How to Maximize the Full Potential of Your Paralegal Team

By Jamy J. Sullivan, J.D.,
Robert Half 


No legal professional is an island. Winning cases and satisfying clients involves not only a masterful strategy but also a tremendous amount of detail work. It also requires professionals who can act as a sounding board for lawyers and float ideas of their own as well. That’s why every legal manager needs a strong team they can rely on, including attorneys as well as paralegals and legal support professionals.  

Paralegals, who are on the front line every day reviewing discovery, scheduling appearances and drafting documents, are vital contributors to law firm and corporate legal department teams. But in a typical fast-moving legal organization, legal managers may not always take the time to recognize the full scope of their paralegals’ abilities. Here are some ways you can partner with your paralegal colleagues to work more efficiently, cut costs and improve results. 

Assign substantive responsibilities 

Clerical tasks such as answering the phone or updating a database are not the best use of your paralegals’ time. Assigning complex tasks to your paralegals has several advantages. Giving them the kind of granular, document-based case work that sometimes falls to junior attorneys frees up the latter to focus on more strategic elements of the case. Offering this work, similar to what other industries refer to as stretch assignments, can boost the morale and engagement of support staff and is more cost-effective since pay and billing rates for paralegals are lower than those for attorneys.  

Incentivize top performance with top compensation 

Deep talent shortages in the legal field mean retaining your paralegals should be a top priority. Also, the longer attorneys and support staff work together, the deeper their rapport. Use resources like the Robert Half Salary Guide to benchmark salaries, and act quickly if your compensation is falling behind that of your competitors. Also be flexible and open-minded when evaluating requests for expanded perks and benefits, especially schedule flexibility. 

Help your paralegals develop their careers 

Foster a learning culture that encourages paralegals to broaden their knowledge base and skills. Meet with them one-to-one to assess their professional development priorities and tailor the scope of future training. Is upskilling called for in some cases? Another way to boost your firm or department’s learning culture is to encourage cross-generational and reverse mentoring relationships, where attorneys learn from paralegals and vice versa. For example, an entry-level paralegal may have much to learn about the law and conversely, they may have much to offer more experienced attorneys about leveraging technology tools or social media to expand their presence.  

Keep a close eye on workloads and well-being 

Even the best paralegals can find their work stressful. After all, they’re responsible for drafting high-stakes documents such as plea agreements, wills and demand letters, all subject to in-depth critiques by attorneys who may not have time to mince their words. 
Having s thick skin goes with the territory, and paralegals learn to be resilient. However, if everyday stress edges towards burnout, performance and productivity may level off, threatening not only health and well-being but also the outcome of any cases they are working on.  
To avoid this from happening, check in often with your paralegal team. If they report feeling overwhelmed, step in quickly to offer support. Consider bringing in paralegals on a contract or project to ease the burden they are experiencing. During your next touch-base, find out if the extra help has brought them to a place where they no longer need it. If your full-time staff feel that they’ll end up in the same spot again if the interim professionals were to leave, you may need to hire additional professionals on a full-time basis.  
Paralegals are a critical resource in any law firm, but one that your involvement may be able to make stronger by depending more on their talents and training. By reassessing their role within your team and expanding their responsibilities in new and productive ways, you can unleash skills and capabilities you never knew you had. 


Jamy J. Sullivan is executive director of the legal practice at Robert Half, the world’s first and largest specialized talent solutions firm. Robert Half offers contract, temporary and permanent placement solutions, and is the parent company of Protiviti®, a global consulting firm. Visit