FROM PARALEGAL TO SUBJECT MATTER EXPERT – THE EVOLUTION OF THE PARALEGAL PROFESSION
Thursday, October 22, 2015
Posted by: Susan G. Kavanagh
When I entered the paralegal profession nearly 20 years ago, eDiscovery was not on anyone’s radar. Smart phones, iPads and tablets were non-existent. Computers were barely out of the DOS phase and you were lucky if you even had a word processor to type those incredibly cumbersome legal documents.
The good news is as technology progressed, the job got easier; at least some parts of it did. But as technology evolved, I found that I had to evolve as well.
I have always had a love for the law and all things litigation. I knew without a doubt I would be a paralegal, I would do it forever and kept telling myself there was no other job for me. In fact, I was so in love with being a paralegal that I did everything I could to ensure that it would continue to evolve and gain respect as a true profession. I was actively involved in my local paralegal association and then I spent several years on a national paralegal board becoming an evangelist for the paralegal profession – so to speak.
That said, I never anticipated the way technology would transform my career.
The Job Changed, and So Did I
The last ten years especially have been an interesting professional transition for me. I’ve held different positions with law firms and service providers in eDiscovery, but in 2014, my career took a completely different turn. Now, working for ACEDS as Director of Client and Member Services, I’m exactly where I need to be at this point in my career.
As a paralegal working for many years at a top law firm in upstate New York, I had the benefit of working on pretty high-profile matters including some of the largest intellectual property and labor and employment litigation in the Western District of New York. Working on matters like that gave me exposure to many new and different experiences that eventually led to my love and solid understanding of eDiscovery.
Those new to the eDiscovery industry don’t realize that eDiscovery has really been around since technology evolved. Thank you Bill Gates and Steve Jobs for your brilliant minds. Who knew those famous words “You’ve Got Mail” would get so many people in so much trouble?
Why did I learn to embrace eDiscovery? For years, I had been the one that most service providers were calling on to solicit business. Service providers know full well that the paralegal is often the most important person in making technology decisions for litigation.
However, it often seemed that the salesperson calling on me had never seen the inside of a court room, much less have the slightest idea of what products or services could make my life easier. The representatives calling on me did not understand the lifecycle of litigation to the extent that I did. I discovered very quickly that this was one of the ways I could bring value to my experience, my profession and my credentials as a paralegal.
From Paralegal to eDiscovery Pro
Mid-way through my career, I took my experience and started providing paralegal services to solo, small and mid-sized law firms. Those paralegal services, however, were highly specialized in eDiscovery. Small firms that normally outsourced eDiscovery to larger, more capable firms, started taking advantage of my litigation support services focusing on eDiscovery management. They learned quickly how to make eDiscovery a profit center for their firm. This was great for a number of reasons. First, I could be my own boss. Second, I had the luxury of picking and choosing which projects I wanted to handle and third, I was now giving the smaller firms an opportunity to keep this very profitable business in their practice.
Interestingly, this arrangement became far more attractive to service providers than I had anticipated. I started getting phone calls from eDiscovery companies asking me if I would consult with them contractually on a case-by-case basis. I was being engaged to go on eDiscovery planning meetings and I suddenly became an unofficial expert of eDiscovery services. I became a resource and an educator not just for law firms, but I was able to help providers understand this process from the law firm perspective.
After some careful thought and consideration, I joined forces with another local startup eDiscovery company. They had the resources and technology that I could not financially afford, but together we thought we could provide a well-round service offering to the legal community. Unfortunately, the economy was simply not in a position to absorb another startup.
As a result, I made the temporary jump back into the vendor space until I finally made the move to ACEDS. I truly enjoy being on this side of the gate and I love sharing knowledge and information with people who need my help. Now I work with professionals to help them enhance their skills and knowledge through training, education and certification.
The bottom line is that I understand why paralegals are so important to the legal process- because they understand the technical side. Paralegals understand time constraints, deadlines and why collections may take longer than the attorney anticipates. eDiscovery has changed the litigation paralegal’s job forever, but it has also made the paralegal’s job even more valuable. Paralegals understand the nuances that are involved with collecting data, sorting it, culling and filtering it and ultimately, reviewing it. Paralegals are the ones who keep the wheels in motion.
Despite the fact that I have a different job title now, I am first, foremost and always a paralegal. It is my true north. In my role at ACEDS, I am using my paralegal skills on a daily basis. I am just a paralegal who happens to love technology and has found a different way to use my knowledge. I think a lot of other paralegals are discovering this same reality, and it is remaking careers in all sorts of exciting, unexpected ways.
Susan Kavanagh, RP, CeDP, CLSP is Director of Client & Member Services for ACEDS & ACFCS at The BARBRI Group