When Working With a Freelance Paralegal Raises Concerns

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So you found a freelance paralegal you’re interested in working with.  Hopefully, you followed the suggestions outlined in the post, “Finding a Freelance Paralegal That’s Right for You” and know exactly what you are (and aren’t) looking for in retaining paralegal services.  Communicating this information to the freelance paralegal you’re talking with will help pave the way for successful communication – and a successful partnership.  But what if, in talking with this person, something bothers you and you begin thinking maybe paralegal services aren’t right for you?  What do you do?  Write it off and never again make contact with the person you found?

[Hint: Your answer, hopefully, is “no.”  Besides losing a chance to get the support you need, if your initial communications are positive and your response to follow-up is non-response, it could also affect your reputation and business.  How?  Paralegals, especially freelance, are often asked for attorney referrals.  Is a paralegal going to, in good faith, be able to recommend an attorney who doesn’t respond or follow through?  Probably not.]

While avoiding concerns you have may be easiest, it doesn’t solve your problems.  You need support otherwise you wouldn’t be looking for a freelance paralegal; and, you found a paralegal you’re interested in or you wouldn’t have made contact.  If you’ve never utilized paralegal services before, expect to have concerns – this is a different business model than you’re used to.  Don’t shut down communication because something doesn’t appear to fit with your practice or with what you’re looking for, at least on it’s face.  If you do, you’re throwing away an opportunity that may be very beneficial to you.

We are so used to a traditional business model and employer/employee-type relationship that, when you’re looking to work with a freelance paralegal, it’s only natural to consider doing so from the employer/employee perspective.  Looking at one business model from the perspective of another generally does raise concerns as the two don’t mesh.  A better way to approach the idea is perhaps from the vendor/services perspective.  You’re looking for a service provider, not an employee.  How do you approach hiring an employee?  How do you approach retaining a service, such as an accountant or copy service?  How do those approaches and thought processes differ?

Keep this information in mind as you talk with the person you’re interested in.  Remember, if you’ve never worked with a freelance paralegal before, you’ll probably start falling back into the employer/employee model, even if you try not.  As a result, questions and concerns are likely to arise during your communications and you may start thinking this solution isn’t for you.  Resist the urge to shut down communication and instead address these concerns head on by bringing them to the table.

The freelance paralegal you’re speaking with should be able to address all your concerns; they are often simple misunderstandings of the service based on employer/employee schematics.  For example, it’s not uncommon to feel that a freelance paralegal should be on-hand eight-to-five Monday through Friday.  That’s a traditional employer/employee arrangement.  Utilizing paralegal services is different.  Does your CPA or copy store report to you from eight until five Monday through Friday?  No.  But do you know what their hours are and are you comfortable knowing that they’re available if you need them during that time?  Yes.  Working with a freelance paralegal is the same thing – it’s results-oriented.  You’re not paying your freelance paralegal eight-to-five Monday through Friday.  If you were, you might as well hire an employee as it thwarts one of the major goals in working with a freelance paralegal – to minimize costs by, in part, paying only for the work performed.

Another example of a common misconception is cost.  If you pay an employee $20 an hour, are you expecting to pay the same amount for a professional service?  An employee that receives $20 an hour in wages costs more than $20 an hour as you’re also paying office space, equipment, supplies, payroll taxes, unemployment insurance, worker’s compensation, sick time, vacation time, health insurance, and retirement for that employee.  Paralegal services might range from $35 to $100 per hour.  On it’s face, it may seem like paralegal services are much more expensive than employees.  But once you factor in all the other expenses involved in training and maintaining employees, including all those not listed above, the cost of paralegal services is far less.  But, only when these concerns are known can a freelance paralegal adequately address and resolve them for you.

Case in point, when you first talk to a freelance paralegal, s/he may make the points above.  Do you still think it’s more expensive than hiring an employee?  If you do, I wouldn’t be surprised because what I’ve listed above only highlights the most obvious differences; it’s not an all-inclusive comparison by far – there are many factors that make paralegal services a cost effective solution to hiring, but they may not be obvious if you’ve never worked with a freelance paralegal before and you may think it’s not worth it.  It’s at this point that you need to say so.  The person you’re speaking with can expand on the information provided to address any remaining concerns only IF that person knows what concerns you have.

Communication is key to any successful relationship and it’s vital to a successful partnership with a freelance paralegal.  The time to start is with the very first communication.  Don’t hold back.  Lay everything on the table.  If the freelance paralegal says something that raises a question in your mind, say so.  It’s very easy to address and eliminate a concern if it’s brought to light.  Most concerns are simply the result of not fully understanding paralegal services yet while simultaneously approaching them from the employment perspective.  If you’re interested in a freelance paralegal, it’s because you need support.  And, if you weren’t interested in a particular paralegal, you wouldn’t be talking with him or her so don’t give up on what you’re looking for by simply not voicing your concerns.  Bring all your questions and concerns to the table so that you can make an informed decision and then convey that information to the person with whom you’ve been talking.

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