Be a Better Paralegal Challenge-Day 4-Keeping up with New Technology

Staying ahead of the changes in the law has always been a challenge that paralegals have embraced. In fact, it’s part of our job and helps us better assist our attorneys in providing the best legal representation possible for clients. However, technology has changed how we do our jobs. The traditional roles of attorney, paralegal, legal secretary, and receptionist have changed as the role of technology has evolved in the law firm. 

Paralegals  Technology

To remain a valuable member of the law firm, paralegals and legal support staff must be willing to adapt and be flexible as our roles, responsibilities, and duties change through the use of new technology. Being technologically savvy is now one of the most important qualities you can have as a paralegal in the job market. It makes you extremely marketable to law firms that are using technology to its fullest potential as well as to those that are just beginning to learn the value of technology and how to incorporate it into every day operations. 

It’s important that you master technology as well as learn how to stay ahead of the curve. By doing so, you help yourself by working more efficiently but also by providing clients with exceptional legal services. Technology is an investment for the law firm and paralegals are part of that investment. 

How does technology impact the way we do our job? Lexis Nexis reported on the trends that are currently affecting paralegals in a Business of Lawblog post last year. Of the nine trends listed in the blog, six of those trends directly related to the use of technology. Examples of include eDiscovery, electronic filing, communication with clients, marketing (law firm websites), document management, trials (i.e. graphics, audio, video, etc.), billing, and law office management. The paralegals who are threatened by technology are often those who are most reticent to use it. Given how valuable these tools can be, it behooves you to master new skills that benefit you, your attorneys, and their clients. Challenge yourself to stay ahead of changes in technology and remain relevant, valuable, and marketable!
Technology is a part of our everyday lives. It continues to change and evolve. If you don’t keep up with it, you’ll:
  • Fall behind others who are making an effort
  • Become irrelevant because you’re unaware of what’s around the corner
  • Miss opportunities to grow your career
  • Be less organized and efficient because you’re failing to use technology to streamline your work
  • Potentially become obsolete as law firms look for paralegals to assist the law firm in using the latest technology to grow business.
How can you stay ahead of the curve with technology? Avoid becoming obsolete and embrace technology - go slow if it’s overwhelming at first and find ways to stay ahead of new advancements. I’ve included several tips that you can use to learn about technology, stay on top of the changes, and find tools that are useful to you in your job (and maybe even personally). 

Analyze the situation and set goals – If you don’t identify yourself as “tech savvy,” analyze your current situations and set goals to become more valuable to your law firm. Decide what technology you need to learn and use and devise a plan to learn about it. It could be that you need to learn how to use software that’s specific to your area of law (i.e. bankruptcy software, real estate closing software, eDiscovery, online legal research tools, etc.) or use specific technology tools such as iPads, smartphones, and portable scanners. 

Set automatic updates through social media or websites for articles related to technology – The internet is an incredibly valuable tool for learning about what’s new in legal tech. Sign up to receive updates through newsletters, blogs, and articles and subscribe to tech magazines. Some websites that have excellent articles about legal technology include: ABA Legal Technology Resource Center Law Technology Today Above the Law Forbes Live Science IT Business Edge 

Embrace new technology – Don’t be afraid of change. When new technology develops, jump in with both feet, be the first to learn how to use it, and think about ways it can help you. 

Invest in the future – Consider taking classes or courses to learn about technology and how to use it. This is an investment in your professional development and career. 

Choose the technology that’s best for you – Not every technology benefits the law firm. Learn about new tools that save you time and help you collaborate, whether it’s preparing for a deposition or for use in the courtroom during trial. 

Be internet-savvy – As I mentioned before, this is often your most valuable tool! You can find anything on the net if you know how to look. There’s much more to it than Google, Yahoo, Facebook, and YouTube so go explore. 

Join a paralegal association – Networking isn’t only relevant for the job search. Encourage your local paralegal association to hold seminars dedicated to technology in the law firm. Suggest dedicating two meetings each year to updating members on technology. You can also elect an officer who’s dedicated to taking 10 minutes of every meeting to introduce a new piece of technology. Don’t forget about national and state associations, too. 

Local Bar Associations - Most state bar associations offer Law Office Management Assistance through their websites. You’ll find a great deal of information about using technology in the law firm and it would be a great place to start for paralegals who aren’t tech savvy. 

Attend conferences and seminars– Local, state, and national organizations offer great seminars, conferences, and courses that deal specifically with technology. The two that you may want to check out are Legal Tech and International Legal Technology Association. If you can’t attend, follow the daily digests from the conference and read blog posts from those in attendance. Technology will continue to grow, evolve, and develop. Paralegals who refuse to change will be left behind. Don’t make the mistake of overlooking the importance of technology in the law firm.

Take some steps now (even small ones!) to make sure you’re ahead of the rest when it comes to using technology at work.

Paralegals-Tips on How to Move Up in your Legal Department or Law Firm

It's difficult for paralegals to move up within a firm.  Often, there is no where to go, unless you want to go to law school and be a lawyer.  But if you work a t a firm with tier levels for paralegals, or where paralegals become management, it can happen for you. In this context, and to make sure that our career progresses smoothly, we have to make sure that everyone in our practice wants to work with us and that we are building results-oriented relationships with the rest of the team.

