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Friday, October 23, 2015  
Posted by: Jason Krause
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Patricia Lyons is the President of the American Association for Paralegal Education (AAfPE). Last month she returned to work as a full-time paralegal after teaching aspiring paralegals for many years. ACEDS talked to her at the AAfPE Conference in Milwaukee this week about the state of paralegal education. During the opening conference session, educators from around the country shared their struggles with how to educate paralegals about eDiscovery.

Here are her thoughts on the issue:

Why is eDiscovery and technology education so important for paralegals and paralegal educators today? 

Obviously, changes in technology and the law are driving this need, but we have also found a lot of the paralegal educators and a lot of the paralegal programs are ABA approved, and the ABA is very focused on technology. The ABA comes into schools and they want to see what type of technology you have, what the students can use, and what types of programs you are teaching them.

On top of that, we see in employer surveys that they want to know what type of technology paralegals can use. Employers know that they need to be doing eDiscovery, but they don’t always know how to do it, so they want to see that paralegals coming out of school have a solid understanding of the topic.

How does eDiscovery education help paralegals in their careers?

To start, some lawyers don’t even know what eDiscovery is. As paralegals are interviewing for a job, it gives them the edge over if they understand what it is over someone who says, “huh?” I’ve been back for a month as a paralegal, so I am now trying to wrap my head around how it all works.

When I left they we’re just starting e-filing at federal courts, so I am a dinosaur. But as I saw this change coming, I was reading about the changes in the law and I was trying to teach my students what they need to know and how to get the information to be competitive in the world today. I found that it is necessary to to find experienced to have paralegals from Boston come in and tell them what it really is as opposed to just what they read in the book.

If you have eDiscovery experience and education you are definitely more marketable if that’s something a firm does. It’s still an underserved market. A lot of lawyers don’t know what they need or know what they don’t know.

How difficult is it for someone to learn eDiscovery if they haven’t experienced it first hand before?

I think that depends on the firm. If you have a lot of big cases, the firm has a litigation department and there are the point people who can take the lead. But for a lot of us, it’s more likely that we will suddenly have a big, complex case headed for trial, then hit the panic button and try to get everyone up to speed after its late in the game.

How hard is it to teach eDiscovery?

I think some of the schools I hear from are trying to teach it to their students, but if you just read it out of a book its hard to get the concepts. It’s a big topic and you need to have more than one semester to cover such a big and ever-changing issue. Some of the educators are talking about having a whole course focused on eDiscovery, which would be great, but I haven’t seen any offer that yet. It’s usually taught as part of a litigation course, but it’s just a part of the course and it’s taught early on and its easy for students to forget by the time they graduate.

Are schools eager to teach eDiscovery to paralegals?

I think they know there’s a need but they are a little scared at the logistics of making it happen. They need to have buy-in from their board, curriculum committees, and deans before even considering teaching it. Then they need to be able to find qualified lecturers or guest lecturers. Even in Boston I found that there weren’t a lot of them.

So how do we make more eDiscovery education available to paralegals?

The answer is to train the trainer. If you can get the word out to educators to help them know what they need to teach, we can pass the knowledge on to the new generation of litigation support staff.

What is the risk?

I think anyone who is on a litigation team should know how to do eDiscovery. I’m sure you saw the stories about the fact that lawyer competence is tied to technical competence in some states now. But the fact is, many lawyers don’t know how to do it and they lean on paralegals. It becomes the paralegal’s duty to support the discovery process through every phase of litigation. That’s a big job.

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