Here's How Legal Technology Expertise Can Make or Break Your Career

Computer mossIn a perfect world, all paralegals know everything about legal technology.  As you and I know, there’s no perfect world. However, not knowing enough about technology or believing you do, is the best way to bust your career. Trust me. I have 20+ years of experience managing, educating and staffing thousands of paralegals. (OK, I can admit to having more years of experience but then I have to search around for fancy anti-aging creams.)

Legal technology does not stop at litigation. It extends to every specialty whether you are in litigation, corporate, real estate, immigration, personal injury, or any practice area including the latest hybrid: the paralegal/legal secretary. No matter if your firm does not partake in the latest technology, it is incumbent upon you to stay up-to-date. Why? Try to get a new job or advance with outdated skills. Not going to happen. Guaranteed.

Since paralegals are expected to follow attorneys, you must be familiar with ABA Model Rule 1.1 on Competence with Comment 8:

“To maintain the requisite knowledge and skill, a lawyer should keep abreast of changes in the law and its practice, including the benefits and risks associated with relevant technology, engage in continuing study and education and comply with all continuing legal education requirements to which the lawyer is subject.”

Let’s start with practice management. A knowledgeable paralegal must know which software to use for file storage, evidence organization, billing, accounting, research and calendaring. It is critical to understand and utilize MyCase, Clio, SharePoint, Outlook and the cloud. These are just the basics.

There are new opportunities utilizing technology in eDiscovery, Project Management (not legal project management), Information Governance, Compliance, Knowledge Management, Law Firm Pricing, Litigation Support Project Management, Human Resources, Library Resources, Competitive Intelligence, Forensics, Law Firm Accounting, Cyber Security and more where you can leverage your paralegal background.

eDiscovery and Litigation Support Project Management are the hottest areas paying some of the highest salaries and offering challenging and upwardly mobile career opportunities.  It is not unusual to see salaries for Senior Litigation Support Project Managers in the upper $150,000 at major law firms or at Top Tier Legal Support Providers.  Salaries can range from $80-$100,000 or $50,000 - $75,000 for junior level project managers.

According to Marnie Carter, a high-profile San Francisco Paralegal Administrator from major law firms and in-house legal departments, “Litigation support professionals average salaries that often exceed the top ten percent of paralegal salaries. Roles in information governance, compliance, and cyber security also present previously nonexistent opportunities to ambitious paralegals with an understanding of legal technology.”

Carter has hired and supervised hundreds of paralegals. “Paralegals can broaden earnings potential and career opportunities with legal technology skills and are breaking through prior salary and career limits with the aid of technology knowledge. There are new opportunities to specialize in e-Discovery that equates to an increase in value to employers and an ability to command higher salaries. Legal project management is emerging for paralegals. Firms, companies and service providers are hiring project managers with legal expertise to manage litigation more efficiently and at a lower cost," she says.

"Paralegals who combine their legal knowledge with advanced technical skills are finding litigation support roles at much higher salaries. Litigation support professionals average salaries that often exceed the top ten percent of paralegal salaries. Roles in information governance, compliance, and cyber security also present previously nonexistent opportunities to ambitious paralegals with an understanding of legal technology.”

What does it take to get into the field? Vincent Garcez, a former Los Angeles paralegal, now a Litigation Support Manager in DC, has an interesting career history: “I got into legal technology when I was recruited for Lockheed Martin as a contractor for the Department of Justice (DOJ). They partnered me with several senior eDiscovery project managers to assist with trial matters. I immersed myself with senior project managers as they took me under their wings. They taught me the foundations of eDiscovery and opened a new sect not taught in paralegal school. Taking this new leap into the eDiscovery field not only excelled my career but allowed me to learn something new.”

I’ve witnessed paralegals give in to their firm’s philosophy of “We just don’t do that here.” Career opportunists beware!” This is the biggest career buster of all! While you think that you’re not going to make a move any time soon, do you know what’s going on in the Executive Committee? Chances are excellent, you do not. One week you’re good, the next, managing partners decide to merge, purge or otherwise scourge as in lay-offs. You can’t get a decent raise. You’ve realized you’ve capped out. The firm’s cash-flow isn’t fluid. The firm lost its best client/rainmaker. Who knew??? A host of unanticipated reasons arise and suddenly, without warning, you need to move on and your skills are out-of-date.

