As technology continues to affect the practice of law, those who work in the legal profession are finding the need to become increasingly tech-savvy. This is especially true for those in support roles whose jobs have become increasingly multifaceted and complex in recent years.
Law firms and corporate legal departments that are looking for more cost-effective ways to deliver legal services seek paralegals and legal assistants who possess not only legal knowledge and administrative ability but also technological proficiency.
These broader expectations have led to a new type of legal professional: 74 percent of lawyers surveyed by Robert Half Legal said they’ve seen an increase in the number of hybrid or “blended” paralegal/legal assistant positions in the last two years.
Whether they’re working in a law firm or corporate legal department, legal professionals are encountering more sophisticated technology tools. Robert Half Legal’s Future Law Office report, Technology Reshapes the Legal Support Profession, examines this trend and offers a glimpse into the skills needed for success in today’s market. Here are some highlights from the research:
The shift to cloud computing presents new challenges. Cloud computing enables users to access applications or data stored on servers at a remote location through an Internet browser or mobile application. Managing documents in “the cloud,” however, requires a higher level of organizational skills. Cloud computing also raises concerns about maintaining information security and confidentiality — a responsibility that’s often shouldered by legal support staff. They need to ensure adequate safeguards are in place to protect client or company data.
Legal support professionals often assume “tech support” roles. Especially in small law firms or legal departments, paralegals and others in legal assistant roles sometimes take on technology support roles. They may be asked to help their offices maintain and secure mobile devices, for instance, or to draft office policies pertaining to the usage of mobile technology and social media. For legal professionals taking on these de facto roles as technology managers, it’s important to not only keep technology skills up to date but to stay informed about ways to help their firms become more digitally secure and aware.
Proficiency with popular software applications is critical. Legal support professionals are increasingly expected to have broad familiarity with various software packages in order to help their firms identify the most appropriate tools for their legal needs. Among the most in-demand skills are advanced proficiency with Microsoft Office and legal research platforms, such as Casemaker and Westlaw; knowledge of practice and litigation management software; and familiarity with legal and productivity applications for smartphones and tablets.
E-discovery and litigation support are growth areas. The most marketable professionals will stay current with developments in e-discovery and litigation support, in particular — two areas that are in strong demand and command higher hourly rates. Knowledge of case management software, litigation and e-discovery programs, such as Concordance, Summation and Trial Director, also is highly valued.
Many e-discovery vendors and associations, such as the Association of Certified E-Discovery Specialists, offer webinars and other online learning opportunities to help paralegals and litigation support professionals advance their e-discovery knowledge.
It’s impossible to accurately predict which future technological innovations will have the greatest effect on the careers of legal support professionals. However, one thing is certain: the most successful professionals will be open to change and proactive about keeping their skills and expertise fresh.
Charles A. Volkert is executive director of Robert Half Legal, a leading staffing service specializing in the placement of attorneys, paralegals, legal administrators and other legal professionals with law firms and corporate legal departments. Based in Menlo Park, Calif., Robert Half Legal has offices in major cities throughout the United States and Canada.