Top Ways Paralegals’ Jobs have Changed – Q1 2023 Facts & Findings
It is abundantly clear that the last few years have dramatically changed the legal profession. From the way depositions are conducted to remote trials, many of the day-to-day tasks of a paralegal have evolved. To find out just how much things have changed and to learn firsthand what paralegals are dealing with daily, we surveyed paralegals across the country. We received great insights into the state of the industry and the paralegal profession as a whole. Here are the top five trends that paralegals see changing in their profession.
1. LEARNING (AND TEACHING) NEW TECHNOLOGY
According to one survey taker, “In the beginning of the COVID-19 health crisis, I was forced to learn new technology, specifically software used for logging into my work computer from home, as well as platforms such as Zoom to meet with clients.” This statement does a great job of summing up what we heard from so many in the profession. Suddenly everyone’s job changed, and they had to quickly scramble to figure out new ways to complete the same old tasks. Many paralegals were also tasked with training. Said one, “I also had to help train the attorney I support on some of the technology that was new to both of us.” Technology has always been a component of a paralegal’s job, but it has now become more critical than ever. Paralegals are expected to help with things like loading electronic exhibits, setting up Zoom sessions, and even connecting their attorney to the reporter’s real-time transcript feed. The change was difficult and came at a time of great pressure and stress; however, some respondents feel this is for the better. In the words of one paralegal, “These were challenges in the beginning, but ultimately have made certain aspects of work easier.”
2. REMOTE PROCEEDINGS ARE HERE TO STAY
The ability to conduct remote proceedings has been around for over a decade; however, this was a rarely used service. It was not until the pandemic forced the legal industry to embrace the technology needed to keep the legal system moving forward that remote proceedings took off. What originally served as a Band-Aid quickly became the norm as everyone realized that remote depositions offer an effective option to ensure that a case strategy is not stalled by factors such as the availability of parties involved in a proceeding.
With that increase in use, most in the profession saw the benefits that remote proceedings have brought them, and as a result, remote proceedings and partially remote proceedings, sometimes referred to as hybrid proceedings, are here to stay. Whether the goal is to save money – with the travel costs for depositions greatly reduced or eliminated – greater access to remote witnesses, simplified scheduling, or just to avoid rush-hour traffic, remote and hybrid proceedings just make sense. “Even as we return to in-person work, many of the new practices we were required to learn have remained the norm,” said one respondent. Now that we have experienced the benefits of the technology, there is no going back. “All services going remote has facilitated greater time on my hands to handle other interests,” commented another paralegal. Given the benefits to all involved, remote proceedings will remain a part of the landscape going forward.
3. EXTRA WORK AND INCREASED PREPAREDNESS
An unfortunate impact of the pandemic was the reduction of staffing in many firms. As law firms tightened their belts, paralegals had to pick up more work. That paralegals support more people now was a comment we heard over and over from survey takers. This extra work was also combined with the need to be even more prepared than usual. A paralegal would normally look a few steps ahead, but as we heard, “One must be at least five steps ahead in order to accommodate changes in the legal community, e.g., schedule of mail/delivery, lag time in getting hold of court clerks, realizing services that used to be at one’s fingertips and taken for granted are no longer the norm.”
In addition, 47% of the respondents said they are experiencing a higher volume of depositions or legal proceedings compared to just a year ago. Proceedings that were delayed by the pandemic are now active; there is more litigation post-COVID than before; and the adoption of technology has enabled teams to handle more cases/proceedings. The bottom line is more work and the need to be more prepared have added a new layer of pressure to the already stress-laden role of a paralegal. However, the next change may help with that.
4. WORKING FROM HOME
The beginning of the pandemic saw nearly all roles shifting to working remotely from home. For many of us, it meant improving our home internet. “Working from home, one must have not ‘just’ Wi-Fi; one must have good Wi-Fi or better than good in order to be efficient,” recounted one paralegal. That said, once the home tech was all in order, remote work changed the way many people related to their roles. Suddenly a work-life balance was possible and realizable. Cutting out potentially long hours of commuting meant paralegals could be home with their families; however, for some, remote access meant always being on the clock. With access to case files while out of the office, some paralegals were expected to be available 24/7. While we have seen many law firms return to in-person work, the remote tools remain in place – often to accommodate hybrid work schedules. Based on what we have heard from our respondents, despite the challenges in the beginning and added pressures to be available all the time for some, we are seeing that remote work has brought about a level of work-life balance that in the past would have been hard to come by in the legal world. This is a big change for this profession and hopefully one that can remain in place.
5. MORE ACTIVELY INVOLVED IN PROCEEDINGS
“I have taken on more responsibilities as a paralegal. For example, I am now more actively involved in depositions.” Whether it is because an attorney is not technically savvy or there is just too much for one person to handle at a remote proceeding, paralegals are more involved than ever before. Nearly a quarter of survey respondents reported, “I participate in or attend depositions or other legal proceedings.” This means paralegals are sitting in on remote proceedings and introducing the electronic exhibits for the attorney, while others are back at the office logged in on remote trials to help if/when needed and even others are responsible for helping witnesses learn Zoom. All of this means that we are seeing many more paralegals participate directly in proceedings than we have in the past. This added layer of support has ensured virtual proceedings run as smoothly as their in-person counterparts. The legal profession has changed forever, and the role of the paralegal has evolved at a rapid pace. Some of the changes have brought more stress to the role, while others have brought efficiency and work-life balance. One thing that is clear is that paralegals are critical in ensuring the legal process moves forward, no matter the technical, geographical, or even health challenges they face.
Michael T. Murray is the director of client solutions for Veritext Legal Solutions. Murray stays on top of litigation technology trends and travels throughout the nation speaking and providing informative and entertaining CLEs, educational instruction, and product demonstrations to legal professionals.