Many aspiring students wonder what does a paralegal do to utilize technology in today’s working environment. In a 2006 press release, the Technology Task Force Chairman of the American Association for Paralegal Education stated that “paralegals, not lawyers, are the people introducing technology into law offices.” Many forward-looking paralegal schools are incorporating technology into their curriculum so that students will graduate equipped to command the technology used in today’s law offices. However, even people who have been in the workforce for some time will have to adjust to technological advances.
Using Legal Databases to Conduct Research
Good research skills in the 21st century involve more than searching through law books and papers. Understanding what does a paralegal do includes understanding how legal databases work. WestLaw, LexisNexis and CCH are examples of legal database applications that paralegals will have to use often as they conduct research. Westlaw is owned by Thomson Reuters and is known for its extensive legal news database. LexisNexis is the world’s largest storehouse of legal and public records information. CCH has extensive information about tax law, business and human resources.
To make the most of legal databases, paralegals have to sift through laws, regulations, cases and forms. Paralegals also have to effectively utilize search engines to find information on their specific topic. Once they have conducted research through the legal databases, paralegals write detailed reports and deliver those reports to lawyers. Reports may include judicial precedent information and legal article summaries as well as strategy suggestions for how to build and argue cases.
Handling E-Discovery Requests
Much information in today’s world is created and stored electronically. During the discovery phase of a trial, paralegals may have to sift through word processing documents, spreadsheets, emails and audio and video clips and then share that information with opposing counsel. To find electronic information, paralegals may have to pull data off of different devices, including smart phones, PDAs, personal computers and network drives. For many paralegals, e-discovery is rapidly becoming an area of specialization when preparing for what does a paralegal do.
Many paralegals also have to utilize electronic records management software to organize electronic documents for their offices. ERM software organizes documents through their creation, classification, archival and destruction. Documents to manage will include both those created by the law firm and those scanned in from external sources.
Using Litigation Support Software
Litigation support software is used in the courtroom for real-time investigation and research. For example, a quick search using litigation support software can uncover discrepancies in testimony between depositions and live courtroom testimony. Many types of litigation support software utilize optical character recognition, which allows paralegals to scan in documents like depositions to make their text fully searchable.
Litigation support software also supports what does a paralegal do by enhancing case analysis. Programs like LawPro and Casemap help paralegals to evaluate evidence and to link that evidence to elements that have to be established during a trial. Some programs can connect to court recorder computers so that paralegals can quickly go back through testimony as it is given to verify what a witness has just said. Some litigation support software helps legal teams in different geographic areas to work together on the same case. Programs like Litigator’s Notebook centralize all information related to a case so that it can be accessed by multiple people through secure channels.
Preparing Graphics and Images for Trial
Few attorneys today lug posters and charts into the courtroom. Instead, attorneys utilize presentation and graphics software to display information to the judge and jury. Part of what does a paralegal do involves creating graphics for use during trial. Packages like ExhibitView help to organize presentations for the courtroom on notebook or tablet computers. Good software can organize presentations into slideshows and can easily transfer information between devices for portability.
Paralegals who assist attorneys with litigation often use software to create relevant charts and graphics. For instance, a chart or graph created using Excel can be uploaded to trial presentation software and projected on a screen for jurors to view. Paralegals can also create images and graphics on the fly in quick response to courtroom testimony to better help lawyers make their cases to the jury.
What Does A Paralegal Do to Organize Workflow
Paralegals have to remember a great deal of information and to maintain an impeccably organized workflow. For instance, they have to track not only their assignments but also court deadlines. Good software programs will enhance what does a paralegal do by helping them with both organization and prioritization. For instance, paralegals can use workflow software to delegate tasks to assistants and legal secretaries. Lawyers can then view who is responsible for each assignment for better results and accountability.
Paralegals organize workflow not only for individual cases but also for different clients. By using software to maintain a smoothly running office, paralegals make attorneys jobs easier and make access to work-in-progress far more accessible. Reassigning tasks and priorities makes what does a paralegal do much easier when software is available to utilize.
Maintaining an Organized Office
Part of a paralegal job description may include running the office, particularly in small and medium-sized firms. In addition to managing workflow, what does a paralegal do includes using word processing, spreadsheet, database, email and presentation software in the office environment. Paralegals often communicate with other professionals as well as clients by utilizing email, and that communication may involve the sharing of documents or other information.
Paralegals may utilize a multi-line switchboard to take incoming calls and may coordinate after hours and emergency calls with outside answering services. While paralegals are in the courtroom, they may field office communication using a laptop or mobile device. They may also pass important messages on to attorneys using text messaging. Many legal offices are adding social media concepts like blogging to their websites. Part of what does a paralegal do may include being in charge of maintaining blogs and fielding social media communication with both current and potential clients.
Whether paralegals work in a law office, a government agency or a corporate legal department, they will have to incorporate constantly evolving technology into their workdays. As resources and communications become more and more electronic, paralegals will have to prepare themselves to coordinate a paperless office and courtroom environment. A high level of competence with technology and software will be a crucial component of what does a paralegal do in the coming years.