What is the Role of a Paralegal?
I always perceived the role of a paralegal to be predominantly office based. That it would encompass supporting lead solicitors in researching and gathering relevant information for a case. With the ultimate objective of getting the best outcome for the client. But I’ve found being a Paralegal is so much more than that. I regularly attend court, police stations, conferences with clients and counsel. I also undertake site visits as well as analysing witness statements and CCTV evidence. Being a criminal paralegal is an active and exciting role where no day is the same. It is hard work, but it is very stimulating and rewarding.
Being a Paralegal – the early days?
I was nervous. This was my first office job, having only previously done bar work whilst studying at University. The first big shock was the early morning rise! 7am wasn’t a time I was familiar with. I have gradually embraced the structure that a working day brings and have learnt to prioritise going to bed at a decent hour ahead of “one more game of FIFA”. The early weeks were tiring, they still are but I plan my days and nights much better now than I did when I started.
Lawyers are often perceived to be rather intimidating people. However, everyone at Burton Copeland has been incredibly friendly and welcoming. I only felt like the ‘new guy’ for the first couple of weeks. As time has progressed, I have started to create and build relationships with individuals around the office, which is and will be invaluable as these are the people who I will look too should I require assistance. Burton Copeland’s people promote what is indisputably a ‘family’ atmosphere. Everyone is looking out for one another and everyone is approachable. I have only been with the firm for 4 months and already I know that if I have any questions (and I have many!) there is an established open door policy and I should not be afraid to ask anyone for help. I find this enormously reassuring.
Why did you want to join Burton Copeland?
What first attracted me to Burton Copeland is the fact that each solicitor is able to practice both in their own niche but is also very skilled when it comes to advising and acting for a client when ‘common crimes’ are committed. The employees of Burton Copeland practice an incredibly wide range of criminal law, varying from driving offences to historical sexual abuse cases, professional discipline federations to high profile drugs cases, the list is endless. The exposure to this vast variety of cases could only fast-forward my development. Another factor is the ethos and family orientated atmosphere of the firm. I have that but I am also surrounded by specialists 24/7. What more could I ask for?
What work do you do?
Preparing and analysing the CCDCS, CCTV and Witness Statements
CCDCS or Crown Court Digital Case system is a media platform where prosecution case workers upload documents relating to criminal cases, thereby making them available for viewing by defence advocates.
I was given access to the system within my first month and found it daunting. It was certainly a case of ‘learning on the job’. I have come to appreciate that this is an incredibly useful piece of software and allows solicitors/barristers to have the material of each case at their fingertips. It also allows comments by defence/prosecution advocates and the judge which assists in case management.
I have found CCTV analysis incredibly exciting and worthwhile. Cameras are now widespead and give prosecutors and defence solicitors an often-unexpected opportunity to view an event not just at all but even from various angles. The analysis takes time but is an essential aspect of a case as the smallest section of a piece of visual footage can have a pivotal impact on the outcome of a case. Every detail must be noted!
Corroborating witness statements and extracting the key information is critical to fully understanding the case. Performing this sort of task enables legal advisers to form opinions and devise strategies on how the case should proceed.
Attending police stations
The first police station interview I attended was on my very first day. The most important aspect of police station interviews is filling out the Police and Criminal Evidence booklet. This requires high levels of attention to note down all key information, utilising the ability to type at talking speed and provide an accurate record. This is a skill where I have an advantage, having grown up in an era where technology plays a prevalent part in day to day life. I can type quite quickly!
My previous work experience has made me accustomed to the format of court proceedings, in terms of formalities of post and pre court, quick note taking and identifying key information. However, because of the pandemic the lay out is currently slightly different. Everyone must wear face masks, which causes some complications in terms of the barristers addressing the jury. Barristers need to know how the jury are reacting to the information spoken. It is hard to judge a facial expression when half of the face is covered up!
My role in conferences has thus far been to sit quietly and take notes of what is said, although as time has progressed, I now also discuss cases with client’s. I understand that it is crucial to keep a precise note.
Each week I am assigned specific tasks, by various lead solicitors. Each task requires a designated amount of time so being organised and productive is paramount. I use Microsoft Office to set task and diarise work to be done and have had to learn quickly to prioritise and work to deadlines and understanding that sometimes a task might take longer than a day.
What is Office Life Like for a Paralegal?
It is essential for me to do other things apart from work, so I stay focused on the tasks. I have got into a routine where I arrive at the office for 8:30. This gives me time to say hello to people in the office before I start work. I then aim to finish for 5:30 which gives me maximum time to complete tasks. As a result of the pandemic I have been working from home. I am proud to say however that my routine is the same in terms of when I work, just with the lack of the commute. I miss the office and I miss its’ people, but small positives are that I save time and fuel money.
What is the Impact of the lockdown on a New Paralegal?
Strange and very different but in a weird way exciting is how I would sum up starting a new role as a criminal paralegal during a pandemic. When I first joined Burton Copeland, the office was open to everyone, but social distancing measures were strictly applied. During the second lockdown during November, I had to work from home. At first, I thought it was great as I set up my screens at my desk at home and could still contact my colleagues very easily. However, over time I have missed the face to face interaction and the general ‘office chat’. The current lockdown which began in December, has meant continued working from home. I now balance my time between home and court, only going into the office to collect essential documents. This is looking to be the new norm, but I am not sure that is what I want or what I need if I am going to learn and develop through contact with others.
To summarise, every day is different which I think is the best part. I am regularly required to complete a variety of tasks and when pandemic restrictions permit, I am always on the move going out to police stations, court or attending conferences. I am thoroughly enjoying working at Burton Copeland. It is a great firm with great people providing specialist legal advice to clients. As young man with an ambition to become a solicitor, I couldn’t be in a better place to watch, engage, learn, and develop. 2020 has shown us that it is difficult to know what the future will bring. But I am looking forward to my future at Burton Copeland very much.