Should paralegals fear artificial intelligence?

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“AI may take a bulk of the administrative and even repetitive tasks that are included within the paralegal role,” says Eda Rosa, host of the podcast Let’s Talk Paralegal and CEO and founder of Eda Rosa, a law firm consultancy. (Image from Shutterstock)

As the legal industry braces for technological disruption, paralegals are facing scrutiny, raising questions about the compatibility of human expertise with the efficiency of machine intelligence.

Is it a case of “Anything you could do, I could do better?” Or do paralegals provide a personal instinct that can’t be replaced by bots?

While paralegals aren’t totally expected to be obliterated, there are changes expected that may be concerning to them.

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, paralegal jobs are expected to increase by 4%—the equivalent of 14,800 jobs—from 2022 to 2032. But the bureau also released a 2023 report showing that the legal services sector (made up of paralegals, lawyers and other legal assistants) lost 4,200 jobs in August 2023. And a recent Goldman Sachs report finds that generative AI could replace up to 44% of the legal profession.

“AI may take a bulk of the administrative and even repetitive tasks that are included within the paralegal role,” says Eda Rosa, host of the podcast Let’s Talk Paralegal and CEO and founder of Eda Rosa, a law firm consultancy. “However, it will not be able to analyze and strategize a case to the capacity of a lawyer or a paralegal. Like any other technology, it has its limitations.”

Those include AI’s inability to translate intricate legal terminology into laymen’s terms for clients and stakeholders; its difficulty navigating and adapting to new scenarios; and its struggle finding creative solutions to new challenges, Rosa says.

Toni Marsh, director of the paralegal studies program at George Washington University, did an experiment last year looking at paralegals who use AI versus paralegals who use traditional workflow options.

While the AI group had some issues—they repeatedly prompted the chatbot to make sure the contracts were accurate—and AI missed key phrases such as “force majeure”—they still finished the job of drafting a contract 15 minutes faster than those who drafted it without a robot’s help.

Since then, a plethora of AI programs targeting the legal industry have been launched, making the bots much more advanced and less likely to hallucinate. The AI tools can be used to conduct legal research; manage case and transaction documents; schedule appointments; track deadlines; and draft emails to clients, opposing counsel, government agencies and witnesses.

The key is a paralegal’s ability to use AI correctly, says Ann Pearson, the founder of Paralegal Boot Camp, a training program for paralegals in Satellite Beach, Florida. Pearson says she doesn’t believe AI will have an immediate impact on paralegals—just like computers didn’t wipe away the legal profession in the ‘90s. But if you look five-plus years out, she says, we will see more law firms requiring paralegals to learn and adopt AI as part of their basic technology skill set.

“I advise paralegals that they shouldn’t worry as much about AI taking their jobs as they should be worried about the paralegal who knows how to use AI taking their jobs in the future,” Pearson says.

For example, it’s likely that the legal research, docketing and e-discovery tools will involve various forms of AI, says Kirk Sigmon, a partner at the intellectual property law firm Banner & Witcoff in Washington, D.C. So while the basic tasks performed by paralegals—including pulling documents from legal research databases, docketing deadlines and managing some e-discovery tasks—may be the same, those paralegals will likely begin to use AI tools to complete the tasks.

To do this, additional paralegal training may be needed, though there aren’t many formal AI training programs available yet.

Kathy Gordon, a Plainfield, Illinois-based senior paralegal and contracts administrator at Broadwind Energy Inc., says she’s attended several lunch-and-learns about how AI could be incorporated in the future, but she hasn’t done any official training via accredited schools or programs so far.

Rosa adds that, although CLE’s are being created, there is pushback from the legal industry against diving into AI. There are a few workshops to help people in general up their AI knowledge, which could help paralegals communicate with AI to receive results quickly and accurately, and each AI software includes training videos, Rosa says.

“So in short, you have to watch many training videos and attend workshops from trusted resources within the legal industry in order to effectively receive the training needed,” she says, adding that she’s still waiting for a bar association or state bar to offer paralegal AI classes.

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