Much discussion has taken place in recent months concerning the topic of virtual paralegals. This new phenomenon – or at least this new terminology – has taken the legal profession by storm.
Traditionally, freelance paralegals and temp paralegals came to the law firm’s office to help out during overload seasons or to fill in while someone was on vacation or sick-leave.
Technological advances and our current economic times have merged and given birth to a new breed: The Virtual Paralegal. The terms freelance paralegals and virtual paralegals are sometimes used interchangeably. Both usually work independently on an as-needed basis. Both build professional networks and negotiate fees for services rendered.
- The American Bar Association (ABA) defines a legal assistant or paralegal as a person, qualified by education, training or work experience who is employed 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 Virtual Paralegal meets the definition adopted by the ABA and, in addition, possesses the skills and expertise to perform this work in a virtual setting, usually from a fully equipped remote office as an independent contractor.
“It is a natural evolution of the industry. We live and work in a virtual society – connected by our smart-phones and computers. Lawyers communicate with their staff via e-mail and text; attorneys and paralegals telecommute; courts are embracing technology and electronic filing. Going ‘virtual’ is the logical next step.” (Pamela J. Starr, CBA, www.starrparalegals.com, Sixty-Six Solid Tips)
Paralegals are by nature independent problem-solvers who enjoy a challenge. They are visionaries who see a bigger picture, and they think outside the box of pre-determined limits and boundaries. Becoming independent business owners was also a logical next step.
Cordina Charvis described the Virtual Paralegal’s target market as “solo practitioners, small law firms and in-house legal departments.” (The New Legal Assistant Trend, Virtual Paralegals, The Verdict, March, 2010, published by Ventura County Paralegal Association). In reality, the Virtual Paralegal could assist law firms or corporate legal departments of any size during times of unusual heavy caseload and multiple deadlines. Quite often, specialized tasks can be outsourced for a more cost-effective solution.
Deadlines can easily become an expensive crunch-time for attorneys and their law firms if there are insufficient paralegal-hours available to cover all deadline requirements. Personally, I remember pulling an all-nighter or two in my career! That was not fun and naturally those long hours were quite an expensive overtime expense for my employer. Virtual Paralegals are independent business owners who do not draw overtime pay. Although virtual paralegal service agreements sometimes provide for “rush fees,” those fees are often waived when the attorney has an ongoing relationship with a virtual paralegal.
It just makes financial sense to retain the services of a Virtual Paralegal to meet some of your paralegal support needs. Virtual paralegals are experiencing higher demand right now, so don’t expect to wait until the last minute to make arrangements for the specialized services you need!