I can’t tell you how many legal professionals have asked me how to break into the legal technology career. Then they tell me all the reasons they can’t get into the field, usually starting with the old “chicken and the egg” story. You know the one: “I can’t get a job because I don’t have experience; I don't have experience because I can’t get a job…” I have another story for you. “If it looks like a duck, acts like a duck, walks like a duck, it must be a duck.” Let me quack a bit here.
You need to understand the field. Then, you need to go after the job. But first, you have to look like you belong to the field. No one is going to take an outsider. It’s not going to happen.
Legal technology offers several different areas of specialty. You can go into litigation support, eDiscovery, IT, word processing, or utilize technology skills within your practice specialty such as estate planning or bankruptcy. You can find jobs in law firms, in-house legal departments, with vendors or start your own business. You don’t have to only be within the litigation practice arena. However, if you are a paralegal and not conversant in legal technology in some manner, you are probably going to be out of a job in a short period of time. It’s really that simple.
So how do you break into the field?
Let’s return to my duck story: If it looks like a duck, acts like a duck, walks like a duck, it must be a duck. Let's think about why employers ask for "Three years' experience in a similar role".
They're simply looking for proof that you're the kind of person they're looking for.
They're looking for proof you're a duck.
How to look like a duck
Search for educational opportunities. Based on your desired legal technology career path, current educational and professional experience, and available amount of free time, explore different online or on-campus courses and webinars along with various job descriptions to figure out which suits you best.
To my knowledge, there are no degrees you can obtain in legal technology. However, the more courses you can take to list on your resume, the better chances you stand of breaking into the field. Understand that there is no single educational path to a legal technology career. It's a broad field. Your overall education may take anywhere from a few months to four years to complete. For example, if you want to move into IT and become a systems analyst, you may need a Bachelor's degree, but for a help desk position, you may only need experience or an Associates degree.
You may also want to explore positions in Litigation Support such as a Litigation Support Analyst or move into an eDiscovery Manager position that can be very lucrative and in some regions, pay six figures. However, if you do not have on-the-job training, you are going to need to take plenty of seminars and courses to bring you up to speed.
I spoke with Karl Kindt, an instructor at Southwestern Illinois College about what education paralegals need to enter the field. Karl has 22 years of experience as Litigation Support Technologist/Paralegal and is currently with Lewis Rice in St. Louis. Karl told me that paralegals, especially in smaller law firms, need to update these technology skill sets:
• Word macros and smart parts
• Access and Excel interaction with Access use of OLE and hyperlinks
• Trial Director
• Relativity and utility software like Hashtabs, ProDiscovery, MetaDataViewer.
“I teach two courses for Southwestern Illinois College,” says Karl, “and I teach these tech skills per my conversations with attorneys who also teach here. I shared with them what I thought the modern paralegal needs to know how to do with current and near future technology. Here is a link to two current courses I am teaching:
I have had numerous paralegals call me after they got their jobs indicating how these skills are being used big time in their work for lawyers. Here are the tasks that they are expected to do and their tech skills learned in the courses equip them to do:
1. Use PowerPoint to create timelines
2. Use gigapans to explore in detail objects, scenes, real estate, etc.
3. Extract still images out of videos
4. Present evidence in trial using Sanction and Trial Director
5. Create video/synched clip out of depositions and import these into PowerPoint
6. Create animations
7. Edit videos and enhance videos and create videos
8. Close up photographs and other photography skills such as use of Photoshop-like programs to bring out details from shadows etc.
