Using Virtual Paralegals: Frequently Asked Questions
by Cathy Ribble
This month I want to discuss the most frequent questions I receive as a virtual paralegal. Questions come from many different directions: attorneys considering a virtual paralegal relationship, paralegals interested in working virtually, and curious lay people. Ironically, for the most part, the same questions come from each group.
1.) How did you get started?
- After over 15 years of actual law office experience and achieving my professional certification from the National Association of Legal Assistants, I was no longer satisfied with my work-life balance. I invested 6 months of my time in researching the virtual assistant profession and studying the tools which were used for document exchange. I examined how those tools could be applied to an attorney-paralegal relationship while still protecting ethical guidelines.
- Some attorneys and paralegals find Digital Paralegal Services on the internet using a variety of search terms. Some have read articles I have written concerning the virtual paralegal profession. Because of the tremendous interest, I have had many opportunities for interviews. Most of the time, however, they come to Digital Paralegal Services through a personal referral.
- We discuss the attorney’s support needs and paralegal specialization requirements. I then consult my database of paralegals registered for virtual work located in the same state as the attorney. Digital Paralegal Services requires that the paralegal has achieved professional certification through the National Association of Legal Assistants (NALA) and maintains required CLE credits.
- Paralegal certification is verified with NALA. Attorney licensing is verified with the corresponding state bar association.
- The paralegal is presented an independent contractor agreement and fees are negotiated. A telephone interview is scheduled to be sure both attorney and paralegal are satisfied.
- When the attorney is satisfied and ready to proceed, a contract is presented which covers all areas of the relationship including confidentiality issues. Conflict of interest checks are completed before work begins.
- Rates vary according to the level of paralegal specialization required. These rates are not to be confused with normal hourly employee rates. Virtual paralegals are independent business owners who provide their own computers, software, office supplies and other tools. They have no employee benefits, no vacation or sick time, and they do not receive overtime pay. Typical rates run from $55 per hour to as much as one-third of the attorney’s hourly rate.
- How long have you been working virtually?
- Is this a business for you, or a part-time endeavor?
- What is the biggest problem you have encountered in working virtually, and how did you solve it?
- Is there a potential for conflict of interest with your other clients, or previous positions?
- How do you keep up with changing laws, rules and procedures in your area of expertise?
- What tool do you recommend for file sharing and exchanging information?
- What steps do you take to secure confidential information on your computers and in your home office?
- Do you have backup or overflow support available?
Cathy L. Ribble is a senior level litigation paralegal who decided in 2009 to offer virtual services to U.S.-licensed attorneys when she founded Digital Paralegal Services. She is certified by the National Association of Legal Assistants as an Advanced Certified Paralegal in the area of Trial Practice. She matches attorneys looking for virtual paralegal support with NALA-certified paralegals by practice area and geographic location.