While starting your own freelance paralegal business might sound ideal — the reality is that it can be — but there are no guarantees. Being a freelance paralegal takes a lot of determination, tenacity, and business sense – not everyone is destined to be an entrepreneur.
Here are some of the pros and cons to consider when contemplating whether or not you should become a freelance paralegal:
Pros of freelancing
Depending on your individual career goals, there are definite advantages to being a freelance paralegal. Some of these might include:
- Flexibility. Are you a paralegal who gets bored working for just one attorney, law firm, or in one area of law? Freelance paralegals can focus on the work that best matches their experience and interests. They are also free to take time off whenever they want since they are not obligated to any one particular attorney or law firm.
- Earning potential. Unlike employees, freelance paralegals can also set their own rates based upon their skills, experience, and what the market will bear. They can market their services to any attorney who is interesting in contracting with them for services rendered on either a short-term or long-term basis, by the day, week, month, or as needed.
- Convenience. Freelance paralegals can work out of their own home office, travel to the offices of the attorneys who hire them, or rent office space if they choose. They aren’t bound to any specific schedule and are able to work and take breaks whenever they want, escape the daily commute, and unless they’re headed to court, a client’s office, or an in-person meeting, they can dress any way they like (no business suits required).
- Multiple roles. Freelance paralegals work as a paralegal in their chosen area of law, and must also play the role of business owner with the ability to use their marketing skills to find clients and help their business grow. To help ensure success, freelance paralegals must market themselves via direct mail, social media, referrals, and advertising to attorneys to get the word out about the services they offer.
Cons of freelancing
Paralegals who count on routine, familiarity, and consistent income will likely identify strongly with the cons of freelancing, which often include:
- Added expenses. Unlike their colleagues who are independent contractors, paralegals who are classified as employees don’t usually have to worry about obtaining a federal tax identification (Tax ID) number, setting up a law office from scratch, and footing the entire bill for health, dental, and other types of insurance (as long as their employer provides these benefits). They also typically don’t need to pay for their own computer, online legal research services, office supplies, and business cards either.
- Income instability. Paralegals who are employed in the traditional sense can count on a regular schedule and a paycheck, even when their workload is light. However, the same cannot be said for freelance paralegals, who sometimes experience instability in their income and find work patterns somewhat hard to predict. Because they don’t have an employer to delegate work to them, freelance paralegals need to market their services and find their own clients.
- Added responsibility. Although all paralegals have the same responsibilities when it comes to ethics, professionalism, and work product, freelance paralegals are their own bosses, and with that comes the responsibility of keeping meticulous business records, billing for their time, making quarterly estimated tax payments to the IRS, dealing with vendors and clients, and hiring their own employees, if necessary.
- Lack of paid benefits. Freelance paralegals don’t have access to employer-paid health insurance, vacation time, or sick leave, and they often work more hours than the average law firm employee does (although they also directly reap the benefits from all their hard work).
The reality is that being a freelance paralegal involves much more than just being a paralegal, and it is not usually an option for someone who has just graduated from a paralegal program. Paralegals with five to seven years of experience as well as a good working knowledge of substantive law, office procedures and management, and their local legal market might be prepared to offer freelance paralegal services.
Do you know of any other pros and cons to taking the plunge and becoming a freelance paralegal? Tell us about them in the comments!