Over the course of my 4 years as an attorney at a large consumer firm, one thing became quite clear: paralegals ruled! They were not only the backbone of the firm, but were also the heart, brains, and life of the entire operation. Without those skilled legal assistants, I’m not even sure that the lawyers would have known where to find their files, let alone enter their billing. These tasks, while not what the paralegals were trained for, were simply too time consuming for the lawyers and naturally fell onto the paralegals.
However, over the past 3 years, this paradigm has changed. Technology has made communicating with clients and completing the every day tasks of managing a legal case significantly easier. Using cloud-based law practice management systems, lawyers can now easily communicate with clients, view discovery, and enter their billing directly from an iPad while sitting in court waiting for their client’s case to be called. With a good practice management system, snail mail letters are no longer required and documents are available at the touch of a finger. Lawyers are now able to do their own ‘dirty’ work.
What does this mean for paralegals? It means more time. It means paralegals can also become more efficient. Most importantly though, legal assistants can now focus on performing the tasks that they were trained to do, thus providing even more value to the lawyers that they work with.
The problem is that some lawyers are using the technology boom as a way to cut back on costs. They are seeing that technology advances have made it easy and efficient for them to do some of these tasks themselves and are opting to cut back on paralegal hours, or are even eliminating the position altogether.
At MyCase, I have spoken to numerous lawyer clients of ours who have taken this approach. This is NOT the right approach to take. The new technology available is an opportunity to enhance the work done by your paralegals, not reduce it.
Paralegals are trained professionals who have amazing skills that, in a lot of cases, are being wasted. They are amazing at researching, writing, and organizing. If used properly, a paralegals are an asset and will actually help you represent your clients more effectively, not simply keep your office and caseload running smoothly. Paralegals can even become someone who can help get you more clients!
So, if you’re a lawyer in a solo or small firm and have paralegals in your office, think about what the majority of their daily tasks are. If all you have your legal assistant doing is calendaring, writing letters, and entering billing, then it’s time to rethink your technology and the role of paralegals in your firm.
Upgrade your firm’s software and start doing some of the ‘dirty’ work yourself. The tools available are amazingly easy and efficient and you certainly won’t mind using them. Free up your paralegals in order to take advantage or their amazing talents. Let your legal assistant become an irreplaceable asset not just for you, but for your clients. Let them do what they were trained to do!