Opportunities for the freelance paralegal, as noted by the National Federation of Paralegal Associations, are plentiful, thanks to downsized legal departments within governmental agencies and law firms. In fact, freelance paralegals are experiencing great success with job opportunities found outside of law offices.
Q: What is a freelance paralegal?
A: Freelance paralegals, also often referred to as contract paralegals, are essentially business owners. Unlike traditional paralegals, who generally work for attorneys, law firms, or governmental organizations, freelance paralegals work as independent contractors, providing their services to attorneys on a contract basis.
Freelance paralegals are often called in to provide “as needed” services for law firms. Many law firms enjoy using freelance paralegals because it eliminates paying for a full-time paralegal when only part-time services are required.
Q: What are the advantages of working as a freelance paralegal?
A: Working as a freelance paralegal is often viewed as an interesting and often exciting professional path, as it allows paralegal professionals greater freedom in determining the hours they want to work and the attorneys or law firms with whom they want to work. This type of work often eliminates the monotony associated with the paralegal profession, thereby allowing freelance paralegals to enjoy a diverse work environment and varying professional duties.
Q: What are the disadvantages of working as a freelance paralegal?
A: Unlike traditional paralegals, freelance paralegals must be prepared to market themselves in such a manner as to convince attorneys that their services are superior to other freelance paralegals. They must also be constantly in search of new work, and a steady paycheck is never a guarantee.
Q: What is the difference between a freelance paralegal and an independent paralegal?
Freelance paralegals should not be confused with independent paralegals, as independent paralegals offer services to the public without any attorney representation. In other words, freelance paralegals provide their services to law firms and attorneys, while independent paralegals provide their services to consumers.
Q: What is a virtual paralegal?
Within the popular freelance paralegal profession are virtual paralegals. Virtual paralegals work remotely, providing services to attorneys using software programs and Internet sharing utilities. Virtual paralegals often work from the comfort of their home, providing services to attorneys, regardless of their location.
Q: What is the job description of a freelance paralegal?
A: The job description of a freelance paralegal is not unlike that of a traditional paralegal. As such, freelance paralegals are often called in to perform a number of duties:
- Drafting and proofing documents
- Interviewing witnesses during preliminary investigations
- Engaging in trial preparation, including carrying out subpoenas and summarizing depositions
- Organizing and filing
- Preparing documents, including discovery motions, complaints, and bankruptcy plans, among others
Q: What are the educational requirements of a freelance paralegal?
Freelance paralegals, like traditional paralegals, are generally expected, although not required, to possess some form of formal paralegal education. The National Federation of Paralegal Associations recognizes a two-year degree with an emphasis on paralegals studies as the minimum requirement for those entering the paralegal profession, although it is quite common for paralegals to pursue a four-year degree, with an emphasis on paralegal studies.
Further, the 2013 Robert Half Salary Guide reported that many employers seek paralegals that possess bachelor’s degrees from ABA-approved programs.
Freelance paralegals, in an effort to successfully market themselves to attorneys and law firms, often seek advanced education in paralegal studies. In addition, it is often quite advantageous for freelance paralegals to concentrate their studies in a particular area of law, such as general liability, family law, or insurance litigation, which may allow them to focus their business and market themselves as an authority.
Q: Should a freelance paralegal achieve professional certification?
A: Although there are no certification or licensure standards for paralegals in the United States, many paralegals and freelance paralegals choose to pursue professional certification, as it allows them to set themselves apart from other paralegals in their field and show a commitment to their profession and to continuing education.
The National Association for Legal Assistants (NALA) offers professional certification for candidates who pass the NALA exam. Nurse paralegals may use either the CLA (Certified Legal Assistant) or CP (Certified Paralegal) designation. Further, NALA offers a number of advanced certifications, as well:
- Alternative Dispute Resolution
- Trial Practice
- Business Organizations: Non-Corporate Entities
- Contracts Management/Contracts Administration
- Family Law-Child Custody, Child Support, Visitation
- Criminal Litigation
- Real Estate Principles
- Business Organizations: Incorporated Entities
- Personal Injury
- Land Use
- Social Security Disability
- Commercial Bankruptcy
The National Federation of Paralegal Associations offers professional certification for both new and experienced paralegals. The Paralegal Core Competency Exam (CRP designation) is designed for paralegals, regardless of their experience, while the Paralegal Advanced Competency Exam (RP designation) is designed for professional paralegals with significant practical experience.
Q: What is the average salary for freelance paralegals?
A: The 2010 National Utilization and Compensation Survey Report by the National Association of Legal Assistants reported that the national average salary for a paralegal was $52,188.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that the median annual salary for paralegals was $46,680 in May 2010, with the top 10 percent earning more than $74,870.
The 2013 Robert Half Salary Guide reported that paralegals with 4 to 6 years of experience earned between $39,000 and $65,000 in 2012, while paralegals with more than 7 years of experience earned between $45,750 and $84,250.
Q: What careers, education and jobs resources are available to freelance paralegals?
There are a number of resources paralegals may pursue for careers, jobs, education, and certification information:
- National Federation of Paralegal Associations
- National Association of Legal Assistants
- National Paralegal Association
- American Association for Paralegal Education
- The American Alliance of Paralegals, Inc.