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While the world continues to change with technological growth, keeping in step with technological growth is required in every profession. With radical changes taking place in the entire dynamics of information storage, access, retrieval, publishing, and search and indexing mechanisms, apparently a lot of secretarial work that can be done either more efficiently or cost-effectively by software is being delegated to software.
What is happening is actually a shift in the scope of human endeavor related to every field. Legal secretaries, who previously used to take down dictation in shorthand and then transcribe the dictation by typing out on paper, can now just have digital voice recordings transcribed by software and then just do legal copy editing and create a finished product without the involvement of paper or ink.
The role of the legal secretary is shifting from a career centered around document management and production towards a career where time and project management based upon technology use is becoming increasingly critical.
Right now, a legal secretary does not need to know shorthand but needs to know about electronic document filing. He/she does not need to repetitively retype standard documents every time for different addressees, but he/she needs to know the use of software related to case management, calendaring/docketing, document assembly, legal research, document management, document imaging, litigation support, time and billing, and litigation presentation.
The importance of legal secretaries has not diminished and has no chance of diminishing in the foreseeable future. But what has diminished is the need for services of legal secretaries rendered in the traditional fashion.
So legal secretaries who are not ready to adapt to new ways of working find that the demand of their services is being reduced. This does not affect the demand for core services and competencies of legal secretaries. The workflows have become speedier, and the work that previously needed armies of associates and legal secretaries to be completed can now be done with a few well-trained staff and proper software.
And legal secretaries are adapting faster than ever to the new trends of work. It all depends really upon personal abilities and traits. Even in adapting to software use there are great differences between generations. While today, almost all legal secretaries are comfortable with using at least two categories of software — word processing and calendaring/docketing — curiously many are reluctant to adapt to the use of other software regularly used by law firms.
At the same time, many legal secretaries are forging ahead by learning and using software related to presentations, online research, case management, time and billing, voice recognition, desktop publishing, and even image processing software. By gaining new competencies aligned with modern law firm environments, such legal secretaries continue to be indispensable to law firms.
Technology has become a great leveler in law firm environments, and, from experienced attorneys to legal secretaries, everyone is engaged in adapting to new technology and facing the same or similar problems, as well as becoming empowered with the same or similar capabilities.
The line between the legal secretary, the paralegal, and the back-office staff attorney is blurring every day with the introduction of more and more powerful software systems. Currently, the technological growth has come to a stage where, unthinkably, even logic systems are being offered to and being used by law firms. Such logic systems, which are of immense help to law firms, usually end up being handled by legal secretaries supervised by attorneys.
So as with almost all other functional roles in a law firm, the role of the legal secretary is also changing from that of a document manager to that of an employee with administrative and managerial abilities who works as part of a team and works in a collaborative environment. It’s not something to rue about, but something to celebrate – if you are ready to adapt, your career has just become more secure, and you cannot be replaced anymore by just any other typist walking down the street.
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