The California legal industry is flourishing, which means demand for paralegals is high. But to guarantee your job prospects in the Golden State, you must be able to demonstrate some key technology skills.
This is all the more true because attorneys are becoming increasingly unfamiliar with legal technology. They rely on legal support staff to do things like choose eFiling tools, organize digital documents, and other tech-based tasks.
In other words, lawyers need all the help they can get in a digital legal world.
What technologies should paralegals seek to master in 2023 and beyond? Here we outline 7 of the most important tech areas for the modern California paralegal.
#1. Document management
Document management is a key area of responsibility for paralegals.
Documents are generally digitized in the modern legal world — either scanned paper documents or documents that were created digitally. You must know how to create, file, and access these digital documents accurately and efficiently.
Fortunately, document management software is making this role easier, but this also means you must become proficient with this software.
The most commonly used tools are general-purpose document management systems such as Google Drive and Dropbox.
Many organizations will utilize software specifically designed for legal documents, though, so it’s wise to do some research and learn your way around those legal tech tools.
#2. Video conferencing platforms
Another key paralegal role is scheduling and coordinating video conferences. You’ll probably also have to attend a fair amount of virtual meetings, too.
Video conferencing became prevalent during the Covid pandemic, but the trend has continued even as the pandemic has receded. Accordingly, a top-notch California paralegal must be comfortable with most popular video conferencing platforms such as Zoom and Google Meet.
At the very least, you should know how to set up calls, how to invite the right participants, and how to choose appropriate security settings to keep those video chats secure.
On top of that, you should learn how to handle any technical issues that may arise.
Get familiar with the host tools and be prepared to walk participants through common challenges. If an attorney needs help sharing a screen or providing a visual presentation, or a participant is having difficulty joining the call, you can make yourself invaluable by being the go-to troubleshooter.
#3. Electronic filing
California courts are increasingly moving toward filing documents electronically. Electronic filing, or eFiling, is beginning to supplant the traditional process of filing paper documents, with federal courts having completely made the shift to eFiling only.
Since court filings are a critical paralegal task, legal professionals in this role need to understand the different filing systems for different jurisdictions within California.
Many firms are making use of eFiling software to streamline their court filings.
Platforms such as One Legal can handle court filings and service of process across the state using electronic documents. In fact, this type of software can make eFiling much simpler than traditional court filings, with features such as quick order placement, status updates, and conformed copies returned online.
Aside from popular eFiling platforms, you should also know how to navigate court websites to find local rules. Each California court has their own set of filing requirements to navigate.
#4. Electronic discovery
Electronic discovery (eDiscovery) is one of the new frontiers in modern litigation, which means California paralegals would do well to familiarize themselves with this area.
While the discovery of digital documents is a natural step in a digitized world, it creates a host of difficult issues.
Materials subject to eDiscovery could include smartphones and internet-of-things (IoT) devices, in addition to more commonly known digital channels such as email. The paralegal who can master this subject will become invaluable to many litigation firms.
There’s quite a spread of software and platforms designed for eDiscovery.
You can be sure that attorneys will need substantial assistance dealing with this software.
Develop your proficiency with those eDiscovery tools to bolster your resume and advance your career. If your firm doesn’t currently use one of these programs, consider doing the research and recommending one to try. You’ll gain extra experience as a paralegal who drives tech adoption.
#5. Scheduling with software
Scheduling software can be a Godsend for a busy legal practice.
Deadlines and calendar events, such as court appearances, are obviously a top priority in the legal field. Shared calendar apps and other scheduling tools can help you handle the calendars of multiple attorneys and legal professionals within the firm.
However, the firm also needs personnel who are comfortable with using this software.
Since calendaring and coordination are often key roles for paralegals, an ambitious paralegal should also prepare themself to be their firm’s resident expert on its chosen scheduling platform.
#6. Digital billing
More law firms are also embracing billing software.
Handling legal billing and invoicing with manual processes is overly time-consuming with a high potential for errors. With billing software in place, a firm can automate both billing and collections.
Paralegals often share the distinction with attorneys of being legal professionals who can bill for their time. Learn to use billing software effectively so that you can help streamline the workflow of your firm.
#7. Case management software
Paralegals, attorneys, and other legal professionals can all use case management software to keep track of information related to any one matter.
These tools allow legal staff to collaborate in real time and track any case updates — even from remote locations.
In addition, case management software often incorporates the elements of the software types listed above, such as document management and scheduling.
Familiarity with this technology is just one more weapon in the arsenal of the competitive paralegal. Each CMS is a little bit different, but the basic idea is the same. You will be more competitive if you’re a power user in a specific tool, though experience in multiple platforms is also a plus.
Gaining tech skills as a paralegal
Generally, the best way to build your tech skills is on the job. Seek every opportunity to grow your knowledge of the tools you already use, including the ones that aren’t on this list.
Often, the software brands you already use will offer free training to show you the full scope of what that tool can accomplish. Use those resources.
What if your law firm is the low-tech kind, though?
Working at a firm that still uses paper files and expects you to do everything manually can be a challenge. You need technology skills to keep your career moving, and you’re not going to get them at work, even if you try to introduce new tools on your own.
In these situations, consider seeking independent training and certifications from online or in-person courses.
Mastery of these technologies will boost the career of any aspiring California paralegal. Be sure that you do not miss out on these opportunities to have modern tech work to your advantage in the legal industry.