If you’re interested in earning a paralegal degree, you should be aware of the important and evolving role of technology in the legal field. Like many industries in the U.S. and across the world, the COVID-19 pandemic has accelerated the industry’s push toward more digitalized practices. This means that legal technology, which is a broad term to describe the use of technology and software to provide legal services, is more important than ever.
We asked David Steele, Public Safety Department Chair for Herzing’s Online Campus, what current and future paralegals can expect when it comes to using legal technology now and in the future.
Here are some ways technology is changing the way paralegals work:
In the last decade, there has been a push for law offices to transition to paperless. This has been facilitated through paperless billing, electronic communication and sometimes electronic document filing. Going paperless not only cuts down on costs but enhances the security of documents, improves productivity and saves time.
This trend toward paperless is expected to continue, and paralegals need to be aware of the major trends around it:
- The popularity of cloud-based programs. Paralegals are often responsible for software that manages client files, calendars, accounting and many other tasks that are critical to running a business. Saving this information in a cloud-based system increases accessibility across the law firm.
- Ongoing security concerns. Data and network security play a key role in protecting sensitive information, including client data, as cloud-based records become more popular. These systems must be protected against external hackers, and paralegals need to be aware of the safety of the platforms they use to store and share information.
COVID-19 has had a tremendous impact on how paralegals are being used across the nation. In some states, paralegals are considered essential workers but not in others. In short, some paralegals continue to work in offices while other paralegals are working virtually to help keep their practices in operation. This has caused an even greater need for legal technology.
“Paralegals are more important now than ever because attorneys increasingly look to them for technological solutions to the new challenges they are facing,” Steele said. “Paralegals are managing client files remotely, helping file court documents and emergency orders, and communicating with clients as cases continue.”
Some paralegals are also being asked to identify and introduce solutions that help onboard new employees and set up remote workstations.
“Paralegals need to be flexible and capable of thinking outside the box to solve unexpected challenges for the attorneys they support,” Steele said.
Paralegals are expected to keep up with advancements in traditional technological solutions to maximize the firm’s technology investments and profitability. A couple of examples:
- eDiscovery Software: Also known as electronic discovery software, these solutions allow legal professionals to efficiently handle electronic documents and retrieve information. The software is typically applied to emails, computer files and databases and enables professionals to review, process, tag and produce electronic legal documents. Some platforms can be used offline, making them even more convenient for paralegals working remotely. Some well-known eDiscovery platforms include Nextpoint, Everlaw and Logikcull, but there are many more.
- Legal Practice Management Solutions (LPMS): There are many different LPMS platforms with varying capabilities, but they’re generally used by law firms to help the business run efficiently. Some functionalities could include financial management, client management, data entry and organization, document and file automation, and more.
Advice for Students
For students preparing to become paralegals, Steele offers this advice:
- Be open-minded. “You may be interested in criminal law or family law, but right now, the opportunities are in bankruptcy, divorce, worker’s comp, and labor and employment law. Do not be discouraged. Instead, build upon your experiences, learn your craft, network, and prepare for a future opportunity in a field that interests you more.”
- Prepare for the interview process “Take advantage of services available to help prepare your resume, create a portfolio with writing samples, recommendations, and anything else that may support your candidacy. Look for local paralegal associations that you can interact with. Find out what they are talking about and leverage this information to inform your job search.”
- Remember the importance of ethics.“Ethics are very important, and they always will be. All for a good reason. If you want to impress your future employer in an interview, be sure they know you value ethical standards.”