A Paralegal’s Journey Back to the Future


Disclaimer: the software products identified are not specifically endorsed by Ms. McClelen or McManis Faulkner.

Many people have the misconception that working in a smaller law firm (30 attorneys or less) means you cannot have an abundance of resources and technology at your disposal. Some firms, however, make you feel like you are driving the DeLorean in “Back to the Future” and traveling forward in time.  

There are a plethora of litigation and trial support programs at every paralegal’s disposal. Traditionally in small firms, paralegals have manually reviewed every document provided by the client or produced in discovery.  Each document is then organized by subject matter and spread across the paralegal’s desk in stacks.  Then those documents are managed with a good old fashioned mechanical Bates stamp, and when necessary, redacted with a permanent marker. 

In contrast, learning that some firms use Adobe Acrobat and all of its amazing features is a revelation.  Such tools may make you feel like Dr. Brown in the “Back to the Future” movies, when he told Marty McFly that he was sure that “in 1985, plutonium is available in every corner drugstore, but in 1955, it's a little hard to come by.” The ability to electronically organize, Bates stamp, redact and manipulate large groups of documents with only a click of your mouse is ground-breaking.

Another giant leap forward is the concept of a database.  Generally smaller firms may not need to manage more than several thousand documents.  In the new world of litigation, a team may be required to review hundreds of thousands of documents for discovery production.  This may be accomplished by using review platforms such as Relativity, a database management system (DMS), which are remotely hosted. Hundreds of thousands of pages of documents, including native files, e.g. Power Point presentations, Excel, Word documents and emails can be uploaded to a DMS for online document review.  The substantial increase in productivity is as astounding as the reduction of time necessary to review and tag documents as relevant or privileged and to identify “hot” documents for attorney review.    

For the paralegal working with a trial team, trial presentation software such as Sanction is another step to technical proficiency.  The first time using a program like Sanction, may feel like Marty McFly learning how the DeLorean operated, wondering "What the heck's a gigawatt" (i.e. Sanction program).  Large quantities of trial exhibits or documents converted to a Tagged Image File Format (TIFF) can be down loaded into Sanction and projected for the jury with multiple options for adding annotations, highlighting pertinent portions, playing video or audio clips and presenting the evidence in a professional and concise manner.

In today’s world, paralegals need to function as litigation support specialists.  We must utilize both our knowledge of courtroom procedures and rules and our technical knowledge to facilitate the use of technology by both the attorneys we support, as well as the Courts.   My journey to full integration into the world of litigation support technology has increased my value as a paralegal in the 21st century.  Marty McFly said, “If you put your mind to it, you can accomplish anything,” which includes learning and understanding how to use all of the technology at your disposal to be the most efficient and productive paralegal you can be.

Cindy McClelen is a litigation paralegal at McManis Faulkner.  She assists attorneys and legal assistants throughout discovery, case management, and trial preparation.

DISCLAIMER: Because of the generality of this update, the information provided herein may not be applicable in all situations and should not be acted upon without specific legal advice based on particular situations.

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