For as long as there have been law offices containing attorneys and paralegals, the two groups of professionals have assumed different tasks within the workplace.
Attorneys might go to court, write legal briefs, and interface with clients, while support staff (such as paralegals) might summarize depositions and prepare discovery responses for service. Every law firm delineates those tasks in a slightly different way.
Today, however, modern technologies add a whole new layer to that analysis. Almost as fast as they develop, legal technologies become critical to both attorneys and paralegals.
So, how does a firm reach technical integration with respect to these two categories of professionals? How can attorneys and paralegals work together to ensure the most efficient use of technologies in the workplace?
#1: Let the paralegal take the lead
It will come as no surprise to anyone reading this blog that attorneys are not always great at letting other people take charge. That said, most attorneys simply don’t have time to lead initiatives like choosing office technologies. The combination of those two realities means that something has to give.
One great compromise is for the attorneys to let their most trusted paralegals be the leaders with respect to office technologies. After all, today’s paralegals are trained to stay abreast of the latest tech trends in the office.
Let’s say the firm needs to pick a new trial presentation software. Putting a paralegal in charge of researching the options, sitting through the sales presentations, and making recommendations may be the best way to start the process. As the person often familiar with the hands-on details of various tools, the paralegal can vet various options with a high-level understanding of the needs of the multiple people who will need to use it.
#2: Attorneys must accept training
So, now the firm has given paralegals the discretion to recommend the best technology for the office. What next? Well, somebody has to become proficient in using that technology. Once again, the paralegal team is probably best suited for this task.
In many cases, it will be most cost-efficient for the firm to invest a paralegal’s time in extensive training. This is simple math. Attorneys bill out at higher rates than paralegals. Thus, if the firm has to lose one or more billers for purposes of tech training, it should probably be the person with the lower billing rate.
Once again, however, the attorneys are going to have to acquiesce to the paralegal’s paramount skill and knowledge. That is because it will be the paralegal’s job to teach the attorneys just what they need to know (no more and no less) to function within the technology without screwing anything up.
#3: Practice together
Sometimes, the technology that is being deployed will need to be used by the attorney and the paralegal in tandem. Let’s return to our example of trial presentation software. Chances are, the paralegal will be the one to learn the ins and outs of using the program, while the attorney is principally concerned that her actual trial presentation comes off without a hitch in front of the jury.
In my experience, the only way to meet this goal is for the attorney and paralegal to practice using the program together. Absent such practice, disastrous mistakes can be made at the most inconvenient times (i.e., in court). During the practice sessions, both the attorney and the paralegal will need to respect the important (yet different) role the other is playing. If they can do that, chances are no one will be the wiser that one of them (the paralegal) has superior technical skills.
#4: Quit the blame game
Notwithstanding all the practice in the world, sometimes mistakes happen. Maybe an exhibit is loaded into the presentation software upside down. Perhaps the attorney confuses the “next slide” button on the remote control with the “exit screen” button. These things happen. We’re all human.
When they do happen, however, it’s important that neither the attorney or the paralegal blame the other. Each mistake is simply an opportunity for learning. When one person blames the other, it only leads to resentment. Resentment, over time, can destroy even the best working relationship.
The truth is, new technologies can be difficult. Errors will inevitably be made. If they can be credited to the team instead of one individual, they are far less likely to destroy a positive working dynamic.
How has your firm integrated technologies as between attorneys and paralegals? Have your tactics worked? We’d love to hear about it in the comments section, below.