If you’ve thought about getting support from a freelance paralegal but are unsure of how to find one who’s right for your practice or department, here are a few things to consider (be prepared for a few surprises).
Define positive and negative attributes of a successful freelance paralegal partnership
Before setting off to find a freelance paralegal, you have some homework. Yes, homework. First, be honest with yourself. Sit down and really think about what you’re looking for in working with a freelance paralegal. What is important to you and your practice? What are your goals in working with a freelance paralegal? What do you want to get out of the relationship? What do you need? What are you looking to achieve with a freelance paralegal? What would make such a partnership beneficial? Successful?
Also consider what you don’t want. What would make such a relationship a negative, rather than positive, experience? What would make it unsuccessful in your mind? What, specifically, do you not want to happen? Write down both the positives and negatives as this will form the basis for a successful partnership. If you’re not clear yourself on what you want, need, or are looking for, both you and your freelance paralegal will be searching in the dark with no clear understanding of your goals or intent and you will likely be frustrated with the experience.
Finding a good fit
Okay, now that you know what you want and don’t want from a partnership with a freelance paralegal, you need to do your research. (Yes, more homework. No, it’s not law school all over again.) You need to find a freelance paralegal who has the same ideas and goals as you. Start with a list of questions and concerns you would like to discuss with a potential freelance paralegal. If your top concern is security and confidentiality, you want to inquire into the freelance paralegal’s practices and procedures on these topics. (If it’s not your top concern, it should be and you should still inquire.) If you’re concerned about lack of control and oversight, ask what the freelance paralegal does to ensure this doesn’t happen. Similarly, if you have a particular task you would like to delegate and just don’t know how it could be done, ask. You’ll probably be surprised at the number of suggestions the freelance paralegal has.
So, is it a good fit? How relaxed and comfortable you are with the responses will tell you if you’re on the right track.
This is also the time to convey the positive and negative attributes you identified above. You need to discuss your goals and aspirations with the freelance paralegal so s/he has a clear understanding of what you’re looking for. You also need to let the freelance paralegal know what you don’t want to happen; what would make the experience less than positive for you. This will let the freelance paralegal know what’s important to you and sets the stage for a productive relationship. If any of the things you’ve discussed conflict with the freelance paralegal’s practice, s/he should let you know it may not be the best fit.
By the way, these should be real, live interactive conversations – either in person, via phone, or video conference. DO NOT attempt to establish a relationship or ease your concerns with an email. Back and forth email communications do not give you the opportunity to establish a relationship and become familiar and comfortable with someone as does real-life interaction. Besides, more often than not, at least one of you will not communicate in a way that addresses everything that needs to be communicated. It can be difficult for a freelance paralegal to know if all the attorney’s concerns are fully articulated and addressed in an email. Similarly, as working with a freelance paralegal may be a new experience, practices and procedures in this setting are likely unfamiliar or misunderstood; what may be standard practice for a freelance paralegal may be unfamiliar to an attorney. It’s much easier to identify unvoiced/unrealized concerns in personal communications and expand on information as necessary. Even with the most articulate email communications, assumptions are still made.
Communicate, Communicate, Communicate
This final tip relates to both sections above and may come as the biggest surprise: Communication is the key to success; lack thereof almost always results in failure. If you think about it, most disputes arise as a result of miscommunication or lack of communication altogether. If you’re not a good communicator, working with a freelance paralegal may not be the most practical solution. There are other ways to get additional support. But, if a freelance paralegal is the best solution for your particular situation, now’s the time to work on improving communication. It may take a little more effort to find someone who is a good fit for you, but it can certainly be done. First and foremost, be honest with that person and let him or her know you will need both understanding and help with communicating. And, be open to suggestions; if you are, your freelance paralegal should be able to easily develop a plan for successful communication.
When you set out to find the right freelance paralegal for you, make sure you know what you want and don’t want from the partnership. Also, make sure you inquire as to the freelance paralegal’s practices, policies, and procedures to make sure they align with your own models. Ask for clarification and don’t hold back questions or concerns. It all ties in to the importance of communication; if you have a hard time communicating at this stage, you may find it even more difficult down the line as you become more comfortable with the partnership and your communication becomes more lax. You should build enough of a relationship to feel you can be honest with your freelance paralegal and not expect him or her to “read between the lines.” Begin establishing this relationship from the beginning with real-life communications either in-person, via phone, or web conference.
Sometimes it’s difficult to know what to look for and what to ask about. If you need help identifying positive and negative attributes important to you, or you need help developing questions to ask, or would like to discuss how you can [more] effectively communicate with a freelance paralegal, please give me a call or email me to set up a teleconference. I want you to be successful in your search and partnership with a freelance paralegal so you can get the support you need with confidence.