Legal Support Staff and How Their Roles are Changing
In the recent years, technological innovations used in law firms have somehow blurred the lines that used to tell the difference between paralegals or legal assistants and legal secretaries. These two positions used to be separate and quite distinct from each other, but nowadays, it seems that the positions have overlapped and the roles they play have changed considerably.
Customarily, the titles paralegal and legal assistant can both be used to refer a non-lawyer legal support who have sufficient educational background and training to perform substantive legal tasks. Legal assistants are knowledgeable when it comes to the law and all legal proceedings. They can be expected to handle such tasks as researching cases, interviewing everyone involved in cases, preparing discovery, case summary, and general management of cases. These tasks are done independently and are billed to the clients.
On the other hand, a legal secretary takes care of administrative and clerical tasks, as directed and supervised by a lawyer or a paralegal. A legal secretary handles dictation, word processing, handling both incoming and outgoing mail, court filings, and taking calls for an attorney. Unlike with the legal assistant, the tasks a legal secretary does are not billed to the clients.
The two positions are meant for different tasks but legal assistants and legal secretaries do work together to perform their jobs efficiently and to provide support to the Lawyers/ Attorneys they work with.
What’s Changing Now
Now times have changed a lot of things. For instance, typewriters are nowhere to be found in firms and gadgets like laptops, tablets, and smartphones are dominating the field. These electronic devices allow lawyers to work anywhere they are any time of the day. These technological innovations, as well as the amazing apps and software that are used now, unfortunately, affect the duties of legal secretaries. Traditional clerical duties are now almost phased out as lawyers are now able to take care of their correspondence with ease. This is one of the reasons some law firms eliminate legal support staff positions, in the attempt to both increase efficiency and cut costs, too. Other firms, scratch the “legal secretary” title and adopts the term “legal assistant or paralegal” so they would also be able to bill certain tasks to clients.
Of course, these changes are not felt just by the legal secretaries. Even legal assistants are affected by technology, and their role is changing, too. Legal assistants are required to do legal research, and for this, the legal assistant should know exactly where to go for the needed information. That used to mean having to go to the law library of the firm and spending hours combing through all the cases. Now a lot of firms favour online services for legal research. Legal assistants are now able to do their research faster. In fact, they often get the information they need in minutes.
Paralegals also assist lawyers with discovery, especially when huge volumes of documents are involved. Now, there are no more boxes full of spreadsheets. Digital scanners and software enable discovery documents to be stored in e-format. Needless to say, today’s legal assistants are tech-savvy. They know how to work with document management software and have a clear understanding of federal e-discovery rules. It’s like a new legal support post is created with the skills of a computer specialist and a paralegal in one.
What the Future Holds
You can expect technology to continuously evolve. Legal and litigation support staff will still be there to fill important functions in a law firm. However, they must be willing to embrace technology and adapt to change, show flexibility and the ability to handle challenges. More importantly, they must be willing to work in a team, no matter how traditional or technologically advanced a law firm may be.