Five Ways Corporate Paralegals Add Value to GCs

The recent article by Shannon Green in Corporate Counsel on Creating a Curriculum for a School for GCs was a very interesting read even with it being fictitious in nature. A couple of key points stuck out in my mind relating to the importance of law department management and learning the company business. Having worked as a corporate paralegal for AT&T and Bell Atlantic (now Verizon), my experience tells me that one more topic should be added to the hypothetical GC curriculum: How to Effectively Utilize Paralegals to Better Manage Law Departments.

Corporate paralegals are in a position to add value in number of ways to GCs and legal departments. As I have previously written, managing corporate legal departments in today’s global environment requires a unique combination of legal, business, management, technical and soft skills. And let’s not forget that corporate legal departments must manage a full plate of issues, risks and threats to achieve key business objectives. So given the need for multiple skills to manage various matters inside the corporate legal department, let me provide an overview of the five ways that paralegals can add value. 

1.    Air Traffic Controllers – Paralegals can manage a number of legal projects while multi-tasking and making sure nothing falls through the cracks. However, this does require exceptional project management skills and abilities. But the ability to keep several planes in the air at the same time without any one plane crashing and burning is one way for paralegals to add value. Thus, paralegals can act as air traffic controllers and help GCs manage a wide range of tasks and issues that must be handled every day. Two important skills to learn include the ability to anticipate what will be asked for or needed in advance and the ability to prioritize assignments.

2.    Internal Champions – Paralegals very often work with internal clients comprising department heads, managers and subject matter experts. Internal clients  include colleagues from departments such as marketing, operations, procurement, finance and accounting, human resources and public relations. Thus, paralegals are in a great position to act as internal champions for the corporate legal department by developing strong working relationships and exceeding the expectations of internal clients. However, this does require exceptional client service and soft skills.

3.    Resource Coordinators – Since GCs and corporate legal departments depend on outside service providers and vendors, paralegals can effectively serve as resource coordinators. As resource coordinators, paralegals can help identify, screen, select and manage third-party relationships including eDiscovery providers, software vendors and staffing companies. Paralegals can also help coordinate resources with outside counsel. This is an added value because paralegals will be able to utilize just-in-time resources and deploy necessary swat-teams to help manage projects in the most cost effective and efficient manner. Since technology has a great impact on the operations of corporate legal departments, I would recommend that paralegals help champion an internal New Technology Committee and serve as members.  

4.    Process Managers – If you think about it, there are several key processes that must be managed inside corporate legal departments. Paralegals can effectively add value by being knowledgeable and managing several of the  processes that include: legal holds, eDiscovery, document review, crisis management, project management and   budgeting. I would recommend that paralegals help champion an internal Process Improvement Committee. In addition, I would recommend that paralegals champion an ongoing Legal Matter Spend Analysis (LMSA) program focusing on tracking expenses associated with outside service providers and vendors. Paralegals can also develop a set of vendor performance metrics and monitor them to make sure that such metrics are being met.

5.    Intelligent Officers – Last but not least, paralegals can add tremendous value by serving as intelligent officers. Each and every day, corporate lawyers seek out information and data they need to make informed business decisions and paralegals are in a unique position to provide what is needed. This of course requires a just-in-time information management system complete with reports. Remember, whoever controls the information runs the show. And with paralegals involved in the day-to-day operations of document and data management, they can add value by providing real-time information. In addition, paralegals can help the legal department stay on top of the internal happenings of the company and provide necessary feedback.

My own personal believe is that for those corporate paralegals who are able to successfully serve these five roles, they will be well on their way to successful careers inside the corporation. This will be especially true if paralegals can document how they helped to achieve cost-savings, gain greater efficiencies and enhance decision-making abilities.

I would welcome feedback from the corporate paralegal community on working together to help you succeed as Air Traffic Controllers, Internal Champions, Resource Coordinators, Process Managers and Intelligent Officers.

Posted by Joe Kanka, Vice President of Corporate Development, eTERA Consulting. Joe can be reached at jkanka@eteraconsulting.com.