For anyone considering a career as a paralegal, you should know that being a paralegal is a rewarding and challenging career choice. Paralegals do everything from intensive legal research and drafting complex legal pleadings to interpreting the “legaleze” for clients and, sometimes literally, holding the client’s hand so they do not become overwhelmed by the legal process. A good paralegal is also an excellent communicator and acts as the go-between for the attorney, clients, witnesses, experts, court officials and others as the paralegal works to ensure that everything comes together in the best interest of the client.
One advantage of being a paralegal is the variety of job opportunities available in the legal field as well as the business field in general. Paralegals can work for small law firms, large corporations, banks, courts and non-profit organizations — the possibilities are almost endless. Paralegals are utilized in numerous ways that are increasing each year. One career option that is increasing for paralegals is the opportunity to work from home as a virtual paralegal.
What is a Virtual Paralegal?
Depending on who you ask, the definition of a virtual paralegal varies. The International Virtual Assistants Association defines virtual assistants as “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.” Therefore, “virtual” would require that the person work from a remote location, such as their home, rather than working in the office.
The National Association of Legal Assistants defines a paralegal as a person who assists “attorneys in the delivery of legal services. Through formal education, training, and experience, legal assistants have knowledge and expertise regarding the legal system and substantive and procedural law which qualify them to do work of a legal nature under the supervision of an attorney.” Furthermore, the American Bar Association defines a paralegal as a “person qualified by education, training or work experience who is employed or retained by a lawyer, law office, corporation, governmental agency or other entity who performs specifically delegated substantive legal work for which a lawyer is responsible.”
The common thread of the ABA and NALA definition of a paralegal is that he or she is employed by or retained by an attorney to perform services under the supervision of the attorney. Therefore, a virtual paralegal is a paralegal who works under the direct supervision of an attorney but she works from her home or another remote location other than the attorney’s office. Some virtual paralegals are directly employed by the law firm but works from home while other virtual paralegals work as independent contractors for one or more attorneys. The key is that the paralegal works under the supervision of the attorney to avoid crossing the line into practicing law without a license.
As we look at the advantages and disadvantages of being a virtual paralegal, we will concentrate on virtual paralegals who choose to work as independent contractors. There are several advantages for attorneys who hire virtual paralegals as independent contractors including:
- Billing clients for the entire cost for the contract paralegal
- No overhead costs for an employee
- No downtime for training
- No taxes, benefits or insurance costs
Advantages and Disadvantages for Virtual Paralegals
Working from home as a virtual paralegal has definite advantages; however, there are also some disadvantages that virtual paralegals must account for as well.
Working from home – This is typically one of the most commonly named advantages of being a virtual paralegal. When you work from home, you can spend more with your family and avoid the daily commute, dress code and work schedules associated with working in an office.
Set your own hours – As a virtual paralegal, your hours are far more flexible than if you work in an office. If you want to work late at night or very early in the morning, that is up to you provided that you meet your deadlines.
Working for more than one attorney – As a virtual paralegal working as an independent contractor, you are free to take on as many jobs as you are capable of handling. You can increase your income by accepting more jobs or you are free to accept fewer jobs so that you have more free time.
Variety – If you enjoy variety, being a virtual paralegal gives you the opportunity to work within several areas of law. By accepting jobs from different attorneys in different legal fields, you can expand your business through experience in a variety of areas of law rather than concentrating on only one or two areas.
No benefits – As an independent virtual paralegal, you do not have health insurance, retirement, paid vacation, paid sick leave or other benefits that you may have if you work for an attorney. (NOTE: If you are a virtual paralegal employed by a law firm, you may have these benefits.)
Taxes – As an independent virtual paralegal, you will be responsible for the payment of your own taxes including self-employment taxes. Of course, if you are working as a W2 employee working from home, this would not apply.
Increasing competition – Virtual paralegals are growing in numbers as individuals look to own their own business, spend more time with their family and be in more control of their career. While the opportunities for virtual paralegals are growing as attorneys seek to reduce overhead costs, the competition for those jobs are increasing as more paralegals choose to go “virtual” with their career.
Deciding to Become a Virtual Paralegal
Before making the choice to become a virtual paralegal, you should carefully consider the pros and cons of working from home as an independent contractor. Consulting with an accountant to discuss tax issues as well as an attorney to draft an employment contract are wise first steps.
You can gain more information by reading “To Boldly Go . . . Outsourcing to Virtual Paralegals” or “Contract or Virtual Paralegal.” You can also find more information about independent or virtual paralegals through associations such as the National Association of Legal Assistants, the American Alliance of Paralegals, the National Federation of Paralegal Associations or the National Paralegal Association.