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“Shelley Sweet fulfilled every expectation desired and I would not hesitate to work with her again.”

John Deasy
Superintendent of Schools (former)
Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District


A Paralegal Brings Process and Happiness to His Law Firm

Dear I4Process,

I wanted to tell you about some success I have had at our law firm from my bottoms up paralegal position.  My work brought sub process consistency to a core process, happiness to the attorneys I work with, and pride to myself.

I work in a typical law firm that uses a rather top-down style of organizational management.   Decisions are made at the top-most level, and everyone down the organization structure works to fulfill the tasks assigned to them by the tier immediately above them on the totem pole. Despite the top-down structure, tasks and activities are addressed in a ‘make-it-up-as-you-go-along’ approach. Support staff sit in a silo off to the side, and are called upon to handle various tasks in a rather ad hoc fashion.

When I was taking your class I decided to work on the Closing Debt Finance Transaction Process, a key process we do for our attorneys in that practice area.   After talking to my sponsor we decided on two improvement targets

  1. Standardizing the paralegal support work–product from deal to deal
  2. Helping paralegals become more independent and self-motivated, completing projects within our purview in a self-directed way.

I modeled the As Is process, heard the customer needs (They said, “get key tasks underway, tell us the status of task completion, and do this work independently with a minimum of questions.”) and established some baseline and goal metrics (attorney happiness=customer delight, efficient use of time, and no all-nighters).  Then I set off to analyze my process and see where the challenges and bottlenecks were.  

As I worked toward standardization I looked at the key tasks – which are really subprocesses – and focused on three that were most important to the success of Closing the Debt Finance Transaction as well as valued by the customer (the attorney). (i4Process comment:  good to limit your scope here to the most important sub processes.)

Then I figured out ways to improve the sub processes using

  • A pre-outlined cheat sheet checklist of 21 items to get the inputs right as we begin the process.  This sheet increased the clarity and efficiency of the communication for the attorney and paralegal, in an effort to get  it ‘right’ up front.

  • Four distinct work-products that were consistent and formalized in packages.  I made a samples folder on line for actual examples of these work products for all the paralegals to see.  (Comment from I4Process:  I can see that this consistent work product would (1) enable the paralegals to be more independent by knowing the desired end result, and (2) give the attorney confidence in what the end product would ‘always’ look like.)

Later I calculated the paralegal time expected for this new level of service at 27-37 hours of service.  Unfortunately I didn’t have a baseline information for these tasks as they were too varied and I had not categorized them as sub processes (only just many ad hoc tasks.) 

The redesigned model meets the two improvement targets.  I will use certain lines on the Input Cheat Sheet to track data and make sure the Goal Metrics are met.

“I am most proud of the re-conceptualization that what we produce as paralegals is not just ‘a few ancillary tasks’ but rather a tangible output that can be called upon for research purposes going forward. I am also proud of the idea that we need to think of ways to “tighten up” our communication with the attorneys. They are busy, and they’re usually tired, so we need to give them the tools that direct their focus so that they give us the correct and complete information the first time so we can begin to manage our processes independently with minimal supervision.”

Excited Paralegal


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3 comments to A Paralegal Brings Process and Happiness to His Law Firm

  • Ok I didn’t understand every phrase you used ( obviously alters from one company / area to another) but very impressed with the concept as a whole. I’m going to take this ‘cheat sheet’ and personalize it – hope that’s ok?
    Again – well done and thank you.

  • Salley Wong

    As a former financial analysis support staff at a law firm, I love the cheat sheet with all the key data fields. We are constantly going back to the secretary/paralegal for these data. It would have been removed one of my pain points and many phone calls (now it would be email). I am curious as to how the cheat information is housed. Is it a printed and filed with the client folder or stored electronically. I am curiously as to how the cheat sheet is updated and would the financial personnel have access to th data without going through the secretary/paralegal.

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