Specializing in insurance defense work as a paralegal can provide a secure, satisfying and rewarding work experience. These paralegals assist attorneys retained by insurance companies bound by their insurance policies to represent their insureds who are defendants in a variety of cases. In addition to the education, skills and experience desirable for paralegals in general, there are specific skills, personality characteristics and education that may help you succeed as an insurance defense paralegal.
According to the National Association of Legal Assistants (NALA), there are several options for obtaining a basic paralegal education. You can obtain an associate's degree, bachelor's degree or master's degree from a two- or four-year college or university in legal studies or paralegal studies. If you have an associate's or bachelor's degree in a different field, you can obtain a paralegal certificate. To specialize in insurance defense, courses addressing personal injury and litigation are particularly helpful. Depending on the type of insurance defense work you become involved with, a course on medical terminology may also be beneficial.
Skills and Characteristics
Assertiveness, initiative and a positive attitude are beneficial characteristics for any paralegal. Organizational, computer and analytical skills are also helpful. Because of the addition of the insurance company and the insurance company's claims manager, there are more people to work with in insurance defense. Therefore, if you have or can develop the ability to work successfully with various and differing personalities, you may have a more pleasurable work experience. Additionally, because you will always be working for the defendant or defendants in a case, being objective and able to emotionally distance yourself from sympathetic plaintiffs can also help.
By its definition, as an insurance defense paralegal, you will always represent the defendants in your cases. Many of these cases will involve some type of personal injury resulting from motor vehicle accidents, slip and falls, medical care, product or premises use along with a myriad of other events. As an insurance defense paralegal, you may also assist defendant businesses in employment discrimination, wrongful discharge, intellectual property or trademark infringement cases.
Many of the tasks you will perform as an insurance defense paralegal are substantially similar to those you would perform as a paralegal in any area of litigation. However, as an insurance defense paralegal, you will not draft petitions or complaints, but you may draft the answer as well as any counter- or cross-claims against the plaintiff or third parties. The insurance company may have already gathered significant information and documents; therefore, you will want to obtain the claim file so you don't duplicate any work. Some insurance companies have litigation guidelines specifying requirements for a variety of matters, including billing and status reporting. As a paralegal, you may be responsible for reviewing these guidelines and/or for drafting any periodic status reports.
The media usually shows a paralegal sitting side-by-side with an attorney at court, taking notes and feeding her helpful information. Many cases are settled and never go to trial for many reasons, including when the case can settle for less than it would cost to take it through trial. Also, in an effort to reduce expenses, the insurance company may not allow a paralegal to attend depositions or trial. However, you can still assist by helping the attorney prepare and by making yourself available in case he needs anything during the deposition or trial.
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