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One might look at the rapid evolution of legal technology and think that the days of the traditional paralegal are numbered. However, as most law firms would likely tell you, this simply is not true. Though some of the tasks that they’ve handled in the past have become automated, paralegals remain a vital part of the profession.
As technology has evolved, so has the role of the paralegal. In fact, they are needed now as much as ever, even with the arrival of artificial intelligence and increasing automation. Those forces are making many practically every legal professional’s working life easier, while providing an opportunity to work on more important tasks.
Law firms of all sizes rely on a balance of technology and paralegal support. One of the main reasons why is that paralegals are often the people who get to know the ins and outs of new technology resources, such as the latest e-discovery software. In many firms, attorneys simply don’t have time to learn a new software program. For those instances, having the right people in place who understand how to utilize these innovative tools is essential.
In fact, according to a 2018 survey of paralegals conducted by Ari Kaplan Advisors and Level 2 Legal Solutions, 63 percent stated that they were tasked with e-discovery responsibilities as part of their job. When asked why e-discovery is such an important aspect of their role, respondents cited attorneys’ lack of familiarity with the process.
Not only are paralegals crucial when it comes to the day-to-day use of e-discovery, they also are playing key roles in making decisions about the implementation of technology. According to Kaplan, paralegals have significant influence over their firm’s software selections, noting that they are both familiar with the product and understand the nuances between different types of tools and methods.
While it’s true that some of the traditional responsibilities of paralegals are being automated, there is a silver lining. AI and other new technologies are providing paralegals with an opportunity to focus on higher-value tasks. For instance, many paralegals are taking on supervisory roles in large discovery efforts. In the Kaplan study, 94 percent of paralegals said their law firms rely on outside providers as well as internal resources.
Capable paralegals can act as the intermediary between their firms and third-party providers. Nearly half of paralegals said they served that role at their law firms. Almost a quarter of respondents, meanwhile, said they had even assumed primary responsibility for selecting outside e-discovery providers. That is a role paralegals can play within other technology procurement decisions, which are increasingly important to law firm operations.
As the above suggests, one of the most important things a paralegal can do to make sure they stay relevant at a firm is to keep current with all the changes in technology. Taking steps like enrolling in a continuing education course or a training program will help them to keep up with the rapidly evolving legal tech landscape and continue to be an effective member of their firm.
Ultimately, technology represents a seismic shift in the way law firms operate. AI and other types of automation have taken away some of the responsibilities that took up the bulk of a paralegal’s time just a few years ago. However, given what it takes to make these new technological advances effective, paralegals continue to play an integral role that isn’t going away soon.
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