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Paralegals have always been a crucial part of the legal industry, providing support to lawyers, law firms, and legal departments. Their responsibilities encompass a variety of tasks, from legal research and document management to due diligence and contract management.

But with Artificial Intelligence (AI) making inroads into the legal industry and showing unprecedented capability to carry out several routine paralegal tasks, questions have been raised about the future of paralegal work, with many fearing that they’d be out of a job soon.

But is this really a possibility, or is it just another myth?

This guide gets into the meat of this issue, baring all the facts and offering insights on how paralegals can stay relevant in this transformative era.

What do paralegals do?

Before we consider the possibility of getting replaced by AI, it is important to get a clearer picture of what paralegals actually do on a workday. The specific responsibilities of paralegals can vary depending on the jurisdiction and the type of law practiced by the firm or organization. 

Paralegals do not provide legal advice or represent clients in court, as those are tasks reserved for licensed attorneys. Instead, they support attorneys in their legal work and contribute to the overall efficiency of legal operations.

Some of these tasks are indeed routine and capable of getting automated, while some are less frequent with fewer chances of getting automated.

#1 Legal research

Paralegals conduct legal research to gather information about laws, regulations, and legal precedents relevant to a particular case or legal matter. They use various resources, such as legal databases, books, and online sources, to find and analyze information.

#2 Document management

Paralegals play a crucial role in organizing and managing contracts, pleadings, and other legal documents related to cases and transactions. This includes creating, indexing, and storing files, ensuring all paperwork is up to date, and maintaining a system that makes them easily accessible for attorneys and other team members.

#3 Case management

Paralegals play a crucial role in keeping cases on track and ensuring all necessary steps are taken to move cases forward. They assist with scheduling appointments, tracking important deadlines, and ensuring all the required documentation and information are readily available for attorneys and clients.

#4 Client communication

Paralegals often function as liaisons, fostering strong relationships between attorneys and lawyers. They communicate with clients to gather information, provide updates on case progress, answer routine inquiries, and provide information about new developments and necessary paperwork.

#5 Legal correspondence

Paralegals draft and review legal correspondence, such as letters, emails, and memos, on behalf of attorneys. This correspondence is used to communicate with other parties involved in a case, including opposing counsel, witnesses, and government agencies.

#6 Investigation support

Paralegals may assist in investigations related to cases. This can involve gathering evidence, interviewing witnesses, working with experts to build a comprehensive understanding of issues, and conducting research to support the development of a case. Lawyers generally agree that their contributions are invaluable in building a solid legal argument.

#7 Trial preparation

For cases that go to trial, paralegals play a critical role in preparing the attorney and witnesses. They assist in organizing trial exhibits, preparing witnesses for testimony, organizing trial binders, and coordinating logistical aspects of the trial. 

#8 Compliance and due diligence

Paralegals help ensure their firm or organization complies with relevant laws and regulations. They also assist in due diligence processes, such as conducting background checks and reviewing legal documents when companies enter into contracts or mergers.

Also read: Company Due Diligence Checklist

#9 Document review

Paralegals review legal documents like contracts, court filings, and other critical paperwork for accuracy and relevance, looking for inconsistencies, errors, or omissions. This is an essential part of the legal process as it helps prevent disputes and potential legal complications.

Also read: The Perfect Contract Review Checklist

Why are paralegals wary of AI?

In one of her experiments, Tony Mash—a professor of Paralegal Studies at George Washington  University—divided her class of aspiring paralegals into two groups. The goal of the experiment was to determine if AI is actually better at doing routine paralegal tasks.

One group had access to Open AI's ChatGPT, while the other worked without AI assistance. 

Both groups were tasked with drafting a contract between a building owner and a landscaping company.

When the groups got to work, the one with AI assistance realized that the draft produced by ChatGPT didn’t have several important provisions like “force majeure,” which protects contracting parties from liabilities during unforeseen events. They had to prompt it multiple times to complete the draft with all necessary provisions. 

Yet, they finished 15 minutes before the group without AI assistance.

AI has since gotten a lot smarter, with several specialized tools for contract analysis, legal research, contract management, and e-discovery becoming more mainstream.

AI is faster, more efficient, offers more accuracy and consistency, and isn't prone to burnout and oversight errors. In light of these, many paralegals worry about its potential to devalue their jobs or even replace them altogether.

Also read: Top 5 Free AI Tools for In-House Legal Teams

Facts vs Fiction: Will AI replace paralegals?

“To me, AI is the next internet. If you're not using it, you're falling behind. AI is going to move rapidly in a direction where it will help a lot of us make processes more efficient. I don't think the GC goes away. AI is a tool but it doesn't replace decision making.”

Celaena Powder, VP of Legal, Seismic
From Security to Sales: Building Cross-functional Bridges

AI has shown unprecedented capabilities with paralegal duties. They complete tasks faster than paralegals, running through documents and delivering results in seconds.

But will its superior capabilities make paralegals lose their jobs? The simple answer is NO. While AI wins in every area of technicality, it lacks one critical factor: the human touch. And that’s what will keep paralegals in the game.

Below, we’ve detailed the various areas and situations where AI typically fails to function in comparison to human paralegals.

#1 Confidentiality and trust

“Most organizations are realizing that they should have a policy in place for AI adoption, because, otherwise, there's a risk of customer data or confidential data being put into the public tooling.”

Ken Priore, ex-Director of Privacy, Atlassian
Mastering the Intersection of Law, Technology, and Privacy

The safety and confidentiality of client information is one of the most paramount considerations of legal practice. Paralegals often serve as the link between attorneys and clients, handling sensitive information with the care and discretion it deserves. 

