Is the oversaturated job market for lawyers forcing you to take your young legal practice solo this year? If so, it's going to be important to find ways to keep your overhead low without sacrificing the quality of service that you give your clients. Consider hiring a virtual paralegal to be part of your team. If you're unfamiliar with how a virtual paralegal works, this is what you should know.
What is a virtual paralegal and why should you use one?
A virtual paralegal is just like an ordinary paralegal—except that he or she works with you from a remote location via the internet. Most of these independent contractors work from home for several clients at once, so his or her services won't be exclusive. However, they have some distinct advantages over the traditional paralegal as well:
- By nature of their working environment, virtual paralegals are highly familiar with the internet and may be more comfortable using it for case research and development than traditional paralegals.
- As independent contractors, they don't require extensive training or oversight on your part.
- They are paid for their time, but you don't have the expense of health insurance, workers' comp insurance, or other benefits associated with traditional employees.
If you're contemplating the idea of working out of your home for the first year or so until you establish your practice, you may also be relieved not to have to provide your legal assistant with a real-world workspace. You can pass these savings onto your clients in the form of a competitive price that helps counterbalance your relative lack of experience.
What are the most important things to consider when hiring a virtual paralegal?
First, as always, check your virtual paralegal's credentials. There are agencies that will vet and assign virtual paralegals for you, but if you decide to hire your own you want to make sure they have either a certification, showing that he or she has passed a professional paralegal's exam, or a certificate, showing that they have completed a paralegal education program. The first means that they may or may not have formal training but have enough real-world experience to handle the job. The latter means that they've been specifically trained as a paralegal.
You should also make sure that you understand the potential limitations. Unless you are providing enough work for your virtual paralegal to have you as his or her only client, which is unlikely, you will be sharing his or her time. Think of it as sharing a real-world paralegal with several other attorneys in a regular law firm. You also have to keep in mind that, as an independent contractor, he or she has a certain autonomy—that means that you may have to accustom yourself to a flexible contact schedule and working arrangement.