With paralegal jobs expected to increase by the year 2020, a career as a paralegal is becoming more appealing to a greater number of graduates. Furthermore, as law firms, legal department and government agencies seek to reduce overhead costs, the role of a paralegal will become more prominent in the legal community.
According to the NALA Manual for Paralegals and Legal Assistants, freelance paralegals are included in the same definition of a paralegal; however, they perform contract work for attorneys rather than being employed by a specific law firm. Contract paralegals, another term used for freelance paralegals, work under the same guidelines as other paralegals and are prohibited from practicing law. Independent paralegals may own their own company or work for another company that negotiates freelance paralegal contracts with law firms.
Advantages vs. Disadvantages
Flexibility is the principal advantage of being a contract paralegal. A freelance paralegal can take only jobs that appeal to her, set her own work schedule, charge rates according to the contract or based on her experience and market herself to more than one attorney or law firm. Because the schedule of a contract paralegal is flexible, she can offer both long-term and short-term contracts to attorneys based on the attorney’s need and preference.
By concentrating on a specific area of law, an independent paralegal can market herself to a specific target group who value her expertise in that particular area of law. Furthermore, contract paralegals can market themselves to a variety of niche areas of service in order to make themselves more attractive to attorneys who need a specific service or who want the services of a paralegal without the commitment of hiring another employee.
The main disadvantage of being a freelance paralegal is instability. Even though being an employee of a law firm does not guarantee a lifelong position, contract paralegals do not have the same benefits and stability that an employee enjoys. If attorneys decide to cut costs or do not have sufficient workload to support contract work, a contract paralegal may experience prolonged periods without work. In addition, one dissatisfied attorney can hurt the reputation of a contract paralegal in the community making it more difficult to find new contracts.
In addition to the instability, the cost of operating a small business is a disadvantage for many. In addition to office expenses and marketing costs, they face the cost of health insurance, self-employment insurance and taxes. These costs continue even when the paralegal does not have any contracts.
Types of freelance paralegal services
The types of freelance paralegal jobs and services are similar to the tasks assigned to paralegals within a law firm. A freelance paralegal can perform the same tasks as any other paralegal provided she is working under the direct supervision of an attorney. Some examples of the types of services offered by freelance paralegals include:
- Drafting pleadings and other legal documents
- Organizing and summarizing documents for discovery
- Preparing of trial notebooks and other trial preparation services
- Interview witness and prepare for trial
- Court filings
- Public records searches
- Time entry and billing
- Summarize transcripts
- Maintain case materials
- Provide trial support (witness coordination, daily transcript summaries, document maintenance, etc.)
- Draft correspondence
- Legal research
Freelance paralegal salary
This subject is a bit difficult, as most freelance paralegals do not report their incomes to any certain agency. However, by using the average paralegal salary from 2010 of $46,680 per year, we can arrive at an hourly rate of $22.44 based on 40 hours per week. This is only a beginning figure when determining salary because so much more must be taken into consideration before arriving at a final salary. Since freelance paralegals determine how many hours they work, you cannot assume that each person works a full 40 hours per week. Furthermore, some contract paralegals earn more per hour because of their experience or education.
Another point to consider in determining the average freelance paralegal salary is that some paralegals bill a fixed rate for services rather than an hourly rate. Therefore, a freelance paralegal that bills $250 for preparing a will that only takes 30 minutes to complete will skew the figure.
The bottom line is that as freelance paralegals have greater control over the amount of time they work they also have greater control over their salary. They can bill any amount that the market will bear; however, they must keep in mind that if they bill amounts that are too high for the market they will likely lose the contract to another freelance paralegal willing to take the job for less.
Is a virtual paralegal the same as a freelance paralegal?
As the name implies, a virtual paralegal is someone that works from home or another office without the necessity of appearing in person at the employer’s place of business. While the majority of virtual paralegals are freelance paralegals, it is possible for a law firm to employ virtual paralegals. By utilizing a virtual paralegal, the law firm can save on overheard by not supplying the employee with a desk, equipment or furniture. Furthermore, the virtual paralegal may agree to a lower salary because he or she does not have to pay for commuting expenses. A virtual paralegal can therefore be a freelance paralegal that is performing the work on a contract basis or an employee of the law firm that has an agreement to telecommute.
Characteristics of a good freelance paralegal
A good freelance paralegal is also a good business manager. She should have excellent communication skills and be able to market herself to the legal community. In addition to having excellent paralegal skills, a freelance paralegal should also be self-motivated and have a great deal of self-discipline as she will be working for herself and must be able to budget her time to complete each job by the deadline given to her. Being able to handle rejection and accept criticism are also essential characteristics of a good freelance paralegal.