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Will AI Replace Paralegals? How to Upskill in the Age of AI

Rebecca Spiegel

Written by

Rebecca Spiegel


October 8, 2023

Will AI Replace Paralegals? How to Upskill in the Age of AI

The rise of AI in the legal industry sparks excitement and anxiety among legal professionals. AI is a game changer but cannot eliminate the core competencies that make paralegals irreplaceable.

Paralegals and legal assistants have continuously adapted as new technologies emerge. Now they face the rise of legal AI. Rather than a threat, AI presents immense opportunities for paralegals to drive innovation if they upskill strategically.

By expanding their capabilities, paralegals can harness legal AI to become even more valuable members of their legal teams. The versatility of legal experience and strategic legal thinking make their "human touch" essential, even in the age of AI.

AI's Value: Streamlining Repetitive Legal Work

Powerful legal office automation tools have become commonplace to optimize repetitive administrative tasks. Document assembly software pulls reusable contract clauses and forms templates to automatically generate standardized contracts, briefs, and memos. Solutions like DocuSign enable digital or eSignatures. 

Legal teams also benefit from calendar apps that sync schedules across parties and coordinate meetings. AI enhances this with automatic time-tracking that captures time for these meetings and all associated tasks. Then automated legal billing software will pull these recorded billable hours into itemized invoices associated with the correlating case.

These integrated automation solutions increase efficiency, accuracy, and speed for high-volume, repetitive work. This kind of automation optimizes administrative workflows, but AI can do more. AI can augment more complex responsibilities involving analysis, critical thinking, and strategy.

More advanced AI technologies leverage machine learning and natural language processing (NLP) to automate cognitive tasks. In eDiscovery, for example, predictive coding tools use AI to rapidly analyze huge document sets and identify the most relevant materials. This augments the document review process with automation. 

Contract review platforms also apply NLP and machine learning to parse legal documents, extract key clauses, flag risks, and provide insights. This amplifies the speed and accuracy of contract analysis so law firms can move matters forward at pace.

Some key areas where AI meaningfully augments paralegal workflows include:

  • eDiscovery: AI predictive coding tools rapidly analyze document sets and identify the most relevant materials, augmenting document review.
  • Contract Analysis: AI platforms parse contracts and extract critical information faster while flagging risks and boosting analysis.
  • Conduct Legal Research: AI tools draw connections across case law and provide recommendations, enhancing research.
  • Document Automation: Automated assembly of contracts, briefs, and memos from templates expedites drafting.
  • Predictive Analytics: AI algorithms forecast potential case outcomes based on historical data patterns

Paralegals' Value: Mastering AI

Paralegals play a pivotal role in harmonizing AI tools with their innate skills, offering a blend of critical thinking, adept communication, adaptability, and innovative problem-solving that empowers legal teams to craft optimal workflow solutions.

Critical Thinking Skills and Strategic Insight

Paralegals utilize their critical thinking skills, deduction, and strategic insight to navigate the intricacies of complex legal issues. Their discernment of nuances overlooked by AI helps analyze ambiguous clauses and conduct research. This combined insight identifies unique solutions, underscoring law as an art and science.

Communication and Interpersonal Skills

Paralegals possess the innate ability to interpret intricate legal terminology into lucid explanations for clients and stakeholders. AI struggles to replicate this communication finesse, often sounding overly simplistic or technical. You can tell generative AI who the intended audience will be for certain materials, but generative AI cannot read the room.

Adaptability and Sagacious Judgement

While AI tools are becoming more adaptable, paralegals still maintain key advantages in navigating uncertain situations with sound judgment. Unlike constrained AI, paralegals flexibly apply knowledge to scenarios, conceptualizing and adapting swiftly. AI cannot yet match this agile reasoning.

Creativity and Ingenuity

Paralegals tap into creative ingenuity and lateral thinking to find optimal solutions to novel challenges. Their resourcefulness allows them to approach problems creatively, beyond AI's technical limits. A paralegal or legal assistant understands principles and nuanced context to inform judgment calls and can find creative ways to resolve a new case AI cannot fathom. 

With invaluable expertise, paralegals are indispensable, bridging tech prowess and irreplaceable insight, experience, and empathy. They enhance efficiency, effectiveness, and ground law in more profound understanding.

Upskilling for Paralegals in the AI Landscape

As AI adoption accelerates, upskilling becomes crucial for paralegals to remain integral members of legal teams.

