As promised in the article How to Find the Right Support, here’s an explanation of how all those support titles evolved.
The concept of working remotely or “virtually” is not new; what is new is the technology used to carry out and deliver the work. Of course, the term “virtual” has new meaning in a world now totally connected through technology. However, the terms “virtual attorney” and “virtual paralegal” actually reflect the evolution of an existing group of independent professionals. Attorneys and paralegals have been offering support from their own offices to attorneys and law firms for many, many years. (The first time I offered support from my own office was in 1998.) We once were referred to as contract paralegals and attorneys or, simply, independent contractors. More recently, we have been (and are still) frequently referred to as freelancers. Now, with the virtual world we live in, the terms “virtual paralegal” and “virtual attorney” are becoming commonplace.
However, the term “virtual” may not accurately represent this group of professionals. The phrases “virtual paralegal” and “virtual attorney” are as likely to refer to independent contractors as they are to refer to employees working in a telecommute capacity. In addition, some virtual paralegals and attorneys provide on-site support to local clients, just as most freelance paralegals and attorneys provide virtual support to their clients. Unlike “virtual paralegal” and “virtual attorney,” the terms “freelance paralegal” and “freelance attorney” clearly delineate the paralegal and attorney’s role and status in providing substantive legal support. As freelancing becomes more widely understood and accepted, I expect the terms “virtual attorney” and “virtual paralegal” will increase in usage and will generally be understood as referring to “independent contractors working in a virtual setting.”
Technology has increased both public and professional awareness of this group of professionals. Because our society is so connected now through the World Wide Web, the visibility of freelance attorneys and paralegals has increased immensely. Prior to the Internet, no media outlet made this information easily accessible or widely known. The only way people knew about someone working remotely is if they were aware of such a professional locally. As technology has become increasingly available to both businesses and individuals, this group of professionals has expanded, as has the interest in utilizing their services. The general consensus in the legal industry now is that the practice of working virtually in the legal field will continue to grow tremendously and become a business standard over time as technology continues to offer more ways to do so; but, it is not a new practice. The practice of working remotely, or “virtually,” simply continues to evolve with technology. Even entire law practices are going virtual now! We really are living and working during an incredible point in time.
As technology and the way law is practiced changes, take comfort in knowing there’s already an elite group of professionals poised to support you and help you make those changes; experienced legal professionals who have already tested the waters, identified best practices, and paved the foundation for the future of legal practice. When I stop to think about it, it never ceases to amaze me how much has changed in the way we work during the past twenty years. It’ll be interesting to see where we go from here!