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All that has changed on the face of the paralegal profession



In the eyes of the law, a paralegal is a highly-valued member of a legal team, having an extensive knowledge of the law and legal matters. However, he cannot be considered a qualified lawyer. Paralegals are employed in law firms and work in a specific department, while undertaking a wide variety of admin and legal work. Among the various tasks which are performed by them, some include legal research, project, or document management, conducting negotiations, drafting basic legal documents, providing administrative support, and conducting client care and progression.


The paralegal profession has its roots back in the 1960s, where their work was mostly limited to performing administrative tasks. Later, when the profession gained more exposure, these became more essential to a high-performing legal team, in order to improve the quality of their services. With a sharp comparison to the past, the paralegal job description changed when law firms realized that they could use non-lawyer professionals to cut costs and boost profits. Along with this, earlier, employers did not require formal education or relevant work experience since most paralegals were former secretaries who learned these skills on the job. Today, hiring managers prefer candidates with certificates in paralegal studies, or degrees in any specific subject, or maybe internships and prior experience. Among other reasons why lawyers started preferring paralegals was that these professionals came with specialized backgrounds. They completed their formal studies which employed them with the knowledge and skills sufficient to gain entry-level positions.


Even right now, the paralegal profession is evolving, all thanks to new technologies and other emerging trends. What started with switching from paper to e-files, has now reached to AI and ML for performing tasks which require sophisticated tech skills. If we observe the most significant trends in the legal sphere, the increase in use of technology will top our list. This has significantly had a major impact on the way paralegals work, with many using digital tools to streamline their tasks and improve their efficiency.


Amongst the major way in which technology is being used in the paralegal profession is using legal research databases. One can understand these legal databases as provision for law and legal information from another country or international information for legal researchers, law students and lawyers for their practice area. Such databases are a quick and easy way for paralegals to access legal information. Along with this, tools such as document management and case management also find use amongst paralegals, helping them to manage their workflow. Since these professionals encounter with multiple people and files throughout the day, a document management solution becomes a necessity for them. In simple words, document management allows for storing, organizing, securing, capturing, digitizing, and tagging documents. Moreover, document management systems enable easy and secure access from any location, to manage, track and share documents, not to mention reducing the load of carrying huge paper works.


Among the case management services performed by paralegals, they generally take charge of the overall procession of a case, making sure that all elements of the case are being collected and maintained and organized. It is under their task to make sure all paperwork that pertains to an active case is organized and can be accessed when required. They are also responsible for research or drafting of assignments, and examining the work and determining if they are to be passed on to the attorney for approval. Under case management, paralegals may also interact with clients during their work on a case, however, their purpose will only be limited to acting as a representative for their attorney or firm, and not to offer any legal advice. Moving on to the case management software used by paralegals, these allow in performing all the activities mentioned above via a software which can consolidate all case-related information, in one easily accessible location. These tech solutions allow for having a single electronic repository in which they can gather documents, track billable time and make notes on both clients and cases.


The use of AI and ML has become more popular in recent years. These enable automating repetitive and time-consuming tasks, such as document review and legal research, which paralegals have to typically perform. Along with other trends which have been erupting in this sector is the rise in remote working and flexible working. Hence, we can also expect that more and more paralegals will be working from their home space or any other remote location. One can include the usage of tech tools such as video conferencing and cloud-based fie sharing as a means of solution. Such advancements have also made it easier for paralegals to stay connected with their colleagues and clients, regardless of their physical location, an aspect which was the prime motive during the COVID-19 pandemic, and seeing how the COVID-19 cases are rising in some countries again, we can expect this aspect to remain in the legal sphere for a really long time.


Paralegals have specialized knowledge, and this has also proven to become a growing demand. Law attorneys hiring these candidates now require paralegals to have specialized skills and knowledge in areas of law such as Intellectual Property, immigration and more. We can also expect this trend to continue, as more and more businesses and organizations are recognizing the value of having a legal expert with hands on knowledge about the required area of law.

 

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