What exactly is a Paralegal and how important are they to a law firm?
Paralegals play a critical role in law firms today, just as they have for many years. But the paralegal career is growing and changing to include greater responsibility and new types of service provided to the law firm of their employment.
The Important Role Paralegals Play in a Major Law Firm
As trusted and relied upon members of a legal team, paralegals provide many important services for law firms big and small. Today, these services include adapting to emerging technologies and using those technologies for the management and organization of case documents and data. A paralegal’s role has become increasingly technology-based.
Obviously, anytime case documentation or information is handled, it is critical that the responsible person has integrity and the ability to ensure protection of that data. So as technology evolves, paralegals must remain abreast of these evolutions and able to utilize computer software and other electronic means for daily case management and electronic discovery. These capabilities are above and beyond standard paralegal duties fulfilled since the career field began.
Paralegal duties are often varied according to the field of law in which they work. But universally accepted services of a paralegal includes the following core duties:
- Investigation and compilation of case facts
- Conducting legal research as relevant to a case
- Maintaining organized documentation for assigned cases
- Managing evidence and legal documents to ensure attorneys can
- Generation of reports or summaries as part of trial preparation
- Drafting of important documents, such as mortgages, contracts and correspondence
- Obtaining formal statements and affidavits for evidentiary purposes
- Assisting lawyers during court appearances and trials through note-taking, transcript reviews or exhibit handling
- Filing of legal documents such as exhibits, appeals and briefs with required parties
- Scheduling of interviews, depositions and meetings with witnesses, clients, attorneys and others
The paralegal role can be specialized according to the type of law in which they are engaged. This combines with technology to further define and differentiate paralegals in the field and according to unique areas of focus. A paralegal can chart their own course according to personal career interests, education and technological skill.
Future of Paralegal Careers
The job outlook for paralegals is quite healthy for the next five to ten years, according to the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics. In 2014, the USBLS reported that the paralegal field of employment will grow by a healthy eight percent through 2022. This is on par with other occupations.
Healthy growth projection brings with it heavy competition for jobs in the field. The best outlook for occupational security and fulfillment goes to paralegals who maintain their experience, training and computer skills. Of course, staying on top of advancing technologies is critical to remaining competitive. A paralegal cannot afford to let their applicability in the field slip through neglect of training in emerging technologies and software.
Beyond just “keeping up,” it is important for new and experienced paralegals to understand that law firms are evolving in the type of staff they require on a daily basis. These firms are working to increase their own efficiency and reduce costs in operation, just as other businesses do. The line between paralegals and legal assistants is blurring more and more with each passing year. Paralegals are taking on more legal assisting duties in addition to their own standard paralegal activities. This means that while paralegals are progressing in their field, they are actually expected to take the place of some other legal support workers in the typical law office.
Paralegals also help law firms reduce billings to clients. Clients today seek lower cost legal services. So paralegals often are called upon to perform tasks once performed by beginning lawyers or junior associates. Again, this means that paralegals are gaining an opportunity to become more integral to a law firm’s success and growth. But it also means that paralegals today and tomorrow must be highly adaptable and able to fulfill more duties.
Finally, corporations seek to have their own paralegals on staff to help reduce the cost of law firm services. Paralegals internally fulfill many of the duties once billed by attorneys.
To ensure a competitive edge in their field, paralegals must ensure they remain on top of their education and training in emerging technologies.
How Paralegals Can Remain Competitive
To remain competitive in the field and gain advancement in your career, there are four areas of focus for a good paralegal:
- Start with a bachelor’s degree and American Bar Association approved paralegal education certificate, then keep educating yourself through continuing education courses and paralegal training
- Advance your technological skills continually and keep your supervisor up-to-date on your advancing skills so you can gain a stronger foothold in the law firm
- If you decide to go back to school for more education, focus on specific areas of legal practice. For competitive edge, these areas include compliance, healthcare, eDiscovery and litigation
- Advance your career continually by seeking more challenging assignments from your supervisor, instead of resting on consistent work delegated to you
Robert Half Legal surveyed Nationwide and specifically Phoenix top injury lawyers and reported that 66 percent of those lawyers want paralegals with advanced knowledge within a specific practice area. Of these lawyers, 38 percent seek litigation specialization, 19 percent are interested in business and commercial law experienced paralegals, six percent have desire for an intellectual property-specialized paralegal and six percent need healthcare focus.
For the most fulfilling career, advancement opportunities, competitive salary and ensuring you remain in demand in the workforce, the keys to the future for any paralegal lie in education, technology and specialization. Of course, the future will mean paralegals must work harder and perform more duties than ever before. But these expected changes only mean a stronger stake hold in and importance to any law firm or corporation in which the paralegal is employed.
At Cantor Crane, we understand how important paralegals are to our everyday business. This is why we work so diligently to recruit the best paralegals and provide them with the opportunity to progress in their field. Paralegals are respected key members of our legal team, just as they will be throughout the firm’s lifetime.