Perhaps the best way to achieve that goal is to see ourselves as internal consultants with the lawyers who we are working for being our customers.
—— As paralegals, what can we do to move up within the organization? ——
  1. Lawyers call us usually because they have a problem. There is a good chance that they have tried something else before calling us, and we all know that it is common to be called in late when the problem is getting really dicy and urgent!
  2. Lawyers often have a specific solution in mind, they may be right … or not.
  3. Notice the parts of the problem that seem particularly important to the lawyer and repeat back, in your own words, what your understanding of the issue at hand is. Listen to the feedback and incorporate comments and clarifications to make sure your understanding of the problem is complete and accurate.
  4. Express your interest in helping to solve the problem. You can say that you are ready to help, that the problem seems interesting, and that this sounds like a real opportunity for you to contribute.
  5. If you are working with a new partner (remember the goal is to go up and thus to create new working relationships) explain what resources you can draw upon: knowledge from past projects, from working with other partners, seminars, and so on. Describe similar projects that you have worked on and let the lawyer know that he/she is in good hands!
  6. Schedule the next calls and meetings, and agree on deadlines. Try to set up checkpoints in the future, when the project can be reviewed and milestones can be verified.
  7. Arrange meetings with the other members of your practice who will be involved in the project, so that they can give you their perspective on the issues at hand early on.
    Tell those who you involve as much as you can about what you are doing, in order to create an open environment where information is easily shared, especially if you are new to the team.
    Later, make sure that everyone that you involve in the project hears back from you frequently..
    It is never a good idea to ask people to contribute and then leave them hanging with no sense of what happen to their contribution.
  8. Creating an open environment holds benefits for all involved: it creates the ability to generate feedback and ideas from discussing the legal topics, project tasks, and work approaches. But most importantly, if you are on the wrong track in your analysis, others will be able to point it out to you quickly. Conversely, you will be able to say to others if they are off on the wrong track before too much time and effort have been lost.
  9. Gather all documents, sources, and information in a systematic way. While doing so; ferret out bias, as one common mistake is to gather information in a way that only confirms your first assumptions.
    Of course, make sure all materials are accurate and current, check, check and recheck.
    Be sure to organize your materials and analyses in a way that allows you to access the information quickly when you need to or when somebody else asks you to.
  10. Get lost in the data and the information. A natural part of the analysis process is to be confused for a while when the research initially does not make sense.
    To exaggerate slightly, if you are not confused by a new project with a new lawyer, then it may well be that you are missing something. Or, maybe you really are on top of the topic. Still, you should always consider alternatives to the first rationale that comes to mind, in order to be ready for challenges and, even more importantly, in order to verify your conclusions from different angles.
  11. In any case, sort and analyze the data in a way that can be easily verified and understood by your lawyer.
    If you want him/her to accept your recommendations, make sure he/she understands the analysis and sources that lay behind each of your conclusions.
    Try to develop alternatives solutions and answers, so you can show that you are thinking a step ahead of possible challenges in order to be ready in case that complications arise.
—— Building closer and better working relationships between paralegals and lawyers ——
It is common for a customer and a consultant to build close working relationships. As they do this, their additional knowledge and trust in each other can be the first step towards more work together. An employee who is in demand is prone to be promoted. Therefore, building this demand little by little in every project is key to advancing in your organization.
Put differently, by constructing new projects with new partners in your practice or legal department, as if you were their consultant, you can greatly enhance your chances for the next step up in your career!

Paralegal Associations and The Secrets of Networking Success

According to the best selling author Susan RoAne, “networking is a long-term process by which we share ideas, leads, information, contacts, advice, and support that's mutually beneficial.”
Paralegals Associations and Networking
—— Networking through professional paralegal associations ——
Human beings are gregarious and tend to associate with others who are like them.
In addition to opportunities for participating in social and benevolent organizations, every profession has groups that its members can join and that provide additional options for congregating with peers.
Paralegals are no exception to this trait, with virtually every state and large city hosting at least one paralegal association!
—— Opportunities for every job search and career move ——
For paralegals looking for a job now, local paralegal associations provide a starting point to build relationships with other members of the profession.
The more contacts you have, the more people know you, the more opportunities you will have, not only in terms of finding your next position, but also in terms of having a sounding board and receiving input for your thinking and approach regarding your efforts.
For example, panel discussions organized by paralegal associations are a great way to network successfully.
First, it can give you ideas about what could be your next career move by learning about a new trend in law or the paralegal profession.
Second, it gives you a chance to meet with lawyers or paralegal managers face-to-face.
If you like a presentation, you can walk up to the presenters at the end of the presentation, talk with them, and follow up later. When someone comes to an event to talk, it is usually because they want to give back and you can be the person they give back to!
Besides, recruiters often attend these events, so it can be a good time to talk to them, too.
—— Networking and continuing education for paralegals——
That role, particularly as it relates to the transmission of professional standards, goals, and values, has gained in significance as a result of changes in professional training and in society during the last decades.

Although paralegal education formerly was accomplished through apprenticeships where training in substantive law, practice skills, and professional values were integrated, today it is usually segmented into paralegal school and on-the-job training.
Paralegal schools teach legal writing, convey general technical knowledge and
information about the profession, and provide some notice of professional
values and ethics. But paralegal schools only begin the creation of a professional.
Economic changes have resulted in an increase in the variety of tasks that paralegals perform and a growing competition between paralegals and young associates for interesting assignments. The crisis of these past years has also reinforced the trend toward specialization.
These factors make it more difficult for new paralegals to obtain on the job training from more experienced paralegals within their law firm or legal department. And if training is given, it is more than likely it will be practical and directed toward the completion of tasks that will increase partners' income!
The result is that, although social science studies have shown that
success in a professional "role" requires knowledge of the profession's goals and values, it is unlikely that these subjects are afforded much discussion in modern law offices.1
—— Paralegals associations could be the answer——
That's why networking through local or national paralegal associations has become more important than ever.
By networking with your peers, you are learning from more experienced paralegals appropriate role behaviors, developing your work skills and abilities, and adjusting to your professional group's norms and values.
These associations are now the place where education and on-the-job training can be integrated in a practical way.
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