Working with a virtual paralegal or assistant for the first time can seem harrowing, especially when sensitive legal information and documents are involved. Here are a few tips that will help make the arrangement stress-relieving rather than stress-inducing.
First, What Is a Virtual Paralegal?
Virtual assistants are typically employed as independent contractors, and work remotely supporting one or several clients with administrative, technical, marketing and other services. Paralegals, of course, offer support to attorneys in the delivery of legal services, and are qualified to do legal work under the supervision of an attorney. “Virtual paralegals” combine the two concepts — they are remote employees specifically trained to offer support to attorneys or entire law firms, large or small.
Solo practitioners and small law firms can gain a lot from these arrangements. Solo practitioners and lawyers who work in small firms often find themselves caught up in performing day-to-day administrative tasks. Virtual paralegals can carry out the mechanics of filing documents, preparing form pleadings and drafting correspondence so that lawyers have the time and resources to work on more strategic projects.
The Benefits of Using a Virtual Paralegal
One benefit for smaller firms is you only pay your virtual paralegal for the time you actually use their services. Also, you won’t have to worry about overhead costs that are usually associated with hiring a full-time employee, such as health insurance, vacation time or payroll taxes. In most cases, you won’t have to provide technology or other equipment either.
You can bill the time your virtual paralegal works the same way you bill for attorney time. The general rule, arising from two U.S. Supreme Court cases, is that paralegal work is recoverable in a fee award and may be billed for at market rate within its own line item. This is in contrast to the services of support staff, such as secretaries, messengers, librarians or janitors, whose costs are reimbursable in a fee award along with other overhead costs. Market rates vary by state, and some states have adopted their own rules regarding paralegal utilization, so be sure to consult state law and local rules in your area.
Be mindful of ethics rules regarding outsourcing, whether you hire a virtual assistant, paralegal or freelance attorney.
Tips for Working with a Virtual Paralegal
Before hiring a virtual paralegal, take steps to ensure you are getting the most out of the telecommuting work arrangement.
- Don’t assume — check credentials. Based on the sensitive nature of legal work, you’ll want to be sure your remote paralegal is either certified or credentialed, or has been vetted by a reliable virtual assistant provider.
- Protect your data. Employee negligence is the most common cause of data breaches. Working with a virtual paralegal often means sending confidential or sensitive information online. Make sure you take appropriate measures to ensure you and your paralegal are employing best practices to protect your law firm and your clients’ physical and electronic information.
- Plan ahead to ensure availability. Keep in mind that virtual assistants and paralegals may have multiple clients. If you have a project that is going to take a large amount of time to complete, let your paralegal know ahead of time. If you require your virtual paralegal to work on projects for you daily, ensure they have the time before promising work to your own clients.
- Be realistic about your needs. Most importantly, make sure your virtual paralegal is aware of what you expect from them. If you are only looking for someone to file documents, let them know you only need paralegal assistance for a few hours every week. On the other hand, if you need someone to check in daily and be on call 40 hours a week, clear that with your paralegal assistant.
To guarantee the best possible outcome, do the appropriate research ahead of time, know what you want to get out of the service — both short- and long-term — and, most importantly, take steps to secure your firm’s and your clients’ sensitive information.
Eric Wall is an attorney and co-founder and CEO of Equivity, a virtual assistant services company focusing on paralegal, administrative and marketing support for law firms, businesses and entrepreneurs. Previously, Eric was a partner at Quinn Emanuel where he focused on intellectual property litigation. He earned a bachelor’s degree in finance from Georgetown University and his J.D. at Harvard Law. Follow him on Twitter @ericewall.
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