Today’s legal assistants and paralegals need to be proficient in a variety of computer and technology skills. As the role of the legal professional changes and grows, a need for technology knowledge is high on the list of requirements for legal industry job positions. The more technology skills you possess, the more valuable you become as a legal assistant or paralegal.
The Bureau of Labor and Statistics lists the following as duties that are performed by legal assistants and paralegals:
- Investigate and gather the facts of a case
- Conduct research on relevant laws, regulations, and legal articles
- Organize and maintain documents in paper or electronic filing systems
- Gather and arrange evidence and other legal documents for attorney review and case preparation
- Write or summarize reports to help lawyers prepare for trials
- Draft correspondence and legal documents, such as contracts and mortgages
- Get affidavits and other formal statements that may be used as evidence in court
- Help lawyers during trials by handling exhibits, taking notes, or reviewing trial transcripts
File exhibits, briefs, appeals and other legal documents with the court or opposing counsel
- Call clients, witnesses, lawyers, and outside vendors to schedule interviews, meetings, and depositions
Having knowledge of a wide array of technological skills will increase your career opportunities. Here are some of the most common technologies that are an integral part of the operation of a law firm:
1. Word Processing, Spreadsheets and Presentation Software
Document creation is a large part of a legal professional’s responsibilities. Microsoft Office, Open Office, and Google Docs are common software suites that are used in many law firms. Knowledge of one of these programs is a must for legal assistants and paralegals. As a legal professional, you will be communicating and exchanging documents with other parties. Being proficient in programs other than those used in your office is a great advantage when you are sent files with different file types created with different software systems.
2. Copy Machines, Electronic Scanner and Multi-Line Phone Systems
These office machines are commonly used in most offices. Having experience with these machines will be necessary to function in the office. Knowledge of these machines will also allow you to easily learn and adapt to new hardware and equipment that is purchased by your firm. The ability to quickly learn and efficiently use these office machines is an important part of your job as a legal professional.
3. Document Management Systems
Law firms use document management systems to handle document storage, organization, categorization, annotation and retrieval. Documents are such a large part of every legal matter, a good legal document management system is crucial to the success of any law firm.
There are many companies that offer legal document management software. A sampling of the common systems are AbicusLaw, MyCase, Clio, PracticeMaster, just to name a few. While no one can learn all of these software programs, it is helpful to be familiar with at least one system, what it does and how it works. Once you have these concepts, learning new systems, when necessary, will be easier to grasp and master.
A video conference is a live, visual connection between two or more people residing in separate locations for the purpose of communication. Law firms may use video conferencing to eliminate traveling for meetings or depositions that are taking place in different cities and states.
Video conferencing requires special equipment to ensure a secure connection. If used in a deposition, often the court reporting firm will supply the equipment and personnel to operate the equipment. Understanding the concept of video conferencing and how it may be used is important knowledge for any legal assistant or paralegal.
5. Electronic Case Filing
Many courts now use electronic systems that allow case documents, such as pleadings, motions and petitions, to be filed with the court using a computer and Internet connection. This process gives the courts a way to easily manage electronic files.
Different courts use different e-filing systems. Most jurisdictions will offer instructions on their websites on how to use their specific e-filing system. A legal professional may need to learn several different systems and be able to file documents for several different jurisdictions.
6. Electronic Discovery
Electronic discovery is the process of identifying and producing relevant, electronically-stored information in litigation. As a legal assistant, you may be asked to assist in the collection and storage of documents. It is good to understand the concepts of e-discovery and the obligations imposed on litigants to preserve, collect, review and produce electronic documents in the discovery process.
7. Legal Research Skills
As a legal professional, you may be asked to use library and Internet resources to discover and confirm information relevant to court cases, hearings, depositions, and legal meetings. You may also perform related administrative duties, such as preparing official legal documents and maintaining records.
Many law firms use paid services, such as Westlaw and Lexis/Nexus, to perform legal research. Familiarity with these services is a skill that will make you more valuable to your employer.
The ability to learn new skills and technologies may be one of the most important assets you possess. You can find training and assistance for most of these skills on the Internet in the form of product blogs, instructional videos, and webinar training seminars. Training from co-workers on the job is also very valuable. Seek every opportunity to learn from your co-workers. You may also consider enrolling in classes at your local college if they offer courses on skills you would like to acquire.
Stay Current on New Technologies
As a legal professional, it is up to you to continually seek training and stay up-to-date on the latest technologies. In order to do that, you need to continually look for new skills and training. One of the best ways you can do this is to be Internet savvy. You can find out about emerging technologies and training through legal professional organizations, LinkedIn groups, or local and national bar associations.
The legal professional who stays current with new technologies and is willing to learn new skills is a valuable asset to any law firm. By making yourself that person, you will greatly increase your career opportunities in the legal industry.
If you enjoyed this article, you might also like our free guide “5 Technologies Every Attorney Must Have.”