources to support an argument? Paralegals need to be proficient in legal research and analysis, including the ability to use online databases and other legal resources. Paralegals often use electronic and print sources of law to research information on relevant laws and regulations to help attorneys prepare for a case. Identifying, reading, evaluating, and analyzing local treatises, law review articles, legal encyclopedias, and other sources to explain the law and apply them to issues requiring legal analysis.


3. Critical Thinking Skills

According to the American Association for Paralegal Education (AAfPE), paralegals need to be able to analyze complex legal issues and identify potential solutions. Being able to determine which areas of law are relevant for a given situation and applying their legal knowledge to identify and evaluate solutions in given situations. For example, paralegals often have to gather and synthesize large amounts of information, and then decide the best way to present the information for a given case considering competing interests and other variables.


2. Ethics and Professionalism

Paralegals need to uphold high ethical and professional standards in all aspects of their work. According to the AAfPE, paralegals should understand legal and ethical principles related to paralegal conduct, including but not limited to the following:


  • Unauthorized practice of law and lawyer supervision of non-lawyers.
  • Confidentiality and attorney-client privilege.
  • Handling client funds, legal fees, and related matters such as fee agreements and awards.
  • Conflicts of interest.
  • Advertising and solicitation.
  • Prohibitions relating to fees, including fee-splitting, fee referrals, and partnerships between lawyers and non-lawyers.
  • Limitations on communications between people outside law firms, including judges, jurors, and represented persons.
  • Proper courtroom conduct, honesty, and candor, as well as sanctions for misconduct.
  • Frivolous claims and defenses.


Overall, paralegals must uphold high ethical standards and be able to identify and resolve ethical dilemmas that may occur in the workplace.


1. Willingness to Learn

The legal world is constantly evolving, so paralegals should be passionate on staying up-to-date with legal developments, research, and news. From learning new skills to growing in a specific area of law, there is always opportunities to learn in the legal industry.


USF offers a variety of paralegal and legal certificates so that legal professionals can continue to grow in their careers. Learn more about how USF’s convenient, self-paced legal courses can deliver the training and credentials you need to advance your career journey.


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