Think ahead! What do you do if your firm does not reinforce continuing education or stay up-to-date in the latest technology?

According to Carter, “An understanding of legal technology is critical to a paralegal's career regardless of the work performed. Recent amendments to the FRCP, State and local rules outline expectations that attorneys know more about eDiscovery than ever before. This means paralegals must know more about ESI eDiscovery. Paralegals need to understand how to manage electronic information timely and efficiently.  

Cost is one of the biggest obstacles. Clients analyze bills to reduce costs and look for opportunities to leverage flat fee and volume pricing. Paralegals with knowledge of a variety of technological tools and processes and who efficiently utilize technology in a defensible manner, thereby reducing firm and client cost burden, are indispensable.”

Can’t get training? Carter says, “ASK! ASK! ASK! Many firms are highly encouraged by paralegals who are working to advance their technology knowledge. Demand is high for tech savvy paralegals. There are numerous free or low cost online webinars such as those offered the Organization of Legal Professionals (OLP) and seminars, Lunch and Learn sessions offered through International Legal Technology Association,(ILTA),  International Practice Management Association, (IPMA), Women in eDiscovery, and paralegal associations.”

Garcez recommends, “Many corporations like Kcura, Lexis Nexis and other review providers have free webinars. Look at vendor websites. They post articles and advertise free seminars. You are the gatekeeper and should speak the same technical language as litigation support to ensure that the case will run smoothly."

As a litigation paralegal, Garcez says, “Relativity is arguably one of the most coveted, web-based eDiscovery mechanism that any vendor or law firm may currently use.  Its growth is exponential, with more vendor providers and enterprises demanding an extensive knowledge. As a paralegal, learning more about Relativity will accelerate your career.”

What about the hybrid position sweeping the country in smaller firms - the paralegal/legal assistant (legal secretary)? According to Chris Donaldson, President of Los Angeles based, Career Images, “This new position combines paralegal and secretarial technology skills in all specialties. The paralegal/legal assistant performs duties that are billable and non-billable.

They may have some minimum billable requirement, draft legal documents, interface with clients and perform duties that cannot be billed such as travel arrangements, scheduling depositions and calendaring. The position can pay up to $85,000 - $90,000 for someone with incredible technology skills at some boutique and mid-size law firms. “However,” says, Donaldson, “be aware these are top salaries and growth potential might be limited.”

A litigation paralegal/legal assistant should know: Adobe Professional; Best Authority; Forms Workflow; MacPac; OmniPage; Roxio; MS Word 2010 (proficient TOC/TOA user) and MS Office 2010; WorkShare Compare; Bates labeling w/Copy Desktop Pro; Win AIR Forms; calendaring w/MS Outlook and CompuLaw, AIA Forms, CAR Forms,  Groupwise E-mail, Automated Judicial Council of California Civil Jury Instructions (CACI), LexisNexis® Research, and LexisNexis® File&ServeXpress, Concordance, Summation, Relativity, Proforma (Legal Solutions), Finereader-OCR, Carpediem, PowerPoint, Excel.

Being familiar with certain technologies can change your career path. To say that paralegals do not need to be expert legal technologists is like saying a pilot does not need to understand wind currents, just how to get from Point “A” to Point “B.” Increasingly so, our trips from Point “A” to Point “B” are involving technology and can even be driven by technology. Give yourself the continued boost you need – stay on top of legal technology, now and throughout your unceasing successful career journey. 

