Legal document preparation services, or document typing businesses, are springing up all over the country, and many paralegals are cashing in on this freelance opportunity.
Kinds of Documents Prepared by Typing Services
The types of documents prepared by a typing service or legal document preparer will depend on whether the business provides services to attorneys or non-attorneys. Because paralegals cannot practice law, the kind of legal documents they may type for other non-attorneys is limited. Some of the documents paralegals prepare for the public include:
- Bankruptcy Petitions. Under federal law, a non-attorney may prepare bankruptcy petitions and provide basic services required for filing a bankruptcy petition, such as copying, mailing, and faxing documents to the Court or Bankruptcy Trustees.
- Uncontested Divorce forms. Many paralegals offer document-typing services to couples wishing to file for an uncontested divorce, as most states provide the basic forms for this, and the paralegal simply has to locate them and fill in the correct information.
- Small Estate Petitions and Affidavits. Most states offer a simplified probate process that requires only that some simple forms be completed and filed with the correct Court or county office.
- Simple Contracts. Simple contracts requiring basic information to be filled in, such as service agreements or land sale contracts, are frequently offered to the public by legal document preparation services.
- Deeds. Many document-typing businesses offer preparation of Warranty, Personal Representative’s, Quit Claim, and other types of Deeds.
While the kind of documents a paralegal may prepare for non-attorneys is limited, the kinds of documents he or she can prepare for an attorney are not. While working under the supervision of a licensed attorney, a paralegal may type or prepare any document the attorney could prepare. Documents commonly prepared for attorneys, by document typing businesses include:
- Bankruptcy Petitions. Bankruptcy attorneys are a huge employer of freelance paralegals who can prepare bankruptcy petitions. Many of the attorneys who hire document preparation services for bankruptcy petition preparation require the service provider to use the same software he or she does. The most popular petition preparation program is Best Case.
- Transcripts and Summaries. Two very frequently posted document preparation jobs on legal job boards are transcription and summary service jobs. Trial attorneys are in constant need of transcribing and/or summary provision services for medical records, witness interviews, video tapes, and depositions.
- Out of State Forms. Many attorneys, when required to handle a legal matter in a state in which they do not generally practice, look for document preparation services located in the out-of-practice-area-state in order to ensure that the correct forms are used and proper procedure followed.
- Full Pleading Sets. Paralegals, who can prepare full sets of divorce, probate, or other everyday documents without supervision, may find steady work typing common pleading sets with understaffed, busy, law firms.
Starting Your Own Legal Document Typing Service
Paralegals looking for an additional income or to move away from working for just one attorney can now easily start their own legal document typing service from the comfort of home.
Step 1- Decide what types of documents you will prepare. Legal document preparers who plan to offer services to both attorneys and non-attorneys may wish to provide full paralegal services, including the preparation of any type of legal document, to attorneys, and create a list of the documents they will type for non-attorneys.
Step 2- Set up a website. Many companies offer free and inexpensive website hosting for experienced and inexperienced business owners. Use your favorite search engine to locate a website service you can afford and create a site describing your services and fees, offering work examples, and providing your contact information.
Step 3- Use freelance job boards. Many freelance job boards offer freelancers the opportunity to create a profile, bid on posted jobs, and build a reputation as a quality service provider in exchange for a small percentage of the freelancers earnings, which he or she can choose to pass to the client. Reputable job boards include Elance, Guru, Odesk, and Freelancer.
Step 4- Advertise. Run an ad in the local paper, exchange links with other websites, use social media, or send out a mass mailing to advertise your new business and direct potential clients to your website.
Tips from the Pros
Starting a document typing or preparation business is not unlike starting any other freelance business, and those who have been successful, and some of those who have not, have some good advice.
Brand your Business
Put some thought into your website, letterhead, e-mail signature, and social media account design, colors, and branding. Use the same logo and colors on your website, letterhead, and social media profiles. Create an e-mail signature with your logo, tagline, contact information, and links to your website and social media profiles.
Come up with a filing and billing system before you get your first client. Even great clients who appreciate you and want to pay you can get busy and forget to transfer the fund or drop the check in the mail. Having an invoicing system set up right from the beginning can save you from the later stress, extra work, and possible embarrassment of not knowing whether a client has paid his or her bill, not knowing who owes you what, or not getting paid simply because you never send a bill.
Proofread, proofread, and proofread!
Nothing says unprofessional like an error-ridden document. Proofread twice, use a grammar and spell check service, and/or ask a friend to proofread documents for you. Do the same with your website, emails, and business letters.
Benefits and Challenges of the Document Typing Business
Owning your own legal document preparation business will allow you to choose your clients, your hours, and the type of work you do. It is not for everyone, however, and there are some very real challenges in the document typing business. Two huge challenges are to avoid practicing law and to create a successful business.
While you are free to prepare various business and legal documents for non-attorney clients, you are not free to provide them with any legal advice. This can be difficult, and legal document preparers should always be aware of line between typing and filing legal documents and giving legal advice. You may want to consider conducting some research and consulting with an attorney about what constitutes the practice of law and exactly what types of activities you should avoid.
Creating a successful business is difficult, and very few new businesses survive their first year. The internet contains a wealth of credible information about how to organize and run a small business so that it grow and generates a good income. Look around for ideas on how to better run your business. You may also want to check out some books on running a business, join your local Better Business Bureau, or attend small business owners’ seminars.