Your Paralegals Are an Embarrassment

Paralegals like to trash talk me on their forums. Apparently, I annoy them. For instance, they made great fun of me for suggesting outsourcing plant maintenance (we lease our plants, and the vendor provides all care and watering). I’m not sure why my plant watering program attracted their ire. Whatever.

Today, I’m going to really annoy the paralegals.

How Many Paralegals Should You Have?

I’d suggest you count the paralegals in your firm. How many do you have?

It’s my contention that the there is an inverse correlation between your paralegal count and your adoption of technology.

The more paralegals you’ve got, the more behind you are in adopting and implementing technology.

It’s weird that sometimes I pick up on a “pride” vibe when lawyers tell me about all the paralegals they’ve got. Lawyers love them some headcount talk. I’d suggest that an “embarrassed” vibe would be more appropriate.

Paralegals have largely been replaced by technology. If you’re still using them, then you should be carefully examining their function and looking at tech options for solving the problems the paralegals are solving now.

Bring in the technology and dispatch the paralegals. It’s time for them to become Uber drivers. Yes, that was a gratuitous remark intended to provoke nasty responses from paralegals. Plus, I’ve had a lot of caffeine today, and I’m an attention whore. Oh, and Uber is hiring drivers like crazy and will continue to hire right up until the moment when it lets them all go and adopts self-driving cars. Paralegals really are screwed.

The Paralegal Test

Are you employing:

  • a practice management system?
  • a document management system?
  • a document assembly system?
  • automated call routing?
  • e-discovery products?
  • abbreviation expanders (amusing, but incredibly time saving)
  • a client document access system?
  • specialty applications for your practice area?

Do you have structured workflows and approval processes? Have you automated a system for keeping your clients updated? Are you scanning all incoming and outgoing text? Is it being automatically reviewed for pertinent dates? Is your docket system automated? Do you continually tweak internal communication with products like Slack?

What exactly are your paralegals doing that couldn’t better be done by a lawyer or a computer? Think hard when answering that question. I’m sure your paralegal is busy, but is the paralegal really the best way to get the job done?

Is client communication better handled by the paralegal or by the attorney managing the matter? What about simple tasks like preparing documents for trial? Is the lawyer better off having delegated the task or doing it herself so she fully appreciates the material? Are you patching solutions together with paralegal generalists when you actually need a technology-driven specialist?

Certainly, there are special cases where paralegals make more sense than technology (and if I were a paralegal, I’d be sure to find one of those roles), but more often than not, the paralegal role should be replaced by someone or something else.

The U.S. Department of Labor, Bureau of Labor Statistics remains optimistic about the growth of paralegal jobs. I agree that the jobs will continue to increase right up to the point when they completely disappear. Paralegal jobs are far more vulnerable to technological improvements than those of lawyers (who are not immune).

If you’re still employing paralegals, it’s time to spend some time carefully dissecting their function and looking at replacing those functions with technology. What technology are you missing? How much are you unnecessarily adding to payroll? How much could you improve the bottom line?

It’s time to analyze the work, come up with a plan, and start moving to a future that doesn’t involve paralegals and, instead, involves more technology than you’re using now.

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