Chere Estrin is CEO of Estrin Legal Staffing; President & Co-Founding member of Organization of Legal Professionals (OLP, a non-profit specializing in online training for attorneys and paralegals in legal technology; CEO of an online paralegal training company, Paralegal Knowledge Institute, She is a former Paralegal Administrator at two major firms and an executive in a $5 billion corporation and a career coach at Legal Careers Rx. (view free You Tube videos on Legal CareersRx on writing dynamic resumes.) Chere has written 10 books about paralegal careers including The Paralegal Career Guide 4th Ed., and has been interviewed by the Los Angeles Times, Newsweek, ABA Journal and other prestigious publications. She is a recipient of the Los Angeles Paralegal Lifetime Achievement Award and the New York City Excellence Award. Talk to her at chere@estrinlegalstaffing.com


New LitSupport Survey Shows Managers Get Big Bucks

Survey2The Organization of Legal Professionals (OLP) has been surveying Litigation Support Professionals to uncover interesting insights and valuable facts to help LSPs make the most of their careers.  The survey, sponsored by ZyLab and Career Numbers, is unlike traditional salary and utilization surveys. The survey is left open to regularly update the information and release new and interesting insights.  Additionally, OLP/Zylab will continue to provide free access to the updated results to each person who completes the survey. 

The Organization of Legal Professionals (OLP) is a non-profit organization providing continuing legal education and certification exams to the legal community.  The organization offers courses in eDiscovery, litigation support, project management and other timely topics.  OLP also offers over 40 scholarships per year to long-term unemployed legal professionals. 

The goal of the survey is to empower legal professionals to make the most of their careers by providing personalized career information, giving them better insight into the implications of their decisions. Companies are using data to earn larger profits, sports teams are using data to build better teams, and now it’s time for law firm employees to start using data to make the most of their careers.

The survey replaces generic statistics such as “people with law degrees earn, on average, 20% more over their careers than those with Bachelors degrees” with smart comparisons, such as “people like you (based on your education, experience, career goals, work ethic, and more) earn, on average, 34% more over their careers by attending a top 25 law school program, feel 42% more satisfied with their career, work 6 hours more per week, and feel 14% more stressed.”

The survey has been completed by almost 300 firms across the U.S. 

Here are some of the many insights uncovered to date:

  • Nearly three-quarters of Litigation Support Professionals (LSPs) reported being paid an annual salary with the average salary equal to $75,700.
  • The average Litigation Support Manager earns $111,000 per year while their direct reports average $89,300 of total compensation per year.
  • 65% of LSPs received an annual bonus, and a super majority reported that the size of their bonus was based on merit and/or their employer’s success. 
  • The average annual raise was 3.1% this past year, with the highest and lowest earning LSPs receiving the lowest annual raises on a percentage basis.
  • 55% of LSPs agree or strongly agree that their employer’s technology makes it easy for them to do their work well, while 27% say that their employer’s technology is antiquated or somewhat antiquated.
  • Nearly 32% consider themselves satisfied with their positions while almost 30% are dissatisfied with the recognition that they receive.
  • More than half of LSPs believe that their employer’s reputation is within the top 20% of their industry.
  • 55% are satisfied to moderately satisfied with their work/life balance and over 70% are moderately satisfied to satisfied with their boss.
  • LSPs consider on-the-job training to be the most valuable training method, followed by Webinars, Seminars, and then Self-Study.
  • Two-thirds of LSPs are satisfied or mostly satisfied with their career, while only 51% are satisfied or mostly satisfied with their compensation.
  • 62% of LSPs have a private office while 52% have an office window.
  • While less than 10% of LSPs are actively looking for a new job, the majority are open to better employment opportunities.

Summary:  Hot! Candidates are paid well, the work is interesting and while LSP’s do not feel they receive as much recognition as they would like, it appears to be an area of strong consideration for those with excellent technology background even without legal knowledge.

This is a small portion of the insights that are available to participants who have completed the comprehensive salary and utilization survey.  OLP/Zylab will continue to update the information, so check back quarterly for updated reports and new insights. For more information or to participate in the survey, please visit www.theolp.org.  For more information regarding ZyLab, go to: www.zylab.com.


Legal Tech West Coast: A Wealth of Information

Dollars Risk & Responsibility vs. Cost Control:
Managing eDiscovery’s Great Balancing Act
A Session Presented by Bill Speros 
LegalTech West Coast 2011


Guest Blogger:  Raul Estravit

Legal Tech West Coast – what a wealth of information! On Wednesday, May 18, I attended the session given by Bill Speros, lead counsel handling all of the e-discovery and litigation processing matters related to the Madoff case. Certainly a case that gives him great credibility.  Speros concentrated on risks and responsibilities in the management of the ediscovery process such as what to look for in keeping costs down and the allocation of responsibilities to all parties concerned. 

