Everything You Need to Know about Paralegal Automation
If you’re a paralegal, you know just how much important legal work paralegals do at law firms. But it’s still natural to wonder if the increase in technology—especially paralegal automation—at law offices will pose a threat to your role.
Paralegal automation can and should streamline some manual tasks that traditionally falls on a paralegal’s desk. However, that doesn’t mean that automation is a threat to paralegals’ jobs. It’s actually the opposite: Automating time-consuming routine tasks can free up a paralegal’s workday. With more free time, paralegals can focus on higher-level, client-focused work. Paralegals also need to be well-versed in legal technology and automation workflows to stay competitive in our tech-driven world.
In this blog post, we’ll explore the essentials of paralegal automation. From what automation means for law firms to how automation can benefit paralegals and the tools paralegals will find useful. Read on to find out more about paralegal automation.
Automation vs. AI
What’s the difference between automation and artificial intelligence (AI)? Both automation and AI use technology to take care of tasks otherwise completed by humans, but there is a difference.
Artificial intelligence: AI refers to technology that’s used to teach a machine to perform human tasks. AI technology does more than respond to a set pattern or rule. For instance it can learn to recognize patterns and adjust to new inputs.
Learn more about the benefits (and ethical considerations) of AI in the legal industry.
Automation: Automation refers to making something happen automatically. With automation, humans use technology to complete repetitive tasks by setting up the technology to follow patterns or rules. For example, lawyers can use automation to automatically send a confirmation email whenever an appointment is booked. Automatically in this case means that clients will receive your email without you having to manually send the email to them.
Will paralegals be automated?
With legal technology, some paralegal tasks can easily be automated. But that doesn’t mean that the role of paralegals will be completely eliminated soon. By automating certain parts of a paralegal’s job—like repetitive document creation and client intake paperwork— paralegals become more valuable to a law firm.
By using automation to create more efficient workflows and streamline routine tasks, paralegals can free up their time. As a result, paralegals can dedicate this additional time to more complex tasks on behalf of lawyers. These tasks especially include those that require human skill, discretion, and critical thinking. For example, paralegal responsibilities that require an understanding of the law and a high level of mental and emotional intelligence—like interviewing prospective clients—will not be automated anytime soon.
How can automation benefit paralegals?
Embracing paralegal automation can be a win for paralegals, law firms, and clients. Here’s how:
Save time and increase efficiency
Paralegals work hard. They also often work long hours to complete a high volume of tasks to support lawyers, law firms, and legal clients. But heavy workloads can contribute to a stressful work environment and lead to paralegal burnout.
Thankfully, with automation, paralegals can complete many tasks in a simpler and more efficient way. Examples of tasks that paralegals can automate include tasks related to client intake or preparing legal documents. Therefore, by using automation to streamline repetitive tasks, paralegals can free up more time to focus on more substantive, higher-value tasks.
Paralegals can drive innovation at law firms
Embracing automation benefits paralegals by reducing the amount of manual, repetitive tasks in their workdays. But automation also presents bigger-picture advantages for law firms.
Paralegals are often in the unique position of working on client-facing tasks and taking on substantive legal work on behalf of attorneys. Because of this unique position, paralegals tend to have a more in-depth perspective on where there may be gaps in workflows and processes at law firms.
By keeping up-to-date on the latest technologies and automation opportunities available, paralegals can become drivers of innovation and technology at their firms.
Grow the role of the paralegal
Law firms hire paralegals to benefit from their legal work experience. But paralegal time often gets taken up by repetitive tasks.
By using technology to automate routine tasks, paralegals can free up more time to focus their skills and attention on higher-value work. By taking on more responsibilities, you can grow your role as a paralegal to include more high-level thinking tasks.
Provide a better client-centered experience
As Nehal Madhani of Alt Legal and Jordan Couch of Palace Law discuss in Clio’s Daily Matters podcast, automating repetitive processes can free legal professionals—like paralegals—to have more time in their day to work on more important things. These things include giving law firm clients exceptional client-centered experiences.
In addition to having more time to devote to serving and communicating with clients, automation can potentially lower legal costs for clients. When law firms use paralegal automation to empower their paralegals’ efficiency, the whole practice benefits from increased productivity. A more efficient practice can result in cost savings. These cost savings can eventually pass on to clients.
Paralegal automation tools
To make the most of your work time, selecting the right paralegal automation tools is essential. As our guide to law office automation explains, paralegals can use many tech tools to streamline tasks. Some of the key types of tools for paralegals to consider:
Onboarding new clients and collecting client intake information is essential to the legal process. But it can take up a lot of time. This is a great example of where inefficient processes can result in a less-than-stellar first impression with clients. At the same time, inefficient client intake processes can quickly eat away at paralegals’ time.
- Shareable online intake forms that can be customized to suit the needs of a client case—so you can add the fields you need and eliminate irrelevant entry fields.
- A digital client intake process that lets clients fill out applications directly on your law firm’s website—saving clients, paralegals, and firm staff time and redundant, manual filing.
- A Matter Pipeline dashboard for quick, real-time monitoring of the status of prospective clients.
Creating and preparing legal documents on behalf of lawyers is one of the most common paralegal tasks. The good news is document automation tools can make this process faster and easier for paralegals.
Take Clio Manage for example: The practice management software’s document automation features let you pull items from different matter fields into merge fields. This feature lets you automatically create documents from matters. You can also quickly build forms and documents by creating PDFs or Word documents using data from your Clio Manage account.
Benefits of automating client communications
Automated communication can help paralegals give better communication to law firm clients in two key ways:
- It makes it easier to keep clients in the loop. Certain routine communications between law firms and clients can be automated. For instance, clients can have peace of mind this way, which is key to delivering a positive client experience—without spending as much valuable time.
- It gives paralegals more time to focus on personalized client communication. Therefore, paralegals can use the time saved on providing high-quality, tailored client communication when necessary.
Client communications tools
Law firms and paralegals have a few options for client communication automation tools. Again, Clio Grow’s legal client relationship management software offers useful automation options for law firms. By automating redundant tasks, emails, and workflows with Clio Grow, paralegals can have more time to communicate with clients. Therefore, from a client’s perspective, automated client intake forms also offer a more convenient and seamless experience.
Case Status, which integrates with Clio Manage, provides real-time updates to clients on the status of their case.
Law firm collections
Unpaid hours negatively impact the whole law firm. Yet, according to the 2020 Legal Trends Report, 12% of the hours invoiced to clients are never collected upon.
Therefore, adopting automated legal credit card payments through Clio Payments can help your firm collect more. An automated payments process also makes it easier and more convenient for clients to pay online or via flexible payment options. At the same time, you can use tools like Clio Payments to automate routine collections processes and data entry.
A positive online reputation is key to law firm success and marketing. Therefore, proactively requesting reviews from clients goes a long way to building that reputation. But reaching out manually to every client can be an extremely time-consuming task for paralegals.
Automation tools designed to gather client reviews can help. For example, Birdeye empowers firms to send fully automated review requests to clients through automated texts or emails. With its integration with Clio, Birdeye connects with your client list in your practice management software.
Paralegal automation benefits law firms
There’s no need to be wary of paralegal automation. When law firms execute and use automation tools strategically, paralegals, clients, and the entire practice can benefit from these tools.
However, you shouldn’t use every automation tool that crosses your path as a paralegal. Do your homework first. It’s important for paralegals to stay updated with the latest technologies and to be familiar with these tools. By doing so, paralegals can use automation to grow in their roles and value to law firms.