Every good lawyer and paralegal knows it: paralegals are the glue that hold a law firm together. They are the ones who have the skills necessary to actually get things done. This includes memorizing local rules, correctly calculating court deadlines, and – as this article discusses – learning the technology that makes the job of a lawyer seamless. In fact, technological skill is one of the most important attributes of the modern paralegal.
Below we’ve compiled the top seven technology skills that every paralegal should master to become indispensable to the firm.
#1: The phone system
I can almost hear the collective murmurs of paralegals everywhere – “who doesn’t know how to use the phone system?” I’ll tell you who. Many attorneys – especially the new ones. Every time an attorney starts at a new firm, she is handed a binder full of orientation materials that include no fewer than 20 pages on how to answer the phone, put people on hold, transfer calls, and connect others on a conference line.
Attorneys rarely read this stuff. Consequently, they fumble and bumble with the phones every day. If you can take the time to read that 20-page phone manual, do it. You’ll be worth your weight in gold to the attorneys on your team.
#2: Good, old-fashioned word processing
These days, most attorneys are fairly good at typing up their own documents. Well, they’re good at typing up the substance of the document at least. When it comes to using styles, comparing documents, or inserting a table of contents, their skills may be lacking.
This is another simple but invaluable skill a paralegal can use to make life easier. You can learn about some of the most important skills for Word documents here.
#3: Document management
In any litigation practice, document management is one of the greatest assets a paralegal brings to her team. While paralegals of the past came up with unique strategies for organizing documents into shelves-worth of binders, most paralegals today are aided by some sort of software product allowing for electronic management.
This is fortunate, given the sheer complexity and volume of documents at issue in many cases these days. The attorneys will probably never learn how to use your document management software beyond searching and viewing key materials. Your irreplaceable job is to make sure they can find those documents when they need them.
Calendaring is also one of the most important technical skills to master. After all, a missed deadline by an attorney could result in legal malpractice claims or disbarment. While calendaring has certainly gotten easier with the advent of computer programs that automatically calculate deadlines, paralegals are often relied on to have knowledge of the rules and the programs that apply them. If you demonstrate a mastery of both, your team will love you for it.
The number of courts that now accept electronically filed documents is staggering. It won’t be long before paper filing is a thing of the past. Consequently, every paralegal should know how to eFile documents with the court and should be in close contact with an eFiling service like One Legal to ensure court filings are made correctly and on time.
#6: Electronically Stored Information (“ESI”)
Much like eFiling, electronic discovery is the wave of the present and the future. Indeed, the discovery of ESI has become a part of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure (as well as many state court rules). Given the relative newness of the process, the rules are constantly in flux. This is another area where a paralegal’s knowledge of the rules and the technologies needed to implement them is critical to the success of her firm’s litigation practice.
#7: Trial presentation software
Statistically, very few civil litigation matters ever go to trial. When they do, however, they often require presentation of years’ worth of documents, depositions, expert reports, and other exhibits. That’s why many trial lawyers believe that an in-house paralegal who knows the case and knows how to plug the case into the firm’s presentation software is critical to success at trial. If you take the time to learn that program while staying on top of the entire case file, your value to the team will be undeniable.
Of course, these are just seven of an endless array of technologies that are available to paralegals today. Ultimately, the best course is to be the person at your firm who embraces technology, learns how to use it, and becomes a true leader by assisting others in the firm with use of that technology.