This article was originally published by Debra Bruce at Raising the Bar Law Practice Management Thoughts and Tips on February 16, 2012.Â Debra is President of Lawyer-Coach LLC. Â Â She draws on her extensive legal experience, as well as a degree in Psychology and well over 500 hours in training as a professional coach, to help lawyers improve their management skills, increase productivity and bring in more business.
This month I want to discuss the most frequent questions I receive as a virtual paralegal. Â Questions come from many different directions: Â attorneys considering a virtual paralegal relationship, paralegals interested in working virtually, and curious lay people. Â Ironically, for the most part, the same questions come from each group.
1.) How did you get started?
- After over 15 years of actual law office experience and achieving my professional certification from the National Association of Legal Assistants, I was no longer satisfied with my work-life balance. Â I invested 6 months of my time in researching the virtual assistant profession and studying the tools which were used for document exchange. Â I examined how those tools could be applied to an attorney-paralegal relationship while still protecting ethical guidelines.
- Some attorneys and paralegals find Digital Paralegal Services on the internet using a variety of search terms. Â Some have read articles I have written concerning the virtual paralegal profession. Â Because of the tremendous interest, I have had many opportunities for interviews. Â Most of the time, however, they come to Digital Paralegal Services through a personal referral.
- We discuss the attorneyâ€™s support needs and paralegal specialization requirements. Â I then consult my database of paralegals registered for virtual work located in the same state as the attorney. Â Digital Paralegal Services requires that the paralegal has achieved professional certification through the National Association of Legal Assistants (NALA) and maintains required CLE credits.
- Paralegal certification is verified with NALA. Â Attorney licensing is verified with the corresponding state bar association.
- The paralegal is presented an independent contractor agreement and fees are negotiated. Â A telephone interview is scheduled to be sure both attorney and paralegal are satisfied.
- When the attorney is satisfied and ready to proceed, a contract is presented which covers all areas of the relationship including confidentiality issues. Â Conflict of interest checks are completed before work begins.
- Rates vary according to the level of paralegal specialization required. Â These rates are not to be confused with normal hourly employee rates. Â Virtual paralegals are independent business owners who provide their own computers, software, office supplies and other tools. Â They have no employee benefits, no vacation or sick time, and they do not receive overtime pay. Â Typical rates run from $55 per hour to as much as one-third of the attorneyâ€™s hourly rate.
- How long have you been working virtually?
- Is this a business for you, or a part-time endeavor?
- What is the biggest problem you have encountered in working virtually, and how did you solve it?
- Is there a potential for conflict of interest with your other clients, or previous positions?
- How do you keep up with changing laws, rules and procedures in your area of expertise?
- What tool do you recommend for file sharing and exchanging information?
- What steps do you take to secure confidential information on your computers and in your home office?
- Do you have backup or overflow support available?