9. Create pdf/a files for e-filing
10. Ascertain meta data in files using metadata viewer and other such programs
11. Create hyperlinked lists of files on disks/USB sticks and hard drives
12. Determine if two documents/images/or digital files are the same or have been altered using programs that can do this like Hashtabs
13. Generate meta data reports
14. Code documents using programs like Relativity
15. Create databases using Access including knowing how to use hyerlink and ole field types
16. Import data from Excel into databases and create comma delimited exports for importing data into other databases
17. Detect if a digital photograph taken by a camera has been altered
18. Detect if an audio file has been altered
19. Clarify an audio file using Audacity
20. Delete metadata out of digital files
21. Use cell phones with smart apps to scan documents and create pdf files
22. Create 3d /stereo images using cell phones and digital cameras when depth is important in a scene or image
23. Know the difference between a switch and a hub
24. Know how to make computers run twice as fast to get work done in a more timely manner
25. The way to recover data off of a hard drive that will not boot up in a computer
26. How to digitize 35mm slides and negatives using scanners and USB units
27. How to make a forensic copy of a hard drive
28. How the internet / worldwide web works and to locate physically where certain files are being stored on a computer
29. Know how to use utility 'thoughtware' programs designed to do things the major software programs do not do or do not do well such as how to quickly get a list of all the files on a terabyte hard drive and get this list into Word documents etc.
30. How to participate in an early e-discovery conference with an attorney to make sure that discovery agreements include clawback provisions and that the data is going to be produced and provided in proper file formats for reviewing software.
Paralegals can go far in legal technology if they know how to apply the right skills to the job,” he says.
If you are seeking to go into IT
Look into professional certifications. Legal technology needs systems engineers, analysts, help desks specialists, IT managers and IT specialists. HR managers find it difficult to get good candidates with law firm background, so paralegals who bring technology skills to the table are in demand.
An MCSE or A+ certification can gain you significant credibility. For most certifications, you'll study and review a certain narrow subject, then sign up for an online exam. There is usually a fee, but the exams are often quick and can often be done in your home.
Act like a duck
You need to show that you are in the community. Part of the problem candidates have breaking into the field is failing to show on the resume they have at least some experience. Candidates assume prospective employers think they have experience because “Relativity” is listed under Computer Skills.
Seeking to move from paralegal to an eDiscovery role? What eDiscovery projects have you worked on within your firm that qualify? Those projects should be highlighted in your resume. Don’t lead with “Prepare pleadings, summarize depositions, etc.” Lead with “Manage multi-million dollar, high-profile eDiscovery projects utilizing Relativity”. Highlight where you want to go. Not where you've been that doesn't relate.
Paddle in the Pond
It’s all in who you know. Many legal technology gurus love to assist people. If you’re just dipping your toes into the world of legal technology, investigate to see if you have someone in your friendly, professional, association or LinkedIn network who can tell you about the basics of your chosen field. People are willing to help you out and introduce you to others who can help you.
Go meet people at conferences, seminars and association meetings. For example: The Los Angeles Paralegal Association's 2nd Annual Legal Technology Expo is coming up on March 7th and is a great way to start! Go! Not only will you learn but you will make great connections with others in the field. In particular, meet with vendors who know what’s happening in the field. Never under estimate the power of a vendor. They have connections with law firms; they are on top of the latest technology and, know where the jobs are.
- LegalTech – This conference, is held annually and attracts attendees from all walks of the legal industry including attorneys, paralegals, IT professionals, litigation support professionals and others.
- International Leadership Technology Association (ILTA) – ILTA provides educational content, peer-networking opportunities and information resources in order to make technology work for the legal profession. The ILTA conference is usually held annually in August.
- The Masters Conference - The Masters Conference, aims to provide corporate counsel, law firm attorneys and litigation support teams with practical information and tools regarding e-discovery.
- Women in eDiscovery – With more than 25 chapters worldwide, this non-profit organization brings together women in technology and law and offers them opportunities for leadership, education, and networking.
- Organization of Legal Professionals A non-profit organization that provides online eDiscovery training for attorneys and paralegals.
- Paralegal Knowledge Institute - An online organization providing webinars and courses in litigation, corporate, litigation support and eDiscovery.
