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How Emerging Technology Is Evolving the Legal Administrative Assistant Function

Through the years, the role of the legal administrative assistant (LAA) has experienced radical changes. For decades, firms have faced pressure to have non-lawyer staff do more with less and have turned to technology to help keep pace with large volumes of work. 

Dan Tacone

In the past 40 years, the introduction of technology such as the modern calculator, PCs, the internet and mobile devices has represented inflection points in the role of LAAs. These advances have helped these employees show their value beyond the secretarial role of days past and created opportunities to take on more strategic roles within the firm.

Today, a new wave of technological innovation within firms is creating another inflection point for LAAs. The rapid adoption of automation technology —  such as artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning — has made it possible for repetitive tasks to be efficiently handled through increasingly sophisticated software. As a result, LAAs are becoming even more tech-savvy and have been presented with another chance to focus on higher-value work that impacts the overall client experience.


Although many lawyers still maintain their own dedicated LAA, progressive firms are changing that paradigm to provide one for every five to seven lawyers. Interestingly, this change isn’t just happening in the legal field. In fact, a 2019 McKinsey report, The Future of Women at Work, claimed that between 40 million and 160 million women globally in LAA positions will need to transition their jobs to higher-skilled roles by 2030. Although the LAA role is not gender-exclusive, the data from this woman-focused survey speaks volumes about how technology adoption is forcing LAAs to explore and develop new skillsets.

Assistants used to tirelessly produce all of the documents for a matter, but many larger firms now farm out this type of work to centralized locations that use AI and machine learning technology to streamline document production. With the help of AI, legal assistants can now produce sophisticated and highly accurate documents faster than ever.

With this time-consuming task handled by machines, legal assistants can act more like project managers. They are now charged with reviewing documents to ensure the AI tools create content that meets client needs, digitizing existing content and teaching the software to produce better documents in the future. They are also being asked to oversee document management, organize the increasing amount of data collected during a case and communicate this information with the lawyers and clients involved.

On top of that, the productivity gains allow each LAA to focus on the vital duties that only a human can do, such as interacting with clients and third-party vendors while helping lawyers prepare for hearings, trials and corporate meetings.

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When firms use AI and other modern technology to gather useful data and insights into matters, they gain the benefits of eliminating data silos and creating a centralized data repository. This shift also underpins increasingly successful business development efforts, faster conflicts clearance, more effective execution of client requirements, and improved pricing models. No longer do LAAs, paralegals or junior lawyers need to manually comb through reams of data to check for conflicts and client billing constraints. AI-enabled software handles that work quickly and efficiently, alerting firms to problems or issues early in the matter lifecycle. Thus, clients never see an incorrect bill or discover too late that their counsel is conflicted out of working the matter.

“Smart law firm leaders quickly realized that elevating the LAA function to a strategic partnership in client service delivery helps their firm demonstrate to clients a commitment not only to efficiency but also to deep collaboration and comprehensive service.” 

While the idea of software automating the rote tasks that can fill a legal assistant’s day may worry some, it actually complements the work they do and augment it in a way that enables growth.

Automation is not just a way to increase productivity and save money for the firm and its clients. In many ways, LAAs are now empowered to handle many of the duties traditionally handled by paralegals –– including the duty of answering phones and speaking with clients before they meet with the attorney. This new role makes intricate matter knowledge and people skills, especially the ability to patiently interact with a frustrated client, more important than ever for LAAs, as it can determine whether that client chooses to stay with a firm or take their business elsewhere. And, in turn, it creates relief for paralegals and lawyers alike. Paralegals are enabled to up-level their skills to perform more of the high-value non-legal work that many lawyers were doing in the past, and lawyers can focus keenly on legal matters and producing the best client outcomes possible.


In the face of increasing client demands for more competitive pricing, firms feel pressure to cut costs and provide exceptional service on every matter. By using automation to perform the repetitive matter-related tasks and freeing up legal assistants to handle higher-value work, the senior lawyers can provide superior service to the client.

As one example, when a matter crosses a given milestone, multiple activities are triggered: standard documents may need to be drafted, internal and external email communications may need to be sent, calendar events may need to be scheduled, and items may need to be filed in the firm’s document management system. Forward-thinking firms are automating these types of activities, minimizing several hours of administrative work to just a few minutes. Not only does the matter become more profitable, but clients benefit from improved experience and outcomes.

The human touch of an LAA — a quick reply, an expedited meeting or even warm conversation — often bolsters clients’ positive impressions of the firm, providing a competitive advantage. Adding complexity to their responsibility, today’s legal administrative assistants may now serve as many as seven lawyers — almost doubling their workload from what it was just a few years ago. Scheduling, coordinating and confirming the work of the firm at such a scale requires the use of modern tools that help administrative assistants stay ahead of the volume while producing superior work and ensuring an excellent client experience.


As automation continues to change the role of administrative support staff in law firms, these critical members of staff will need to develop new skills to become more mobile and tech-savvy. Although proper career development will undoubtedly require training and education, many firms are investing in certification programs and up-skilling because they help deliver stronger outcomes for their clients, boosting repeat business and the firm’s overall reputation.

During these rapidly evolving times, firms have adjusted to meet general counsels’ demands for greater efficiency, billing flexibility, technology adoption, transparent communication and efficient matter coordination. Smart law firm leaders quickly realized that elevating the LAA function to a strategic partnership in client service delivery helps their firm demonstrate to clients a commitment not only to efficiency but also to deep collaboration and comprehensive service. In turn, LAAs gain a growth path focused on modern technology, higher-level thinking and client-facing service.