He covered solutions on predictability vs. consistency; the merging of responsibility with authority; management of ESI attributes; and providing visibility into asymmetric knowledge and skills.

It is difficult for law firms to determine or even guess the exact cost of discovery with regard to predictability versus consistency.  A set of data often thought to be manageable, often grows into a huge endeavor when ediscovery and labor costs escalate during the culling process.  This is a critical point where the framing of the issues and negotiations between the opposing parties can help make culling options easier and less costly to manage.

Speros referred to the “what if costs”: those costs based upon fear or extortion factors generated by an aggressive opposing side.  These factors add costs that are surprisingly reported to be about 40% -60% of the total costs of an ediscovery project. This statistic has raised concerns that expanded discovery could force settlements based upon costs rather than law. Often, cases have been settled as soon as one of the parties figures out it would be far more economical to pay rather than play.   

Management of ESI Attributes
Law firms frequently give responsibility for managing a case to pivotal core people in the ESI phase such as a seasoned paralegal, staff attorney or onsite project manager.  These professionals have hands-on experience running large document intensive ESI and database driven projects.

Provide Visibility in Asymmetric Knowledge and Skills
Personnel staffing ESI projects should be given clear lines of responsibility and be part of ESI planning and strategic management.  They should be given a voice in meetings.  Analysis of projects reveals teams that are successful are those that have been included in the execution of the project.

Sources
Knowing the source of the data can give you a certain idea as to the amount of data a particular custodian may have but it is not a definitive way of knowing the total amount that could be mined.

Starting off eDiscovery with a date range and a set of key words will certainly limit the amount of data at the “first bite of the apple” or at the source.   However, if you do not get exactly what you are seeking and need to go back to the third party e-discovery vendor to re-run the data search with a more modified set of terms and date ranges, you’ll most definitely rack up costs. Clearly, here is a situation to be avoided.

I was amused at the frankness from Speros.  One way to keep costs down, he said,  is to try and squeeze third-party vendors.  In this new economy, this technique could now become the norm. These days, vendors are struggling to keep a constant work flow.  Therefore, they are willing to negotiate price more than ever when you go back for a second bite at the apple.

Content
The value of the content must be weighed against costs.  Is the data current or archived?  When data is archived, the data is sprawled and spread out over various formats. Piecing it all together could cost quite a bit of time and technology.  Even if the data is on a hard drive, it could have sections deleted and need more forensic handling. Forensic data can look like “confetti” which in turn becomes more costly to produce.   

Format
How do you produce ESI data without the proprietary database or application? Exporting from certain types of applications make it virtually impossible to use without the application itself.  In this scenario, the data is incomprehensible.

In certain cases, courts have placed the burden of purchasing the application on the requesting party.  If they want the data that badly, they should be ready to pay for it.

Duration
Does the data you are seeking go so far back that it was once owned by a different corporation?  Many corporations and companies are bought and sold over time. One would think past records are kept but actually, that is not always the case.  If the data goes far beyond the time the present corporation has been running  operations, you may be out of luck. There is no real obligation to keep records from the last business that operated the company.  However, if the data is accessible, you have to produce it unless it is just too expensive.

Quite often, lawyers ask the court for relief from the cost of producing documents electronically.  Just as often, they come to court without a specific example of costs, driving judges crazy. No lawyer enjoys being singled out for wasting judges’ time when the judge sends them back to figure out the costs.

Trial-logue
I am a big fan of one of the topics covered by Speros. We call it weekly meetings but he calls it “trial-logue”, a great phrase for constant communication between the team members. I really cannot count how many times the lack of communication created a monster of an issue that could have easily been resolved by a phone call.  Hopefully, this phrase will become widely used in the language of legal technology.

Speros concluded by reminding us that a cohesive team is one that is utilizing the talent of each member for the successful operation of a well-run and less costly ediscovery project.  These are some of the finer points that lead us in the right direction and allow for the timely production of data without sacrificing quality.  That is the art of Litigation Technology and well run ediscovery projects.


