Legal support staff: Responsibilities and how the role is changing

How Is The Role Of Legal Support Staff Changing
Is technology changing how legal support staff do their jobs? Learn more about how to stay up-to-date at your law firm and in the industry.

In the past, the duties of those who worked in the legal industry, including legal support staff, were pretty clearly defined. The lawyers represented the clients, the paralegals (sometimes known as legal assistants) assisted the lawyers with their cases, and the legal secretaries answered the phone and did clerical work.

But thanks to the advent of technology, the role of legal support staff is in an almost constant state of flux, with job responsibilities that often overlap and have changed significantly in the last decade or two.

In this article, we’re going to take a look at the role of legal support staff at law firms; the expectations that are placed on them, and how the position is changing.

Past expectations of legal support staff

Historically, the job titles “legal assistant” and “paralegal” were used interchangeably to refer to non-lawyer legal staff members who completed education and training that enabled them to perform substantive legal duties (under the supervision of a licensed attorney) that were billable to the client. These responsibilities commonly included:

  • Researching the law by searching through volumes of books in a law library
  • Logging countless hours at the copy machine, duplicating documents in response to discovery requests
  • Managing cases by maintaining paper files filled with documents for each

A legal secretary was traditionally described as a legal support staff member who was mainly responsible for clerical and administration duties, including word processing, dictation, distributing the mail, and answering the telephone.

The work performed by legal secretaries was not considered substantive and, consequently, was not billable to the client.

How tech is impacting legal support staff

Although the terms legal assistant and paralegal are still often used interchangeably, the job descriptions for these professionals have changed dramatically.

These days, when a legal assistant performs legal research, he or she does so online, utilizing paid services such as Westlaw and Lexis as well as various Internet resources.

Today’s paralegals routinely manage the discovery process, no longer stuffing sheets of paper and spreadsheets into banker boxes, but instead using computer technology, digital scanners, and document management software to store information in electronic format.

Legal assistants now work in tandem with information technology personnel to assist in managing the discovery process, and must be familiar with not only document management software, but also state and federal electronic discovery (e-discovery) rules, and are often asked to work in conjunction with litigation support vendors as well.

What are the key areas where tech is used by legal support staff?

As we’ve noted, technology has been significantly impacting the role of legal support staff in various ways.

Here are some of the trends and changes that are currently changing the position:

  1. Document management and automation: Legal support staff often deal with a large number of documents, from contracts to court filings. Technology has introduced document management systems that streamline these documents’ storage, organization, and retrieval. Automation tools can also generate standard legal documents, reducing the time and effort required for repetitive tasks.
  2. Legal research: Online databases and research platforms have revolutionized legal research. Legal support staff can access vast repositories of case law, statutes, regulations, and other legal resources online, making research more efficient and comprehensive.
  3. eDiscovery: In cases involving electronic evidence, legal support staff use technology to manage and review electronic documents. E-discovery software can quickly sift through large volumes of data to identify relevant information, which is especially useful in litigation.
  4. Communication and collaboration: Communication tools such as email, video conferencing, and collaboration platforms have made it easier for legal support staff to interact with clients, colleagues, and other stakeholders, regardless of geographical location.
  5. Case management software: These software tools help legal support staff manage cases, track deadlines, and maintain schedules. They provide a centralized location for all case-related information, enhancing organization and coordination.
  6. Billing and accounting: Technology helps streamline the billing and accounting processes for law firms. Legal support staff use software to track billable hours, create invoices, and manage financial transactions.
  7. Cybersecurity and data protection: With the increased digitization of legal processes, protecting sensitive client information and maintaining data security has become a priority. Legal support staff need to be aware of cybersecurity best practices and tools to prevent data breaches.
  8. Virtual assistants and chatbots: Virtual assistants and chatbots can handle basic queries from clients, schedule appointments, and provide preliminary information, freeing up legal support staff to focus on more complex tasks.
  9. Remote work and flexibility: Technology has enabled legal support staff to work remotely, providing greater flexibility in managing their work-life balance. This was particularly evident during the COVID-19 pandemic when remote work became a necessity.
  10. Training and professional development: Technology has impacted the way legal support staff receive training and professional development. Online courses, webinars, and digital resources offer convenient ways to enhance skills and stay updated on legal trends.

Legal support staff must adapt to new tools and workflows, ensure data security and privacy compliance, and maintain a balance between automation and the human touch that the legal profession often requires.

The role of technology in a modern law firm

Technology has transformed the traditional paralegal role into that of the ultimate multi-tasker: a staff member who not only needs to have substantive legal knowledge and top-notch organizational and customer service skills but who can also function as a legal technology specialist.

Computers, smartphones, tablets, and voice recognition software have replaced the typewriters and dictation equipment of old.

More attorneys are drafting their own correspondence and using email rather than having their secretaries transcribe and type letters to be sent through regular mail.

Clients are starting to prefer digital documents to a mound of paperwork, and courts themselves are making eFiling and eServing a priority. All of this has been leading and will continue to lead to a decrease in strictly clerical duties, creating a major change in the role of the legal secretary.

In the interest of cutting costs and downsizing, some law firms are trending towards eliminating legal secretary positions. Those that remain are now supporting multiple attorneys instead of just one or two, as they once did.

Some firms have given them a new title, legal assistant, so that they can bill for certain tasks that they perform. Others are creating secretarial teams staffed with legal secretaries who do a variety of work and are not assigned to one particular set of attorneys.

Staying current and moving forward

It’s not just legal organizations that are experiencing changes in technology. Within the grander judiciary structure, technology is finally playing a larger role, too. As more and more courts add eFiling and other digital services to the optional and eventually mandatory practices, legal technology will become an integral part of the industry.

So, what’s next for legal support staff, and how can they keep their jobs and remain relevant in today’s legal environment?

To keep up with both internal and external changes, legal professionals must fully embrace technology, be willing to adapt to change, and show a desire to continue their education and professional development through valuable training opportunities.

If we know one thing for sure, it’s that the role of legal support staff will continue to change as technology evolves, and there will likely be more and more innovations to challenge and transform the way the profession works.


In conclusion, the evolution of technology has profoundly reshaped the landscape of legal support staff roles, marking a departure from their traditionally defined responsibilities.

The historical demarcation between legal assistants, paralegals, and legal secretaries has blurred as technology catalyzed a paradigm shift.

The surge of digital tools has enabled support staff to perform tasks with unprecedented efficiency and accuracy.

From electronic document management to advanced legal research and eDiscovery, these professionals have harnessed technology to streamline processes and bolster collaboration.

As legal practices continue to integrate tech solutions, adapting, upskilling, and embracing change will be paramount for legal support staff to thrive in this dynamic, technology-infused legal ecosystem.

A free, detailed guide on all the basics of eFiling

Learn all the basics about eFiling with this eBook guide. If you have a workflow that needs improving, are new to eFiling, or just want a handy companion guide to share with your colleagues, then this is for you. Download this free eBook now.

    Add a header to begin generating the table of contents

    More to explore

    What is One Legal?

    We’re California’s leading litigation services platform, offering eFiling, process serving, and courtesy copy delivery in all 58 California counties. Our simple, dependable platform is trusted by over 20,000 law firms to file and serve over a million cases each year.

    One Legal Dashboard

    Legal Up Virtual Conference

    Register now to get actionable strategies and inspiration to level up your legal career.