Becoming a virtual paralegal did not happen overnight. I planned, prepared, prepared some more and things slowly fell 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 took in all the information and learned so much about the virtual paralegal world.
While I was on maternity leave after my 2nd child was born, 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.
When my maternity leave ended, I convinced my boss to continue the arrangement. That was 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. Here are a few things I learned along the way:
1. Achieve Expert Status. 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 intend 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. Find Your Niche. Do not market that you will do anything and everything. Pick parts of your paralegal job or an area of law you enjoy working in and become an EXPERT in that area. Learn EVERYTHING you can—attend seminars, take classes. 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 (i.e. Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn).
However, the biggest - and most important - investment you can make in your business is a professional looking web site. This is a must.
If you do not know how to create a website, I 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, it appears you are not professional. It is almost like going to an interview wearing jeans and a t-shirt instead of a suit.
In order to establish your Internet presence you need to have a professional photo taken of yourself. Don’t use gadgets or legal symbols instead of a picture when you join social media sites or creating your website. Even though you may never see your client face-to-face, a person always likes to know who they are hiring and what they look like.
The same goes for the prospective attorney wanting to hire you. Ask the attorney for the links to their website or other social media sites they participate in so you can learn more about them and what they do. You feel more comfortable communicating with a prospective client and other professionals when they have a personal photo rather than a gadget.
4. Make Face-to-Face Connections. Even though it is important to have an Internet presence, it is also important to make face-to-face connections. Join your local paralegal association and attend meetings, seminars and other events. Even if you are not a member, legal associations welcome anyone interested in the legal field and are happy to have ‘nonmembers’ attend their seminars. This is a great way to network and obtain continuing education.
5. Watch Your Finances. 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, and printer), phone line and shredder. Basic computer software you will need is Microsoft Office or WordPerfect and Adobe Acrobat. Save money and add items as you need them.
6. How Much Will You Charge? Now—the answer to the question everyone asks: how much do I charge? This is difficult to answer because it 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 recommend is that you 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 by charging less than you are worth. Once you understand your ‘value’, you must also take into consideration your expenses for office supplies, insurance and equipment. All of this combined will determine how much you should charge to make a profit.
7. MY MOST IMPORTANT ADVICE: Do not work from home because you want to be able to stay home with your kids. Everyone loses 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 find time for yourself.
There will come a point when a deadline needs to be met but your children also 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!
©2011 Nikki L. Campos CP
Nikki L. Campos, CP is a virtual paralegal from Nebraska. She graduated with an Associate’s Degree in Paralegal Studies from Central Community College and a Bachelor's Degree in Management from Bellevue University. She also obtained a paralegal certification from the National Association of Legal Assistants (NALA).
Armed with her education, her certification, and her work experience, she transitioned from working in a law office to working in her home office.
She planned and prepared for this step and today she shares much of what she has learned along the way. You'll want to read every one of her tips and keep them in mind should you decide to establish your own virtual paralegal business.
Visit Nikki's website: http://trueparalegal.com/
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