When it comes to creating a contract, there are multiple figures who play key roles. Of course we think of the attorney who plays a major role in the drafting, reviewing, negotiating, and managing contracts. However, there are more players when it comes to Contract Lifecycle Management (CLM). Specifically, it’s easy to sometimes forget the importance of a paralegal in the CLM.
History of Paralegals
Due to the high expense of lawyers, many low and middle-income Americans could not afford the rapidly rising costs of legal counsel. In the 1960s, a gap was building between legal services provided and legal services required. In an attempt to find balance between quality and cost, the paralegal profession was born.
The idea was to save the more difficult legal dealings for the lawyer and allow the paralegal to handle the time consuming and lower level concerns. It saves the client money and gives access to lower income and middle income Americans. In the early 1970s, the first formal paralegal training began. In the mid 1980s, a definition aligning with how we think of paralegals today was born, and after that it became a staple of nearly all law firms.
While paralegals are not there for giving law advice, they are vital to the legal profession and process. Their main purpose is to assist an attorney. They will work in both the public and the private sector of law.
Their definition is a legal assistant, but their tasks are vital. They are responsible for aspects like investigating the facts of a case, collecting documents from a variety of sources, researching legal cases, writing reports and legal documents, drafting pleadings and motions to be filed with the court, and assisting attorneys during trials. All of which are of the utmost importance for lawyers best serving their clients.
A paralegal’s duties don’t just end with courtroom proceedings. They also assist in preparing civil documents such as wills, contracts, mortgages, and separation agreements; interviewing witnesses and clients; and maintaining communication with clients.
The key here is that paralegals cannot participate in tasks that are considered as “practicing law.” Tasks that are considered as “practicing law” are providing legal advice, representing clients, accepting a client’s case, and determining a client’s fee.
Overall, the paralegal profession is quickly growing as the demand for legal services increases. According to the Bureau of Labor and Statistics, the projection for job growth in the paralegal profession is expected to grow by 10% over the next ten years. This is higher than the national average growth of a profession .
As need continues to increase, so do the innovative ways in which we approach law. Utah recently allowed for changes in the rules of ethics to allow for innovation. It opens the door for positive changes to the way non-lawyers can practice law.
Paralegals and CLM
One of the important roles a paralegal plays is in the contract lifecycle management (CLM).
What is Contract Lifecycle Management (CLM)?
CLM is all about streamlining the contract process. The idea is to help move the contract through key stages. These stages include: initiation, authoring, process and workflow, negotiation and approval, execution, ongoing management and compliance (within the repository), and contract renewal.
Each stage can be time consuming, so lately software is often used here to create and maintain templates that can be reused for various legal documents and scenarios. This is meant to help reduce the occurrence of mistakes and to help expedite the process.
What Paralegals do for CLM
Technological advances are taking place in all fields, and law is no different. As new software is developed for the legal process it requires that those working in the field evolve with the technology. This is especially true for paralegals.
When a lawyer is looking for a paralegal, it is becoming more and more common that technical savviness is one of the key qualifications. In contract lifecycle management, software and technology are key components. As mentioned earlier, programs are being developed and used to expedite the process and help eliminate error. However, the paralegal still plays the crucial role of running that software and double checking it.
For paralegals entering into corporate law settings, they can expect to find their job description closer to that of a legal technology manager. More often than not, lawyers are expecting paralegals to take over more and more of the CLM process.
Check out below more details about the paralegal’s role in CLM:
- Overseeing complete lifecycle of of contract
As mentioned above, lawyers are counting on paralegals to monitor and work on the whole CLM process. That means from the very beginning with the initial request all the way to the final signatures and any renewals. The paralegal can expect to be part of or even lead in the drafting process. They will also find themselves proofreading and locating errors before the final contract is printed.
The innovations in CLM software will greatly improve the proficiency and efficiency of the paralegal’s job.
- Assigning contracts
This is going to play a crucial role in corporate law where assigning of contracts is likely to take place. When contracts allow for assigning, it often comes down to the paralegal to manage the process of handing the contractual duties to the new assignee.
- Upgrading repositories and templates
Templates and template software are making the paralegal’s job easier, but it is still up to them to continuously upgrade and update the templates. This is really key in keeping the process streamlined and moving forward. A strong repository template can save hours of work.
- Inspecting legal agreements
It is often left to the paralegal to inspect the contracts coming in as well as the ones written. Their job will be to find errors or terms that the lawyer may deem unfit for the client. While the paralegal won’t give legal advice, they can make suggestions that the attorney can consider.
- Drafting legal agreements
The lawyer overseeing the contract will make final legal decisions, but it is often on the paralegal to draft and write the contract based on the lawyer’s direction. The paralegal will often build the contract from notes and instructions from the client and lawyer. Ultimately, it will come down to the lawyer to approve or disapprove the agreement, but it falls on the paralegal to draft it.
- Obtaining Contract signatures
Collecting signatures on a legal contract can be hard, especially if not all parties are simultaneously present. It is often left to the paralegal to collect those signatures from all parties involved. For this reason, many attorneys will require their paralegals get notarized.
- Assisting in the implementation and training of the CLM systems
As technology advances and becomes more sophisticated in the legal process, it will fall on the paralegal to help those advances be implemented into the firm. The paralegal can often find themselves training and explaining the systems to others at the firm.
Final note on paralegal’s role in CLM
The best paralegals will continue to hone their skills as well as be willing to adapt to changing times. Their job is to best serve the firm and the attorney the work most closely with. A paralegal should never stop learning. CLM is going to continuously adapt and change, so the paralegal must as well.
Having a skilled paralegal on the team that understands your CLM will save you hours and a lot of money in the long run.