Technology has changed how legal professionals practice law, for the better. From big to small to medium-sized law firms, from personal injury law to family law to immigration law, different types of technology designed to help practitioners in every niche have emerged.
Technology for support roles like paralegals is no exception. With the demand for paralegals growing by an average of 12% each year (faster than the average for all other applications), the demand for better, more efficient workflows for this role has also grown.
Thanks to technology, manual tasks previously assigned to paralegals such as manually creating, organizing, and filing hundreds of court documents are relics of the past. This leaves paralegals to focus on more important, less menial tasks for firms.
Read on to learn more about how technology has changed the role of a paralegal, must-know tech skills, and the most common types of technology.
How has technology changed the role of a paralegal?
According to the ABA, the duties of a paralegal include “maintaining client files, drafting correspondence, performing factual research, monitoring deadlines, drafting, investigating and analyzing legal documents, gathering and managing small to large amounts of data and documents, and acting as liaison with clients, and others.”
All the duties listed above for paralegals have been made easier and more efficient with technology. For example, rather than needing to manually call or email a client to schedule and confirm follow-up meetings, legal calendaring software gives paralegals the ability to set recurring meetings and send automated reminders. This same software also helps automatically schedule deadlines based on court rules so documents are always filed on time.
Cutting these manual tasks out has elevated the role of a paralegal from a task manager to an important part of business operations. It also allows them to easily keep track of their work and have time to focus on more important work for the firm.
Instead of needing to spend an entire day printing, filing, and organizing documents for client matters and court deadlines, paralegals now have the technology to manage documents with just a few clicks.
Will paralegals be replaced by robots?
The most common misconception with advances in technology is that all legal professionals will eventually be replaced by robots. This theory has been floating around the legal industry for over 15 years now according to many news articles from the past, and it still hasn’t happened.
In fact, the demand for paralegals has grown since then and shows no signs of slowing down. In addition, there are so many human touch points within the legal system and many of the issues brought forward in court can be complicated and emotional. Using technology to try and replace human-to-human interactions will ultimately cause more issues than it solves.
Technology doesn’t exist in a vacuum. It’s most effective when used to enhance a profession, rather than replace it.
What are the types of technology for paralegals?
With technology being so commonplace, you may already be familiar with the basics—like sending emails, using a telephone, or creating documents with Microsoft Office. While these more fundamental technologies apply to all industries, there is also technology specifically designed for paralegal work.
- Case Management Software: Paralegals often need to help firms keep track of a client’s case information. With this type of technology for paralegals, staff can easily collaborate on cases and track updates in real-time.
- Document Management Software: Documents are a large part of any paralegal’s workload. From creation to filing, to organizing, to storage, and delivering, hundreds of documents can cross a paralegal’s desk on any given day. But, bursting file cabinets filled with old documents just add to the disorganization and can contribute to human error. Document management technology gives the flexibility of unlimited document storage. Not to mention, you’ll be able to securely access documents from anywhere, so there’s no need to panic if something is accidentally left at home or in the office. Being able to search through online documents also gives paralegals the ability to find what they’re looking for in seconds.
- Billing Software: Sitting down and trying to calculate totals for each client at the end of a billing period is manual and time-consuming. Billing software for paralegals helps automate bill generation, collection, and review. Online billing means that clients will receive bills instead and firms get paid faster.
- Client Intake Software: Having a client fill out a paper form and then need to transcribe the details digitally to the appropriate legal practitioner is inefficient and causes more work than needed. Even if you use a fillable PDF for client intake, the back and forth correspondence can cause delays. With automated client intake technology, paralegals can capture important details more easily and share public intake forms with a simple link. This information can also be automatically added to any other system, such as matter management software, so there’s no need for duplicate data entry.
- E-signature Software: Getting signatures on legal documents is vital to any case and matter. Rather than needing to sign by hand and scan documents, e-signature technology helps paralegals easily collect, sign, and store important legal documents with a simple click of a button.
Depending on the size of your firm and your practice area, as a paralegal, you may only need to use one or two of these systems. Or you may need to use all five of these technologies and more including technology that helps with trust accounting. If the latter resonates, you may want to invest in an all-in-one solution such as legal practice management technology that offers all these features and even more that will help paralegals better manage their workloads.
What tech skills should a paralegal have?
While the interface and design of each technology will be different depending on the provider, there are still a few universal tech skills that all paralegals should have.
- Data entry: Simple data entry is a must-have skill for any paralegal. While technology has automated most data entry processes, there may be a time when paralegals need to create a simple spreadsheet or tabulate results for a firm. In this case, it’s important to understand how to organize and enter data in a way that makes sense.
- Online research: Research skills are imperative for any paralegal to be successful. When researching cases or writing legal briefs, paralegals may need to look up information to understand precedents for a verdict, or relevant laws for specific jurisdictions. In this case, paralegals need to be familiar with online legal research databases and summarizing complex information.
- Cybersecurity: Unfortunately, using technology to store client information comes with risk. Although that risk exists no matter what medium you use (e.g. paper files can be lost in a natural disaster or misplaced), for technology usage it’s important to understand the basics of cybersecurity. Using strong passwords and understanding how to avoid potential scams is a tech skill that every paralegal should familiarize themselves with.
- eFiling: Most court systems today now use electronically filed documents. While this gives a degree of convenience to lawyers who need to submit court documents without worrying about physically taking them over to the courthouse, these systems can be complex in their requirements. For example, requiring documents to be in a specific format or under a specific size. Multimedia requirements for videos and images submitted can also vary. As a result, paralegals need to understand how to eFile documents for complaints, summons, warrants, and more.
Having these foundational tech skills will aid paralegals in learning new technologies. Although paralegals will still have to learn the ins and outs of each system, knowing the basics will help eliminate the learning curve and drive better adoption of technology for paralegals.
Final thoughts on technology for paralegals
Technology is an integral part of being a paralegal and will no doubt continue to shape how this role evolves and grows in the future. While paralegals do need to upkeep their knowledge of technology and learn new skills, this upskilling actually helps them be more integral to the firm and also promotes their own career development and growth. Embracing technology and using it to streamline and enhance, not replace, workflows and responsibilities will help paralegals be more productive and efficient.