Are you feeling overloaded at your office and barely finishing the weeks at work meeting your deadlines? Whether you’re a solo practitioner or a member of a small law firm team, it might be time to consider hiring a virtual paralegal.
Simply put, if you’re already asking the question, you need the help. Since it takes some time to hire and train virtual help, plan out a few weeks ahead.
But before jumping straight into posting a job, you need to know what a paralegal can do, how best to structure a paralegal hiring process, and how to work effectively with your paralegal.
Virtual paralegals help licensed attorneys very much the same way an in-house worker does, except that they work remotely. In many cases, fractional paralegals are an excellent solution for a small firm. They allow the lawyer to focus on big picture issues or final review of documents. In many cases, a paralegal can do a significant amount of legwork that leaves the lawyer to step in and pick it up later.
Paralegal services can include substantive work like:
- Carrying out legal research
- Drafting responses, pleadings, or contracts
- Assisting the team with trial preparation
- Conducting client interviews
- Helping with client communication
- Completing investigations or statistical research
Occasionally, a legal assistant will do some of the same tasks as a virtual paralegal, although these are two different functions. In most cases, a virtual paralegal has specific training or experience in legal research. A legal assistant, however, might not have that background.
Hiring a part-time virtual paralegal is the most cost-effective option to get help quickly. Virtual paralegal services are typically offered on an hourly basis, so you’ll want to map out first how many hours per week you think you’ll need support in your business. Many lawyers find that hiring a virtual paralegal for 10-20 hours per week can cover many of their legal services needs.
Virtual paralegals vary in terms of hourly rates, but you can expect average costs of $35-65 per hour. Depending on how many clients you have and your own hourly rate, hiring a paralegal is a great way to grow your law firm while serving existing clients well, too.
One of the leading reasons to turn to virtual paralegals as opposed to in-house staff is that you might only need a paralegal’s support temporarily. Rather than limiting your hiring options to your immediate geographic area, you can expand into the best talent available nationwide to find experienced paralegals who are able and willing to work for as long or as short of a time needed for the matter at hand.
If you need a remote paralegal for a short project of a few weeks, freelance virtual paralegals are happy to pick that work up. If you need a paralegal for a longer period of time, you can still partner with someone remotely and not have the additional expense of securing office space, computer hardware, insurance, etc. Deciding to work with a remote paralegal will position you favorably in a competitive hiring market where many law firms remain stuck on the idea of only working with in-house teams.
As you likely already know from in-house hiring, not all paralegals are created equal. When selecting the best candidate for your firm, it’s important to not only choose the most qualified but also the right individual who has the expertise and professionalism to thrive in a remote environment. Make sure you’re thinking intelligently about the hiring process before proceeding to the next steps like making an offer.
From their submitted application to their online profiles, work samples, and references, look for a few things in your remote paralegal:
- Experience in the legal field and preferably in your practice area
- A background working remotely and past projects that have been successfully completed
- Excellent communication skills, both written and verbal
- Familiarity with your office software (or a willingness to learn quickly)
- Comfort with confidentiality issues and ethical concerns in legal practices
Most part-time virtual paralegals work for 1 to 2 practices at a time, so they should also be efficient and organized in managing their time.
Usually, when a lawyer is ready to hire a virtual paralegal, they’re a few weeks behind. Eager to get some things off their plate, a couple of crucial mistakes can happen early on in which you end up frustrated or your paralegal quits. You can avoid these by planning ahead and providing the right training.
Don’t expect that your paralegal will be up to speed on the first day or even the first week. Remember, they have to learn your law firm’s preferences, caseload, and overall style. For the first few weeks, pay close attention to their work and provide feedback clearly and quickly.
An experienced paralegal should not require hours and hours of hands-on support.
Don’t expect, however, that they’ll knock it out of the park with your specific preferences on their first drafted document. You’ll reap the rewards of hiring someone when you give them time to adjust and supportive feedback.
When you’re teaching them a specific process, try to do so over a recorded call or screen share video. This makes it an easy reference point for your paralegal to come back to over time and reduces some of the pressure lawyers might otherwise feel around creating written instructions. Over time, your paralegal can help create and maintain standard operating procedures based on your training.
Set a time to circle back a few weeks in to see how things are going. This is your chance to reevaluate the relationship and their chance to speak up about overall questions, too. With so many possible benefits to hiring a paralegal, there’s no time like the present to make a shortlist of what documents and tasks you’ve got on your plate that could be handled by a professional paralegal.