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24 February 2015

How Technology is Affecting Paralegals

Published on 24 February 2015
For almost as long as there have been lawyers, paralegals have served an integral role in the legal profession. They ensure the lawyers who represent the firm possess the research, resources, and documentation required to perform their duties. Many are lifelong professionals who have dedicated themselves to the paralegal craft. Others are law students or recent law graduates who are looking to learn the law from the ground up. Regardless of their motivations, paralegals contribute to the profession in ways that cannot be overlooked. However, due to the advancement of information technology, the future of paralegals is being challenged.

To be fair, paralegals are not the only corner of law to be affected by advancements in technology. Insights has written before on the ways in which technology is changing the face of the legal profession. In fact, there are few industries that have not been affected. Software company owner and The Lights in the Tunnel author Martin Ford predicts widespread job losses as a result of technological advancement.

“There's no sector of the economy that's going to get a pass,” Ford said. “It’s everywhere.”

According to industry sources, paralegals are not exempt. In its Business of Law blog, international academic publisher Lexis Nexis identified nine trends that are currently impacting paralegals. Of the nine trends, six related to technology, with “Technology and Software” being chief among them. Factors such as the automation, outsourcing, and virtualisation of previously manual tasks are posing problems for current and future paralegals – however all is not lost. To help you stay ahead of the game, Insights has prepared a few tips to ensure the efforts of the paralegals in your firm remain as invaluable as ever.

Become tech-savvy – and remain that way
Technology may be threatening many paralegal positions – but it also provides opportunities to excel. International paralegal knowledge institute The Estrin Report has identified keeping up with technological trends as one of the best ways to remain indispensible as a paralegal.

“Software programs come and go and are updated frequently,” the report said.

“Being a wiz also means you are on the prowl every day for the latest trends and new programs.”

Doing so will not only benefit the paralegal, but the firm.

Turn e-discovery to your advantage
Online legal news outlet The Complete Lawyer cited a mastery of e-discovery as a method by which paralegals can both secure their careers and add value to their law firms.

“Unless you completed your first day in paralegal school only yesterday, you know about e-discovery and the changes it has brought to every practice specialty imaginable,” the news source reported.

“Electronic discovery reveals how people and businesses conduct themselves, what they write in an e-mail, say in a voicemail or put in a blog or website has changed the face of the legal field. This also means that the number and type of assignments for paralegals has increased and changed, particularly in the discovery and risk management arenas.”

By becoming notably proficient in e-discovery, a paralegal can provide a much-valued service that would otherwise cost their firm dearly.

“An organisation can expect to pay e-managers between $100,000 and $300,000 a year. There’s no reason why this position cannot be handled by paralegals with expertise in the field.”

Be prepared to change positions
Even if your paralegal position ceases to exist, there will still be ample opportunity to apply your skillsets in a related position.

“Be prepared to move into a different position all together,” The Estrin Report said.

“For example, the Litigation Support field has a shortage of professionals schooled both in law and in technology.  Who better than a paralegal to move into a Litigation Support position?  The pay is excellent, the opportunities for the future very good.  The field will eventually evolve into something that we probably have not even envisioned, particularly since the legal field was one of the last to get on the band wagon.”