What ‘She-Hulk’ Gets Right About Paralegals
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What ‘She-Hulk’ Gets Right About Paralegals

She-Hulk: Attorney-at-Law is exactly what it sounds like: it’s a TV show about a superhero who is an attorney, but chronologically, it’s truly about an attorney who became a superhero by accident. Throughout the show, Jen Walters (Tatiana Maslany) grapples with the notoriety gained from acquiring superpowers and how to maintain her identity as an attorney, which she is very passionate about. Enter her sharp-tongued paralegal Nikki Ramos, played by Ginger Gonzaga.

Before we get into that, though, we must have a basic understanding of the high-stakes ecosystem that is a law firm at both large and small scales.

How a Law Firm Works
Attorneys are notoriously busy, and their workload tends to be extremely high. An attorney (or group of attorneys) will hire a team to cut down on costs billed to the client and hours spent on administrative work. An attorney working at a law firm like Goodman, Lieber, Kurtzberg & Holliway will have a full team, including a receptionist, legal secretary, paralegal, and attorney, because it’s a big law firm with many high-profile clients. Consequently, not only do they need to spread out the tasks, but they have the capital to do so. In a smaller law firm, a team may only consist of the attorney(s) and paralegal, where the paralegal absorbs the tasks of the receptionist and legal secretary, with the attorney often taking on some of those tasks as well, but with much less frequency. It is important to note that although a law firm may be smaller, it still has the same high-stakes work as a larger law firm, but with fewer clients because there are fewer attorneys to take them on.

A paralegal’s brass-tacks function is to support an attorney. “Support” can mean many things and change as the attorney and paralegal relationship deepens. In a legal sense, it means preparing documents like complaints, drafting correspondence to outside agencies, and scheduling meetings, hearings, depositions, etc. Often, a paralegal is the first person a client will talk to; they are integral to building the rapport between a firm and a client. A paralegal may be tasked with running errands, like having affidavits signed and notarized (a paralegal is often also a notary public) or physically filing pleadings. A paralegal may be the first to do preliminary research, prepare case briefs, and gather evidence. They are frequently the last eyes to see a prepared document, where the highest stress occurs because it bears the responsibility of absolute flawlessness.

Before filing or administering to opposing counsel, the document must be perfect (no grammatical errors, typos, or misnumbering). Hence, a good paralegal is extremely detail-oriented as that necessary duty falls on them. Errors as simple as misnumbering can lead to a domino effect of filings needed to correct that misnumbered document (which either incurs an unnecessary cost to the client or renders the time required for correction as unbillable), and grammatical errors or typos look sloppy. Too many little mistakes can harm the reputation of the firm. A good reputation is essential between judges, opposing counsel, and the public, all of which are potential clients.

OK, now that we have a basic understanding of a legal team, we can get back to She-Hulk: Attorney-at-Law.

How ‘She-Hulk’ Gets It Right: The Legal Team
In terms of the legal team, Jessica Gao got it exactly. Nikki functions not only as support to Jennifer Walters, but to Pug (Josh Segarra), Amelia (Renée Elise Goldsberry), and possibly unseen others. She is often seen note-taking during meetings and in the courtroom, presumably noting rulings, attorneys, party names, and the like.

These actions are particularly illustrated in Episode 6, “Just Jen,” where Nikki is seen note-taking during the consultation between Amelia and Mr. Immortal (David Pasquesi) while Jen struggles with being a single bridesmaid. Later, she discusses the terms of Mr. Immortal’s many divorce settlements with his former wives, who take to her favorably. She discusses the terms of negotiations with the client throughout the episode and later with the opposing parties. In the real world, this may happen as opposing parties can have a kinder reaction to paralegals. However, the parameters of negotiations are discussed and agreed upon between attorneys (for both sides of litigation) and respective clients; then, the paralegal may relay the message to opposing parties or counsel.

Ideally, as seen in this episode and within Nikki’s close relationship with Jen, a paralegal becomes a sort of attorney mind-reader, adjusting to each attorney’s preferences. Although the legal profession can have a high turnover, it is optimal for any attorney to have a long-term paralegal, who often work together for decades. It’s this type of relationship that a legal professional strives for, no matter which part of the team they are.

The Attorney-Paralegal Relationship
The attorney-paralegal relationship is unique and can be carried out in various ways. Within She-Hulk, its depiction is a best friendship between Jen and Nikki. Nikki runs errands for Jen beyond the law firm, and she does so because she wants to. She helps her with dating apps, advising her on balancing her workload with her personal life. Nikki even breaks into Jen’s home once, and Jen doesn’t act surprised whatsoever. This is not always the reality of the professional relationship, like at all. The relationship between the two is often quite the opposite, entirely avoiding the personal lives of the respective individual and being highly professional. But Hulks also don’t exist in the real world, and in terms of storyline, it works well. Nikki acts almost as a sidekick to Jen and a confidant. Since television romanticizes everything, this is a bit of a dramatization. Still, close relationships between the two professionals happen, where they may go out for drinks and become long-term friends.

One beautiful and genuine distinction made in She-Hulk: Attorney-at-Law occurs in episode 2, “Superhuman Law,” and it sets the tone for the relationship between Jen and Nikki. For Jennifer Walters, Esq., to accept her position at Goodman, Lieber, Kurtzberg & Holliway, she has one condition: she must be able to bring Nikki as her paralegal. Holden Holliway (Steve Coulter), gives an honest and equally realistic response from another attorney: “I truly do not care who your paralegal is.”

It’s not unheard of for a paralegal to leave a firm with their long-term attorney, and despite how other attorneys may react, a good attorney will appreciate their paralegal. It’s a commonly understood fact that a good paralegal is worth their weight in gold for the support they provide to a legal team. What She-Hulk does so well is demonstrate the value of a paralegal, which is often a profession that receives little visibility, but it is crucial to the success of many law firms, and many paralegals are a friend to the attorney they work with. The relationship may not be as close as Nikki Ramos and Jennifer Walters are, but when done correctly, it’s a pretty special one between two individuals in the legal trenches who lean on one another for success and support.

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