How to Find the Right Support

A couple weeks ago, I posted the article, What’s in a Name? to address the mass confusion that occurs when attorneys search for substantive legal support.  What type of support do you look for?  What keywords or titles should you search for when looking to find paralegal support?  Are freelance paralegals and virtual paralegals the same?  What’s different between them and paralegal support services?

As promised, this post will help clear the air about what, and who, you might find during your search so you can better identify the types of services you’re looking for and their related keywords and titles.  To start, let’s look at some of the terms, titles, and phrases you may come across in your quest for support:

  • Freelance Paralegal
  • Independent Contractor Paralegal
  • Contract Paralegal
  • Paralegal Support Service
  • Virtual Paralegal
  • Independent Paralegal

How do each of these differ?  Fortunately, they’re not all that confusing after all, but there are some differences you should be aware of so you know what questions to ask when consulting with a prospect.

Freelance paralegals, independent contractor paralegals, contract paralegals, and paralegal support services are essentially all business support services. These are paralegals who are retained by attorneys, law firms, corporate legal departments, and/or governmental agencies to provide paralegal support services.  They are not employees.  They are business owners, like any other service business, who own and operate a business, establish and maintain their own business practices, policies, procedures, and rates for service. While most operate their support service from their own place of business, some offer on-site support for local attorney-clients who need it, as well.

In contrast, virtual paralegals, as their title infers, do not offer on-site support.  They work solely from their own location.  Equally important to note, virtual paralegals are not necessarily business owners of a paralegal support service.  Some virtual paralegals are employees working in a telecommute capacity.  In the employment capacity, the attorney-employer is responsible for assigning a salary and paying taxes, equipment expenses, and benefits.  Because there is no set standard, it’s important to find out whether the virtual paralegal you’re interested in working with runs a virtual paralegal business or expects to work as your employee.  To help you identify questions you should ask, take a closer look at the difference between legal support services and paralegal employees.

The last title you may come across from the list above is that of Independent Paralegal.  While, by definition, a paralegal is a person qualified by education or experience to provide substantive legal support under the direction and supervision of an attorney, some individuals work independently as paralegals providing services to the general public.  (More information on this topic and the issues that accompany it can be found in the article, Paralegal Do’s and Don’ts: What can (and can’t) a paralegal do for you.)  In short, ask questions to make sure the person you are contacting provides the type of support you need.

Soon, I’ll share with you the evolution of legal support services to give you a glimpse of where we’ve been, where we are, and where all those titles came from!  So, if you haven’t already done so, sign up at the upper right-hand corner to have these free posts automatically delivered to your inbox or click on the RSS button to add them to your RSS feed.

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