Like it or not, technology is now a major part of most industries, including the legal career, and despite the fears, it seems to be creating more jobs than it is eliminating. Here are 7 reasons today’s paralegals need to embrace technology to keep their careers growing for years to come:
1. ESI expectations
Electronically stored information (ESI) was first introduced in the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure (FRCP) in 2006, and more amendments were made in 2015. The amount of electronically stored information generated each day is nearly incomprehensible, and since paralegals handle many of the tasks associated with discovery, they need the technical knowledge to assist with the rapid growth of electronic data that is potentially discoverable in every case.
2. Professional ethics
In 2012, the American Bar Association (ABA) amended Comment 8 of Model Rule 1.1, changing it to include relevant technical knowledge to an attorney’s duty to be competent in the law and its practice, and some states specify exactly which technical skills attorneys must have (or obtain through experts) to offer competent representation to their clients.
Many states have developed specific ethical requirements that are directed toward attorneys but also potentially apply to paralegals.
3. Increased value
Since many lawyers can be slow to adapt to change, a paralegal skilled in technology is a definite asset to a law firm. Busy attorneys rely on paralegals to conduct legal research, stay updated on court rules that are updated electronically, and utilize case management software to keep matters moving forward.
Paralegals who are willing to help with electronic data and ensure compliance with new rules are highly valuable members of the legal team, and positioning yourself with cutting-edge technical skills will only increase your value, since technology won’t be going away any time soon.
4. Legal research
Although law libraries still exist, electronic legal research is by far the most common method to research statutes and case law. Paralegals need to know how to use a wide range of legal databases to conduct research, shepardize case law, and track various forms of data. Although Westlaw and Lexis/Nexis continue to be extremely popular in many law firms and legal departments, new software products are constantly being introduced to the market, and paralegals need to stay informed about new developments to stay ahead of the curve.
5. Cost savings
Cost is one of the largest legal technology obstacles that law firms must overcome. Although these costs are lower than they were a few years ago due to flat free pricing and increased competition, processing, storing, and searching electronic data still accounts for a huge portion of the costs of working a case.
Paralegals represent the perfect solution for sifting through mountains of electronic data while also keeping costs down, since more and more of them are choosing to specialize in e-Discovery, making them extremely efficient at organizing and searching it, and their services typically bill out at a lower rate than even the most junior attorney.
6. Trial presentation
The days of rushing documents to print shops to be mounted on foam boards and presenting a 35 mm slideshow with a projector to a jury are long gone. Since 1996, when TrialDirector, the first major trial presentation software program, was introduced, technology has played a major role in litigation.
Paralegals commonly use trial presentation software to prepare and present cases at trial, so knowledge of how to use TrialDirector, TrialPad, TrialSmart, and Sanction are critical for legal professionals who want to specialize in litigation.
7. Enhanced earning potential
With the help of technology, paralegals are now exceeding prior career and salary limitations, and according to payscale.com, the average salary for a litigation support specialist exceeds $60,000 per year. Many new opportunities for paralegals specializing in litigation support, compliance, e-Discovery, legal project management, information control, and cybersecurity now exist.
Law firms and companies are looking for professionals with legal expertise to manage e-Discovery and litigation effectively at a lower cost, and who better than ambitious, tech-savvy paralegals to fill these job openings?
Do you know of other reasons why technology is important to a paralegal career? Tell us about them in the comments!