"Keeping Current Can Be Hard to Do for Law Librarians"

I bet! In fact, I've often thought that being a law librarian would be a most interesting job. Just think about everything you would learn!

"Librarians are curious people. We like to skim magazines and books, we like to surf the Web and we have some interest in a lot of topics. A former co-worker used to say that librarians are 'trivial' in that we are always picking up trivia -- a definite asset when one needs to keep current in their profession.

"I was familiar with blogs, wikis and social software before I wrote 'The Many Hats of a Law Librarian: Part 3.'

[snip]

"So, keeping current has two parts: awareness of new or changing resources/activities and appreciation of possible uses or impact in your institution. Or, there may not be a use in your library. Mash-ups look to be a fun technology, but I do not see a need for it at my institution at this time. Law firm librarians may find it more interesting.

"Keeping current is not just for technology advances, although technology does drive much of the change and activity. My 'Hats' series [of articles] is an attempt to describe how the Internet and electronics have impacted and continue to impact our profession. Our traditional hats as modified by technology means current awareness crosses more lines and covers more topics than ever."

Author Tricia Kasting is a reference/government documents librarian at Hofstra University School of Law's Deane Law Library in Hempstead, N.Y.


"Consultant Compatibility: Take the Quiz"

Always good to have thoughtful checklists for hiring vendors, I say. And this quiz from Legal Technology looks very helpful:

"There's a saying that starts, 'You know you're in trouble if ...' But sometimes, by the time you know you're in trouble, it's too late to start asking 'Why?'

"One example of such a time is with e-discovery and legal technology projects. If you're halfway through the project and run into trouble, backtracking to correct the problem usually isn't an option. A nearly ironclad way around that problem includes proper preparation and having the right team. These are key elements to the success of any legal technology project, from e-discovery to product-implementation schemes to training sessions.

[snip]

"In this article, we offer the nitty-gritty for attorneys and others involved in e-discovery and other legal technology projects. Start the process of answering key questions by taking the consultant compatibility quiz...."

Authors Christin Martin and Kelly Lumpkin are consultants with Simpson Neely Group Inc., which provides technology consulting services to corporate law departments.


"Can Data Have a Life After a Death?"

Of course! Just be sure to utilize some basic, but smart, computer management skills:

"Everyone who has worked with a computer, even before the arrival of the Internet, knows the sickening feeling of loss. Without warning, hours of your work suddenly vanish from the screen. You hope (and pray) that perhaps it's been saved in a backup or temp file -- but often it's not. As your internal soundtrack turns up the volume on Don Henley and Glenn Frey, you realize that your carefully crafted project is 'already gone' -- and that it's not the time for a victory song. Instead, you will have to painstakingly recreate the work you had already done -- but didn't get a chance to (or even forgot to) save before the crash signaled by the apparently ubiquitous 'blue screen of death.'

"Fortunately, this problem is an easy one to fix -- before the fact. Periodic automatic save features can be turned on in many programs, such as Word, and 'Control S' has become an automatic part of typing for many people. On a systemwide basis, network administrators can generate minute-by-minute backups -- many thanks to David, Steve and the Help Desk at my firm, because their efforts have often saved me during computer or system crashes and blackouts."

Author Stanley P. Jaskiewicz, a business lawyer at the Philadelphia law firm of Spector Gadon & Rosen P.C., helps clients solve e-commerce, corporate contract and technology-law problems, and is a member of e-Commerce Law & Strategy's Board of Editors. Jaskiewicz thanks his legal assistant, Frank Manzano, for his research support for this article.


"A Paralegal's View of The ABA Techshow"

Excellent review of the ABA Legal Techshow posted on the Indiana Paralegal Association blog:

"As I write this article, I am on the train heading back from Chicago after four (4) days of legal tech submersion at the annual the America Bar Association Legal Techshow. The ABA Techshow is an annual gathering of the most prominent legal techies from across the country and some say in the entire world. It includes; lawyers, paralegals, IT professionals, litigation support specialists, law librarians, office managers, etc . I was very impressed with the turn-out of Indiana Paralegals during the convention, but somewhat surprised at the lack of CLE courses directed towards paralegals. However; overall, I believe the conference was a success, and I am already looking forward to next year’s conference. Below are some of the highlights of the conference....."

