Byte of Prevention Blog

by Jay Reeves |

Super Paralegal Saves Client $4 Million

Looking for yet another reason to hire a paralegal? Here’s one: they just might be the key to winning a million-dollar case.

It happened in Chicago.

The case has all the drama of an episode of Law & Order. And the star of the show is a sharp-eyed, bilingual paralegal.

It all began in 2007, when a 28-year-old immigrant from Mali was killed in a truck crash in Chicago. The plaintiffs – representing the deceased’s uncle as estate administrator – won a $4.25 million wrongful death verdict in 2013.

But a paralegal on the defense team was intrigued by a charred scrap of paper pulled from the wreckage. The document was originally presumed to be the deceased’s birth certificate. The paralegal took a closer look at the blackened wisp – and proceeded to crack the case:

“The paralegal, who understands French, noticed something odd,” reports the Chicago Sun-Times. “The French words on the document, which was created in French-speaking Mali, indicated it was actually a marriage license — and not a birth certificate as was previously thought. Immediately, lawyers in the case scrambled to learn whether [the deceased] was married. Her husband … was found living in New York and working as a taxi driver. He confirmed [they] were married but were living apart.” 

And just like that, the award was reversed. One can also speculate that the defense team spent the next several days parading around the office with the heroic paralegal hoisted on their shoulders.

While the story was reported in 2015 in the ABA Journal, the lesson remains relevant for today, eagle-eyed paralegals can be take a case from blah to blazing.

North Carolina Paralegal Association

Here in North Carolina one of our state-wide paralegal associations is the NC Paralegal Association. The NCPA is a nonprofit that is governed by volunteers. Here are the group’s goals, as stated on its website:

  • Serve. Assist our members with resources, education and information necessary to provide high quality legal services to attorneys, clients and the community.
  • Teach. Make available to paralegals formal education and continuing legal education to gain knowledge and expertise regarding the legal system that qualifies them to do work of a legal nature under the supervision of an attorney. Heighten attorney awareness of the value of maximum utilization of paralegals.
  • Develop relationships with attorneys and other legal professionals in North Carolina in order to elevate the status of paralegals in the state.
  • Learn. Conduct research in order to continually define the parameters of the paralegal profession as the profession relates to the practice of law.
  • Share. Promote our talents and skills to the community. Participate in activities and events which exhibit our strengths and abilities. Encourage our members to share their knowledge and experience through presentations and educational opportunities in order to increase the public’s perception of our profession. Provide leadership and exhibit professionalism in all that we do.
  • Take an active role in bringing new paralegals into NCPA. Ensure the future of our organization through public awareness and professional excellence. Actively promote our achievements and those who accomplish them in order to maintain visibility in the community. Develop, refine and follow a long-term plan for the growth of NCPA.

Encourage your paralegal staff by paying membership dues paralegal associations, as well as conference fees and CLE fees. The investment you make into your staff will come back to you many times over.


About the Author

Jay Reeves

Jay Reeves practiced law in North Carolina and South Carolina. He was Legal Editor at Lawyers Weekly and Risk Manager at Lawyers Mutual. He is the author of The Most Powerful Attorney in the World, a collection of short stories from a law life well-lived, which as the seasons pass becomes less about law and liability and more about loss, love, longing, laughter and life's lasting luminescence.

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