The Bureau of Labor Statistics tracks jobs in the U.S. and looks at how they fare each year. Did they increase or decrease and what is expected the next year? For paralegals and legal assistants, they were on track for an 18% increase which is about an average gain for a position. However, the fear now is that they will not make that gain and actually may start losing ground.
Why? Paralegals and legal assistants are service-oriented positions and, like airline reservationists or switchboard operators, technology is affecting their numbers. They are in the top 7 of jobs that are disappearing according to a recent study published in the Estrin Report.
Many people have seen shrinking markets for different jobs being lost to outsourcing or robots such as factory workers. Many would not think that paralegals and office assistants would be in this position. Paralegals in New York appear to still be in demand with 896 job openings listed recently.
In fact, there were public hearings held in New York to look at better utilization of non-attorneys in New York for “continuing unmet civil services”. Paralegals in New York are certainly watching that closely.
Technology is replacing some paralegals and office assistants by the software programs that can make the research much easier and quicker. Technology is also able to maintain the legal files electronically – not manually – without much of the paper shuffling. Other software programs have ‘auto-draft- features’ so the drafting of documents happens semi-automatically with high accuracy, and a fill in the blank type process.
Paralegals and legal assistants need to keep up with the technology and be ahead of the learning curves and accepting of the help, or they may be looking for another job. Law firms are screening applicants more stringently looking for those that have strong technology backgrounds. Certified programs for a paralegal or legal assistant assures the student and employer they are getting the most updated technology coursework also.
Current paralegals or legal assistants are looking toward becoming certified to assure their viability. There are online programs that are accessible and available at times the full-time worker can fit in. There is ease in getting certified as long as one is willing to put in the work needed.
One more reason the paralegal and legal assistant positions are disappearing is that with the recession, associates are taking on some of these duties to create more billable hours. Younger attorneys have many technology courses in law school and heavily relied on technology as they fulfilled their curriculum requirements.
Tips for current paralegals and legal assistants include: learn how technology can help in their positions, embrace the technology and become specialized in areas of the law that are trending upward such as e-discovery. Litigation support is also a field that has a shortage right now of these professionals.
Technology is not an evil but an asset. While it has replaced many positions, it also can enhance and be a friend of legal assistants and paralegals.