Have face-to-face meetings. We’re so heavily into social media that we’ve lost our ability to meet face-to-face. I have 18,000 followers on LinkedIn that have been extremely helpful. Connections are not to be overlooked in building your career. But truthfully, when I take someone to lunch, I have found that these amazing meetings are very rewarding and productive. People remember you and they feel like they’ve made a long-term friend. Well, the reality of taking 18,000 people to lunch might get a tad pricy….
Role models and faux role models. You’re always advised to get a role model. But frankly, how many role models go out on a limb for you? Really? I think you end up admiring most of them from afar. If you don’t know your career role model personally, that’s fine. Try looking at the LinkedIn pages of folks with jobs you admire. What sorts of experiences have they racked up? What do they emphasize about themselves. Look at their career path. Can you emulate it?
Become a guest speaker. Speak at a seminar or webinar. If you can talk about the subject matter, you must know the topic. Once it is on your resume, you are viewed as an expert. OK, so you don’t have the job yet. But if you can get on a panel, be a speaker, it can go on your resume and that gives you credibility.
Write an article or start a blog
Start writing. If you write, you must know the subject. If you start writing articles, your audience will trust what you write. You have credibility. Here is another great line on your resume to help you get a job. It shows you are an expert. You can also start a blog. Here’s a great way to get a following. Who can dispute the fact you are an expert if you have a following?
How else could you prove you are a duck?
Walk like a duck
Exchange time for experience. Maybe you can't get paid work for an established firm you want to move into. But there are likely to be plenty of ways you can do the same kind of work on an unpaid basis (or even for a small salary).
Contact associations and volunteer. You can work with associations such as Women in eDiscovery, work with your local paralegal association on a seminar, the National Association of Legal Secretaries, the Association of Legal Administrators, ILTA, the docketing associations and many more. You’ll get to know people and you’ll learn.
Offer to exchange time for experience on an intern basis. Find firms who will take you as an intern and exchange time for experience. It looks good on your resume. This may feel like it's only a route for those who want to move into the charity sector, but it's surprisingly easy to find people in any sector who would appreciate your contribution. It's usually easier to get your foot in the door with smaller firms or companies, so target small organizations that inspire you and tell them your story.
There may even be opportunities to gain unpaid experience in your current firm. For example, if you want to work in Litigation Support, how about offering to help out in the LitSupport department during your lunch breaks? See if they would be willing to give you some training or beginner's work assignments to give you direct experience right where you are. You can then add that to your resume. "Assisted the Litigation Support Department with assignments in......." Now, you have experience!
But what if your firm doesn't have a LitSupport department? Perhaps you can be the one who volunteers to step in and help out (or handle entirely) the LitSupport projects. Who is doing them now? Would they appreciate some help?
What projects could you do in your spare time to build up experience in your chosen profession? Just be sure there are no conflicts of interest with your firm or that your firm is clear and ok with what you are doing. Don’t risk your job!
Create a YouTube Video
But there's no need to wait for a firm to ask you for your story – why not share it with them in a captivating way? Why not create a YouTube video? Do a demo on a Litigation Support Project or eDiscovery project, or a PowerPoint demonstration. Point people to it in your resume.
Must be a duck
Once you get out into the community, make the right connections, get the education, write the right resume, get experience on the job, you can break into the legal technology field. You are now walking, talking, acting like a duck. Must be a duck. Hired!
Chere Estrin is the CEO of Estrin Legal Staffing. She is a former Paralegal Administrator at two major firms; a Los Angeles Paralegal Association Lifetime Achievement Recipient. She is a Los Angeles/Century City Woman of Achievement Recipient and she previously held the position of Sr. Executive VP in a $5 billion company. Chere is the CEO of the Paralegal Knowledge Institute and Co-Founding Member of the International Practice Management Association and The Organization of Legal Professionals. She has been written up in the Los Angeles Times, Chicago Trib, Newsweek, Daily Journal, and other prestigious publications. Her blog, The Estrin Report has been around since 2005. Reach out to her at firstname.lastname@example.org.