Continuous Learning for Paralegals

Paralegals can stay updated through online courses or webinars/seminars, conferences, and read publications to develop a functional understanding of AI tools in the legal sector. Evaluate tools through demos or play around with free or freemium products to get experience. Subscribing to legal tech newsletters and following thought leaders on social media who cover AI-related topics is a great way to maintain awareness as innovations emerge.

Explore these resources for AI content that piques your interest and keeps you ahead of the curve:

1. YouTube videos, to name a few:

2. Podcasts produced by legal influencers. You can find a wealth of quality podcasts on the Legal Talk Network.

3. We like our podcast on Hacking Law Firm Success.

4. Certification courses from online universities, like Stanford

Get Hands-On With Legal Tech

We recommend actively seeking experience with AI tools for contract review, eDiscovery, analytics, and more. When evaluating potential AI tools to implement at your firm, draw up a checklist of the key capabilities you want the tool to have based on your team’s workflows and needs. 

We recommended compartmentalizing the items into “Must Haves” and “Nice to Haves” as you consider where your law firm is today vs. where it will be in the coming years. This list will help your team make smart decisions when assessing new tools to help you become more efficient and grow.

As you decide which new AI software to adopt, start with a well-defined pilot focused on a single use case before expanding, so you’re guiding the implementation incrementally. Put together training and documentation for the team throughout the law firm or legal department, and make yourself available as the go-to resource on AI best practices. 

Attend Conferences and Workshops

Look for conferences with sessions that introduce you to new AI concepts or provide actionable implementation guidance. Meet with the vendors in the exhibit hall to learn more about their products and where they see legal tech going. You might even consider 

Take advantage of your local bar association or paralegal association seminars on legal tech, legal conferences like NFPA’s Annual Conference, or ABA TECHSHOW. Don’t forget to check out Smokeball’s free CLEs and other webinars that are tech and AI-focused.

Build Relationships With Tech Experts

Attend cross-disciplinary events like Legal Hackers meetups to connect with legal technologists. You might find exciting opportunities to collaborate with these technologists on AI software pilots by lending your legal expertise. In the process, you’ll learn to think like an AI technologist while establishing yourself as a pioneer in the legal technology space.

Enhance Soft Skills

In addition to continuing professional development, paralegals should create time to develop soft skills that will complement AI capabilities. Though technical abilities are crucial, interpersonal strengths remain equally important for legal professionals to nurture.

  • Active listening: Use techniques like paraphrasing when repeating information you just heard, open-ended questions, and non-verbal cues to demonstrate full attention. Active listening strengthens rapport, fuels better collaboration, and ensures mutual understanding.
  • Creative thinking: Approach problems laterally from different perspectives to spark innovative ideas. Implementing solutions using principles like "Yes, and..." where you accept an idea and then add to it is a fun way to start creative thinking. 
  • Empathy: Conduct role-playing exercises and discuss scenarios with colleagues to build your ability to appreciate and balance differing perspectives that are valid.  
  • Collaboration: Identify opportunities to share your skills and insights on team projects to build community.
  • Mentorship: Have informal conversations with experienced paralegals to receive guidance and learn from their expertise.

Focusing on emotional intelligence, communication, and relationships will keep paralegals' value. Maintaining a growth mindset is paramount to your continued success. 

Future Landscape: The Symbiotic Relationship of AI and Paralegals

The future of law firms isn't about AI replacing paralegals but a symbiotic relationship where both complement each other. Predictions about the legal industry suggest that as AI tools become more prevalent, paralegals and other legal professionals equipped with AI knowledge will be in higher demand, not less.

In a world of technological advancements, the synergistic relationship between AI and paralegals is a testament to the enduring value of human touch, ethics, and intuition. Great paralegals who upskill with AI will shape the legal field's future.

Executive Summary:

As AI transforms the legal landscape, paralegals have an opportunity to evolve their roles by strategically upskilling. Rather than replacing paralegals, AI augments repetitive tasks and enhances complex responsibilities involving analysis, critical thinking, and strategy. By mastering legal AI tools for automation, research, analytics, and more, paralegals become even more valuable members of legal teams.

  • AI excels at streamlining high-volume, repetitive legal workflows. This frees up paralegals for more strategic work.
  • Paralegals' strengths in communication, adaptability, creativity, and judgment complement AI capabilities. This human touch remains essential.
  • Upskilling through continuous learning, hands-on experience, conferences, relationship building, and soft skills development allows paralegals to maximize legal AI tools.
  • The future legal landscape will rely on the symbiotic relationship between paralegals and AI, not the replacement of one by the other. Paralegals who upskill will drive innovation.

Learn How Paralegals Become 25% More Productive With Smokeball

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