The trust that clients place in their legal representatives is built on this confidentiality, which is challenging to replicate with AI. While AI can be programmed to maintain data security, the element of trust and the human touch that paralegals provide are invaluable. 

The nuanced understanding of a client's needs and the ability to establish a personal connection cannot be replaced by lines of code.

#2 Bringing deep context to data

“Some people are scared of AI but I honestly think it's just going to make everyone's life so much easier. You really can't substitute a lawyer. Take risk tolerance, for example. Maybe AI can give you data on which path you can take but, at the end of the day, you need context to be able to make a call. So, I personally don't think it’s scary. It’s actually really cool.”

Katayoon Tayebi, Associate General Counsel, FIGS
Accelerating Your Career as In-house Counsel

While AI can help with legal research and analysis by rapidly scanning and retrieving vast amounts of information, it has limitations in understanding and interpreting the data in a way that is both contextually and situationally relevant. This is because legal language is often complex and nuanced, requiring a deep understanding of legal precedents, history, and culture.

But unlike AI, paralegals possess the ability to understand not just what data says but also how it applies to specific situations.

Also read: AI in Contract Analysis: Definition, Benefits & Tips for Success

#3 Ethical and moral considerations

Legal practice is not merely about facts and rules. It is deeply rooted in ethical and moral considerations. Paralegals play a pivotal role in ensuring that legal strategies and actions align with the ethical standards of the profession.

Their ability to apply nuanced judgment and navigate moral dilemmas is a distinctly human trait that AI, driven by algorithms and data, cannot emulate.

#4 Autonomy in performance

“Generative AI will not replace lawyers.  In fact, it needs humans to stay involved, especially when used for legal work.”

~ Sterling Miller, CEO and Senior Counsel for Hilgers Graben PLLC
Ten Things: Chatgpt And Generative Ai

AI is fast, efficient, and reliable. But it cannot run by itself. There will always be a need for human input and oversight. Moreover, AI tools are only as good as the data that goes in and out of them. Thus, a paralegal will always be needed to control the system, review and validate its outputs, and ensure that it meets several legal and ethical requirements.

#5 Creativity and adaptability

The legal profession is replete with multifaceted challenges that require creativity and adaptability. While AI can assist with routine tasks, it cannot replicate the multidimensional creativity that paralegals bring to problem-solving. 

Paralegals often need to think outside the box, adapt to new circumstances, and find innovative solutions to unusual circumstances. The human mind's ability to adapt to ever-changing environments and devise creative strategies is a facet of legal work that AI is still far from mastering.

#6 Courtroom performance

For certain aspects of legal work, particularly in the courtroom, there is no substitute for a human presence. Paralegals often assist attorneys during trials, offering valuable support and ensuring the proceedings run smoothly. 

Their ability to read the courtroom atmosphere, react to unexpected developments, and assist with real-time decision-making is an indispensable component of the legal process. While AI can aid in preparing legal documents, it cannot replicate the nuanced, real-time actions and interactions required of paralegals in the courtroom.

Leveling up: How paralegals can stay relevant in the age of AI

While the question of whether AI will fully replace paralegals remains a subject of debate, it is clear that the role of paralegals is evolving in response to these technological advancements.

To stay relevant and valuable in this transformative phase, paralegals must keep an open mind and bring a different approach to their roles. Here, we’ve discussed crucial strategies you must consider.

#1 Embrace AI as a collaborative tool

The first step in staying relevant is to embrace AI as a partner rather than viewing it as a threat. AI can be a powerful asset for paralegals, automating routine tasks like document review, legal research, and contract analysis

By leveraging AI tools, you can free up more time for higher-value, complex tasks that require your unique skills, insights, and judgment.

#2 Enhance your legal tech skills

To remain indispensable in the age of AI, paralegals should invest in developing their legal tech skills. This means becoming proficient in the AI-powered tools and software that are increasingly becoming part of the legal toolkit. 

From e-discovery platforms to contract management systems, understanding how these technologies work and integrating them into your workflow can significantly boost efficiency.

As a matter of fact, AI won’t take your job. But someone with AI skills might!

#3 Improve your soft skills

The significance of soft skills cannot be overemphasized. While AI can handle many of the technical aspects of legal work, it is still a long way from replicating the interpersonal and empathetic skills that paralegals bring to the table. To remain relevant, you must continue to hone your soft skills, such as negotiation, communication, time management, multi-tasking, and client interaction.

Effective communication is especially vital in translating complex legal matters into understandable language for clients. Paralegals who can bridge the gap between legal jargon and layperson's terms are invaluable. Furthermore, the ability to empathize and build trust with clients is a unique human trait that AI cannot replicate. It's in these areas that paralegals can truly differentiate themselves.

#4 Never stop adapting

The legal landscape is ever-evolving, and AI technologies are no exception. To stay at the forefront, paralegals must commit to a mindset of continuous learning and adaptation. This includes staying updated on the latest legal tech developments, understanding the evolving regulatory landscape surrounding AI in law, and being prepared to adapt to new tools and methodologies.

Wrapping up

Following the proliferation of AI in the legal industry, many have feared that their days as paralegals are now numbered.

But this is not true. Paralegals will always be relevant as long as they continue to evolve with the industry.

So, embrace AI as an ally, learn to utilize it for enhanced productivity, and never stop improving your soft and technical skills.

Remember: AI will not take your job. Somebody with AI skills might!

“What’s exciting is that now there's a lot of companies, such as SpotDraft and others, bringing in the next generation of technologies. And the people that are designing them actually know what Legal needs, both internally as well as for outside counsel, and are being very sophisticated with it.”

Doug Luftman, COO & CLO, ScaleWith
The Key to Success as an In-House Legal Counsel & Leader

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