Positions in a Law Firm

By: Gerard Simington

If you run into a legal dispute, and everyone does, you may need to hire a law firm to represent you. If so, it helps to know who is who in regard to positions in the law firm.

Positions in a Law Firm

It may come as a surprise to learn that law firms tend to be very rigid in their structure. From the very beginning, the law firm has maintained a layered structure that just seemed to work. As the years have passed, there has been little or no change to this structure. If you retain a law firm to represent you in any legal matter, it helps to understand the positions and who you will be speaking with.

At the top of the organization chart is the lead attorney on your case. This is where the buck stops when it comes to strategy, final decisions and problems. The lead attorney is often a partner in the firm, but not always. He or she is the attorney you will probably meet with when you first come into the firm. The attorney is responsible for practically everything on your case, but has a team that does much of the leg work on day to day matters.

Below the lead attorney, one tends to find an associate lawyer. The associate is typically a less experienced attorney who is earning his or her stripes and trying to work their way up to a partner position. When it comes to communicating with the firm on your case, you will inevitably talk with the associate on numerous occasions. He or she will often call with questions related to factual issues and will address many of your questions as they arise.

Next comes the valuable paralegal. The paralegal is not a licensed attorney, but is often very knowledgeable on legal issues and strategies. The paralegal role in a firm is to do most of the detail work. This can include hunting down witnesses, setting depositions, compiling filings and so on. He or she will often share work with the associate attorney.

Finally, the law clerk is a person in the firm that will probably work on your case a lot without you even knowing it. A law clerk is almost always a law school student. To pick up practical experience, the law clerk takes a part time position with the firm. The job duties vary from firm to firm, but often are focused on doing legal research on various legal issues. Much of the legal regulation of a situation is determined by case law opinions issues by appellate or supreme courts of the states and federal jurisdictions. A law clerk spends a lot of time in a library reading these as they relate to your matter and reporting the results back to the associate and lead attorney.

One of the keys to understanding how to deal with a law firm is to know who is who. Now you do.

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