My journey becoming a virtual paralegal…
Becoming a virtual paralegal did not happen overnight. I have planned, prepared, prepared some more and it slowly started to happen and fall into place.
When I had the idea of working from home back in the 2007, the first place I started looking was the internet. I read every blog I could find on virtual paralegals and looked at every virtual paralegal website I came across. The information that was available (and FREE) was invaluable. I learned so much about the virtual paralegal world from blogs. I took in all the information I could find and after my 2nd child was born, while I was on maternity leave, I started doing some of the work from my ‘home office.’ I was amazed (and so was my boss) at the amount of work I was able to complete from my home, so when my maternity leave was up, I convinced my boss to continue the arrangement. That was back in 2008 and this year marks my 3 year anniversary! Where has the time gone? I learned a lot by ‘trial and error’ (and I am still learning) however, I am more than happy to share what I have learned on my way.
1. I think it is important to understand that in order to be a virtual (freelance) paralegal, you really need to be an expert in the area of law or type of work you are going to provide. When a prospective client calls and wants to use your services, the main draw to hiring you is that there will be little to no training.
2. Do not market that you will do anything and everything. Pick parts of your paralegal job or area of law you enjoy working in and become an EXPERT in that area. Learn EVERYTHING you can—attend seminars, take a class. This is one of the best parts about starting your own virtual paralegal business—you pick what areas of law you WANT to work in!!
3. Create your internet presence. The good news is that marketing as a virtual paralegal is fairly inexpensive because a lot of the social media sites are free (Twitter, LinkedIn). However, the biggest investment you can make in your business AND most important –You must have a professional looking web site. If you do not know how to create a website, I would recommend hiring someone to do it for you. Your website is your “first impression” to a prospective client. If your website does not look professional than it appears you are not professional. It is almost like going to an interview with jeans and t-shirt and not a suit. Plus, put your personal photo and name on the site…make it personal. Even though you may never see your client face-to-face, a person always likes to know who they are hiring. And the same goes for the prospective attorney wanting to hire you. Ask the attorney for their website or other social media sites they are on, so you can learn more about them and what they do.
4. I am a very frugal person and would NOT recommend getting a loan to start your business. You can get by with the basics of a computer, back-up hard drive, multi-function printer (fax, copier, scanner, printer), phone line and shredder. Computer software you would need is Microsoft Office or WordPerfect and Adobe Acrobat. Save money and add items as you need them.
5. Even though it is important to have an internet presence, it is also important to make face-to-face connections as well. Join your local paralegal association and attend meetings, seminars or events given by other legal associations. Even if you are not a member yet, legal associations are very welcoming for anyone interested in the legal field to attend their seminars. It is a great way to network and obtain continuing education.
6. Now—the answer to the question everyone wants to know…how much do I charge? It is a difficult question to answer because this can depend on where the attorney lives, the billable paralegal rate in that area and also, what area of law you are working in. What I can recommend is base your services on the quality of your work NOT the quantity. Have a clear understanding of what your value is and NEVER sell yourself short than what you are worth.
7. MY MOST IMPORTANT ADVICE: Do not work from home because you want to be able to stay home with your kids. Everyone looses in this situation. You, the children, and the clients you are working for. You will spread yourself way too thin trying to keep your client happy, children content, and time for yourself. There will come a point where a deadline needs to be met but also your children will need your attention (fed, hugged, changed, a boo boo, etc.) and you are going to have to choose. Don’t put yourself in a position where you are being pulled in too many directions and, therefore, not able to give a 100% to your job or your kids. For your sanity, have some help with your kids, even if it is just part-time for a couple hours a week. Remember–you can do what you want, that’s the perk of being your own boss!