Today’s paralegal is taking on a more active role than ever before, particularly when it comes to the technology that is now part of the legal landscape. Here’s a look at the evolving role of paralegals in a firm’s technology.
The role of a paralegal in simple terms is to help their attorneys do their jobs as much as they possibly can. With technology becoming more commonly used in everything from research to document production, it’s only natural that a paralegal is constantly accessing it in order to do his or her job more effectively.
Because of this direct link between a paralegal’s daily job and the technology available, it was only a matter of time before they became more of a driving force behind a firm’s technological choices. They are the workers who use the technology and are among the most affected by it, so they are often viewed as the most knowledge people about it in the firm as a result.
With great power comes great responsibility, and this is certainly true when it comes to a paralegal’s influence on tech matters. The right choices will help the firm adapt for the future and improve overall efficiency. The wrong choices can have the complete opposite effect, harming productivity and making the jobs of everyone in the firm more difficult.
If you’re wondering how today’s new paralegals prepare themselves for this future responsibility, the short answer is research, practice and education. Your online paralegal training is certainly a big help here, but you’ll also need to consider the areas that you can only prepare for with some firsthand experience.
Set Yourself Some Goals
Get ahead of the game and start familiarizing yourself with the available tech programs and online resources for the legal field you want to work in now. Make learning each resource and program a goal, and evaluate them as you go. Evaluation is especially important if there is more than one type available for the same function. For example, there are multiple real estate closing software programs out there, but you won’t know which one is the most user-friendly and has the all the functions needed in your state until you actually try using them.
Be Prepared to Embrace New Technologies
The legal industry does have a somewhat unfair reputation for being technologically behind. The truth is that it varies by firm, so you need to make sure you are on the cutting edge when it comes to your tech knowledge in case the firm you decide to work for is not modern in this respect. Be ready to embrace any new technology that has a potential place in your law firm and your work as a paralegal. Your knowledge and confidence will help even the most tech-hesitant attorneys adapt, and the more tech knowledge you have, the more marketable you will be.
As part of your time earning a paralegal certification online, you probably learned or heard about some emerging technologies, but the tech world moves fast. Use social media and news feeds to stay on top of tech advances throughout your career. Other great resources for this include your local paralegal and bar associations and legal tech-focused seminars and conferences.
Know What You Need
Keep your tech focus broad enough to cover all the necessary areas. As a paralegal, that is likely to include research programs and online resources, software that relates to your legal field, and even devices such as mobile phones and tablets. Cover all your potential bases so you’re in the best position to help your law firm move into the future.
Technology and the Paralegal: An Overview
The impact of technology on how paralegals perform their tasks cannot be overstated. From filing and document management to client communications, so many of a paralegal’s tasks have been streamlined by a software application, a new piece of hardware, or both. Being aware of all these shifts could be the competitive advantage that the next generation of paralegals needs.
At the Hiring Stage
These days, the arrival of new technology for law firms has shifted the skill requirements for its staff. Consequently, law firms’ hiring practices have shifted as well. Firms typically now have a computer proficiency requirement to cope with the pace of changing and advancing technology. Usually, proficiency is determined through a basic test, designed to assess a prospective paralegal’s comfort and skill with commonly used applications such as the Microsoft Office suite. Applicants are expected to have a baseline level of competence in order for them to perform their functions efficiently.
Bear in mind that these tests assess not only the applicant’s skill level with common office technology, but also their capacity to learn and adapt to new technology for law firms, as this arises. Paralegals will need to be able to learn and assimilate new technology into their processes on a regular basis to make themselves more attractive to prospective hiring firms.
Paralegal Technology Daily
Paralegals who are brought onboard can expect a daily deluge of tasks from the lawyers with whom they work. These tasks frequently include case research, document management, and even liaising with clients on occasion. All of these have been made more efficient by technology.
The huge room filled with past cases, briefs, and client documents – once a staple of the modern law firm – has largely been replaced. Instead of filing cabinets, those rooms are now filled with servers, with digitized copies of cases and documents saved on them. This allows members of the firm to access necessary files no matter where they might be. In some cases, document hosting is not even located locally at the law firm’s offices. Instead, law firms pay for storage on server farms located remotely.
This means that if a firm has been particular about tagging its own files, finding important and relevant resources is as simple as typing a few key terms into a search field and pressing enter. The hours spent combing through physical files looking for a vital document have mostly been reduced to a few seconds, not to mention the physical space that firms have saved on.
When it comes to project management and client liaising, technology has had an impact, as well. Document reviews, once conducted in board rooms filled with associates and paralegals, are now frequently outsourced to third-party managed review service providers. Clients prefer the convenience of working remotely, but still with fully barred lawyers. And then there is the issue of cost: while law firms typically charge up to $450 an hour, managed document services can charge as little as $45 an hour. While this may seem like lost revenue for law firms, it actually allows them to focus on client services that are less tedious and more value-adding.
The arrival of the internet has ushered in an era of nearly unlimited access to information. This has made continuing education and adding valuable skills easier for almost all professions, and paralegals are no exception. Paralegals can comb Google for the latest jurisprudence, or browse YouTube for videos for tutorials on the latest paralegal technology. Some sites even offer paralegal e-learning courses that can be taken almost anywhere.
The advent of technology has made its own impact on the legal profession, but at the end of the day, it’s still a tool. How well – or how poorly – it’s deployed still depends on the competence of the user. Skills like critical thinking and a well-defined work ethic are still essential to a paralegal’s success.