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Whom Do I Talk to When I Need Something Done?

By Mark Wilson, Esq. on May 01, 2015 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

Unfortunately, a lot of a lawyer's life involves going to other people for help, whether it's a clerk, a secretary, a senior associate, or even opposing counsel. You can't do the job just on your own.

There's a learning curve to figuring out who you should talk to in which situations. You can waste a lot of time by talking to the wrong person. A lot of billable time. So who's the right person to talk to?

The Clerk

The clerk may very well end up becoming your best friend. We're not talking about a judge's law clerks, but the court clerks who have the unenviable task of ensuring that documents are in order and everything's filed correctly.

The clerk can answer questions about document formatting, proofs of service, and sometimes -- if you're really lucky -- which type of letter or motion the court prefers. (In California appellate courts, for example, you've got several options for adding to the record on appeal, and each court district has its own preferences for which one you should use.) Ideally, clerks know about each judge's esoteric requirements and can advise you on those, lest your motion get rejected because it wasn't in the judge's favorite font.

Paralegals are state-certified to be paralegals. They have some legal training and often conduct research, write memoranda, and draft motions. They also conduct interviews and talk with clients. They're your go-to for many substantive legal issues.

Legal secretaries, on the other hand, perform a more traditional secretarial role, but have experience doing that specifically in the legal world. They answer phones, maintain schedules, and prepare documents. You should go to a legal secretary for a logistical concern.

Depending on your firm, paralegals might be doing some administrative work like legal secretaries, so part of your job will be to figure out who's doing what. Then you will have a better idea of who you should go to with your problem, question or task.

Opposing Counsel

The adversarial system doesn't mean that you and opposing counsel can't get along. In fact, the two sides are expected to get along and extend professional courtesies to each other. If there's a document you need, or something's missing, don't immediately go to the court and cry foul. Courts hate that; it wastes their time and makes adults look like children. Instead, contact opposing counsel for the missing information. (Of course, you'll be expected to extend the same courtesy.)

Law practice involves navigating a lot of different systems, and getting something done in a system sometimes involves knowing someone -- and knowing who the right someone is just takes experience.

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