Author Courtney David Mills is the IPA Technology Director & Litigation Paralegal at Hall Render Killian Heath & Lyman, P.C.


"Document Imaging: Keeping It Simple"

Author Tony DeLoera, the chief technology officer at Ice Miller, describes how to manage document imaging the right way:

"Simplicity. This was the guiding principle in our selection of a document-imaging system. In early 2005, Indianapolis-based Ice Miller was overrun with paper. With 225 attorneys, and three branch offices in Chicago, Washington, D.C., and Naperville, Ill., we decided to leverage the decision to change our office copiers as an opportunity to gain more control over our workflow.

"We needed a document-imaging system that our attorneys and other professionals could use with little or no training. We wanted our users to be able to walk up to a copier and scan documents directly to a PC desktop or to software, such as Microsoft's Word and Outlook, or Hummingbird Enterprise. We wanted a simple system so our users could copy without calling the IT help desk.

"But simplicity didn't mean we wanted a simplistic application. We did not want to scan documents only to have them scatter, unindexed, inside our IT network. All that would do is transfer our document handling difficulties from unstructured paper to unstructured electronic data. Rather, we wanted a program that integrated with our existing software (Hummingbird Enterprise, Captaris Inc.'s RightFax, Word and Outlook) and would improve our office efficiencies."

The full article is a must-read for those interested in expanding their roles into firm management...


"Ten Must-Have Apps for the Solo Practitioner"

More helpful info from Rick Georges, author of the FutureLawyer blog [links below from original post]:

"This month I'm focusing on application software. Although there are different software preferences for every lawyer, I'm sticking to Windows, since most lawyers use it. As with last month's article, 'Ten Must-Have Web Sites for Solo Practitioners,' picking the best of anything is difficult, so I'll focus on what I use every day in my practice. I'm sure I'll hear from you about software you use, that I missed.

[snip]

"As with last month's article [Ten Must-Have Web Sites for Solo Practitioners], there are many other software applications that I could have mentioned, as I'm certain that there are a few that you might suggest. However, I use every application in this column at least once each day of my life, and my law practice would be lost without them. If you have an essential application that is important to your law practice, send me an e-mail and let me know. Now, go out and use computer software to improve your life and your law practice."

Definitely liked the inside scoop of how this lawyer daily uses technology. What would your list of "top apps" look like? Is your own Treo "NEVER far from [your] cold hands"?


"E-Lawyering Requires Rethinking Technology and Law"

Great article about the new federal discovery rules, describing these changes in an understandable, even humorous way:

"This changes everything."

"Those three words, wafting on the familiar, buoyant tones of the actor saying them, have staying power. No survivor of the dot-com boom of the 1990s could forget William Shatner's ubiquitous ads on behalf of a certain online travel company.

"Indeed, online booking did change the travel industry. When was the last time anyone had a paper ticket, or called a human travel agent just to check flight times? Buyers and sellers of books, music and news all have seen the same cataclysm in their business models -- a subtle but certain shift from dialing a phone number or visiting a store to signing in, logging on and clicking a mouse.

"And, in fact, e-commerce lawyers are included in this migration to technology. Just as e-commerce has disrupted the travel, music, book and news retailing industries, the influence of technology on business and the law has also wrought havoc on our legal system. [Emphasis added.] Certainly, the law has always had to adapt specific rules for new technology.

"Today, the pervasive role that technology has assumed in business and legal practice, as more and more of our daily lives are lived online, provides a more fundamental challenge to how attorneys practice business law. In an age when 'paper file' has become an anachronism and an oxymoron, business law and the way it is practiced have required more than just tinkering with particular rules."

Author Stanley P. Jaskiewicz, a business lawyer, helps clients solve e-commerce, corporate, contract and technology-law problems, and is a member of the Board of Editors of Internet Law & Strategy \'s sibling newsletter, E-Commerce Law & Strategy.