Trends That Will Fuel the Influence and Impact of Paralegals and Paralegal Managers in 2019
While law firms have been reconfiguring their staffing infrastructures for years, paralegals and those who manage them have maintained or elevated their roles as foundational elements in the internal hierarchy. Despite creating multi-tiered partnership tracks, specialty attorneys and contract lawyers, in addition to traditional associates, and hiring an array of business professionals, paralegals continue to be the central liaisons to this interdisciplinary team that helps to execute each firm’s vision.
To better understand the dynamics associated with this constituency and highlight key changes in workplace expectations, digitization, and vendor relations, Level 2 Legal Solutions, a boutique provider of legal solutions, including managed review services and advanced eDiscovery consulting, engaged Ari Kaplan Advisors, a leading legal industry consultancy tracking market developments, to develop a study to help offer benchmarking and insights for the entire community. It highlights the delicate balance between autonomy and collaboration, the alignment of internal capabilities with outside support, the factors fueling job satisfaction among paralegals and their managers, market shifts prompted by technology, and an array of other details that are driving the legal profession forward.
“Level 2 Legal works side-by-side with many paralegals and values their crucial role in the success of our clients,” said Joey Seeber, CEO of Level 2 Legal Solutions. “Our team is pleased to support this independent research to offer clarity and spark conversation about the remarkable impact of paralegals on the changing legal profession.”
Ari Kaplan personally interviewed 13 paralegals and 22 paralegal managers during July and August of 2018 about: trends in the profession; the value of collaboration; levels of job satisfaction; the impact of technology on practice management; the utilization of outside resources; the increasing levels of autonomy; changes in eDiscovery and litigation support; and other topics.
Eighty-six percent of the respondents were with AmLaw 200 law firms (with one at a Canadian law firm of a similar size). The remaining participants were with law firms of between 90 to 200 lawyers. Forty-three percent had more than 25 years of experience and 83% had more than 10 years of experience. None of the participants had fewer than five years of experience. And 69% supervised other paralegals or practice management professionals.
The most frequently cited trends for 2018 were collaboration, outsourcing, technological expansion, and the evolution of paraprofessional responsibilities. Other key findings include:
• 71% advised that collaboration is extremely important to their day-to-day work.
• 63% receive periodic training.
• 49% described their level of autonomy as significant.
• 37% could perform their work without technology.
With 94% of respondents working for firms that leverage outside providers and 49% serving as the primary contact for some of them, the development of a team-oriented culture was a common theme. In addition, 63% of the survey participants provide litigation support and 60% have some responsibility for eDiscovery, which reflects the growing impact of those fields on law firm activity.
COLLABORATION IS KEY
With respect to that law firm activity, 89% of respondents said that collaboration is very important or extremely important to their performance. The most prominent reasons for the emphasis on collaboration were to avoid duplication of work, maximize the overall value of the team, and prevent errors. Given that paralegals are often at the center of most matters researching, coordinating, and updating, their ability to collaborate is a fundamental component of their work.
AUTONOMY IS NOT ABOUT ISOLATION
Despite the need to work together, almost half (49%) of those interviewed described their level of autonomy as significant, and 89% described it as significant or above average. Twenty-three percent of the respondents reported to a lawyer, while 43% reported to a senior administrator. While paralegals reported enjoying a degree of autonomy in their work, they were not fully autonomous because they are working in a law firm setting. Most enjoyed some level of freedom, but also welcome the opportunity to share ideas with peers. It is this need to balance deep thinking solitary work with an organized team effort that typically defines the modern role of the paralegal and those who manage their time.
PARALEGALS ARE PROSPERING
It is no surprise that paralegals and their managers are finding success in an era where their work is appreciated and an essential part of how legal teams operate. Ninety-four percent of respondents reported being satisfied in their current role. Many identified the challenge of simplifying complexity in both paralegal work and its management appealing, valued their overall impact, and were attracted to the ability to bring order to the chaos of litigation. A number of the participants specifically identified the diversity of their work as an appealing factor, which is critical in a dynamically changing legal industry.
TECHNOLOGY IS TRANSFORMATIVE
The most significant element affecting the transformation of law firm operations is the influence of technology on how professionals work and a majority of the paralegals and paralegal managers who participated agreed. In fact, 63% of respondents reported that technology has replaced the work they used to do manually and the same number noted that they could not perform their work without it. The remainder acknowledged that while they could do so, it would result in a lower level of efficiency and responsiveness. Still, 94% described their reliance on technology as essential, which was the highest rating available in the survey. The key areas of change include the paperless office, document management, and general automation.
EDISCOVERY IS EXPANSIVE
Sixty percent of respondents provided litigation support and 63% had responsibility for eDiscovery. The most common challenges cited by paralegals and practice management leaders were the lack of familiarity with discovery by the attorneys with whom they work, navigating between the various professionals who manage eDiscovery, the level of experience by new hires, and the need to embrace technology to maximize its value
Since 94% of those interviewed reported that their firms leverage outside providers in addition to internal support and 54% influence the process, their perspective on factors that enhance their relationships with outside vendors was valuable. They recommended: (1) disclosing and addressing mistakes quickly; (2) billing accurately and on a timely basis; (3) responding to inquiries quickly and comprehensively; (4) proactively making suggestions and offering supplemental guidance.
As law firm workflow dynamics continue to evolve and clients increasingly influence case management through direct outside vendor relationships, it is often the paralegals and professionals who manage their talent that serve as the nexus between all of the practitioners involved in any given matter. By cultivating seamless collaboration and empowerment through technology, paralegals and practice management leaders are fueling a positive transformation within their organizations.
Download a copy of the report at https://level2legal.com/who-we-serve/paralegals.
Published by the National Federation of Paralegal Associations.