Considering a virtual paralegal? What you need to know

Do you need extra help in your law firm but don’t feel quite ready to hire someone full-time?

Are you just starting out in your practice and need some assistance during the transition?

Are you an office manager supporting too many attorneys with an overwhelming case load?

A virtual paralegal could be a good fit for you.

What is a virtual paralegal?

According to the International Virtual Assistants Association (IVAA), “virtual assistants are independent contractors who (from a remote location, usually their home or office) support multiple clients in a variety of industries by providing administrative, creative, and technical services.” These off-site paralegals are specifically trained to offer support to attorneys and law firms, with education and experience to facilitate what is needed from afar.

Some virtual paralegals work entirely on a remote basis, while others split their work week between the office and home. Either way, like a traditional paralegal, a virtual paralegal works under the direct supervision of an attorney, or multiple attorneys, depending upon their client load at any particular time.

The benefits of hiring a virtual paralegal

There are some advantages to working with a virtual paralegal:

  • Virtual paralegals are paid only for the hours they are needed, and so can be additional help during large cases or times of growth
  • Their substantive legal work can be billed to the client just as attorney time would be
  • Many of the regular employee costs are reduced or eliminated, such as taxes, benefits, insurance, and on-site space and equipment
  • This option is accessible to small law firms and sole practitioners who do not have the cash flow to hire a full-time paralegal
  • Attorneys who work in rural areas can have more flexibility about who they work with
  • Since paralegals do not have the same jurisdictional restrictions as attorneys, their flexibility can benefit those working in federal practices, as well

Potential downsides of a virtual paralegal

There are some drawbacks to a virtual paralegal, too:

  • Unlike an in-house paralegal who works only for one law firm, a virtual paralegal could be doing work for many lawyers from many firms at the same time. When large projects come up, you will need to provide plenty of notice to ensure that they will have the time to take them on.
  • Virtual paralegals may not ever come into the office, which won’t work for attorneys who want or need live interactions or on-site work done.
  • When you work with a virtual paralegal, you will need to exchange confidential information with them electronically. The less comfortable you are with mobile technology, the harder this will be to facilitate.

Tips for working with a remote paralegal

When working with a virtual paralegal, an attorney or law firm should:

  • Check a virtual paralegal’s credentials—including education, background, experience, and affiliation with professional associations – to ensure that they are qualified to work on a remote basis. Newbie paralegals usually are not experienced enough to work virtually.
  • Have a clear idea about the needs of the firm—Are you looking for a paralegal available for a few hours a week to draft and file documents, or someone tasked with completing large-scale projects on a regular basis?
  • Negotiate fees and establish billing practices—most virtual paralegals will provide you with a contract or fee agreement that summarizes the terms of the arrangement.
  • Confirm availability and discuss your expectations—make sure they will have time for the work you need and can be as flexible as you require.
  • Create a reliable channel of communication—whether it’s via phone, email, text, or in-person meetings.
  • Ensure that they have all the necessary equipment—phone, computer, scanner/copier, secure Internet connection, software, antivirus protection, and offsite backup.
  • Remember that a virtual paralegal is an independent contractor—and is free to take on as many jobs as they wish, for various attorneys practicing in different areas of law.
  • Secure confidential information—both that belonging to the firm and to Have a confidentiality agreement ready for the paralegal to sign as well.

Whether it’s a temporary fix or a long-term solution, the appearance of virtual paralegals seems to be a significant move for the industry and may be a game changer for law firms and sole-practitioners around the country.

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Do you have other things to be aware of when considering working with a virtual paralegal? Tell us about it in the comments.

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