The Virtual Paralegal Featured in Massachusetts Lawyer's Weekly Magazine

Virtual paralegal in a virtual work world of one’s own

Published: September 1, 2008 Mass Lawyers Weekly

Hire Calling

Hire Calling is a feature about hiring decisions and related employment matters. This week, Lawyers Weekly’s Barbara Rabinovitz speaks with virtual paralegal Dawn M. Draper, 39, of Traverse City, Mich., about the virtually unexplored field in which she is working, in a profession still very much grounded in the real world.

Q. How would you define “virtual paralegal”?

A. A virtual paralegal is someone who generally works in an office in their home and probably never even sees [lawyers] face to face. I can do 90 to 95 percent of what I was able to do when I was a [non-virtual] paralegal. It’s just that a lot of the work I do as a virtual paralegal is done by e-mail. The only thing I couldn’t do is file documents in a file cabinet.

Q. What are the qualifications for employment as a virtual paralegal, and are they the same as for a non-virtual paralegal?

A. They are the same. I have talked to various attorneys who are looking for the same credentials as [for] real paralegals. They ask a lot of questions about my experience and education [bachelor's degree in paralegal studies from Michigan's Davenport University]. To be considered a legal assistant or paralegal, you can get a certificate from a two-year college or you can go to a four-year college for a bachelor’s and get a certificate there [in] an ABA-accredited paralegal program.

Q. Does a virtual paralegal undergo an in-person interview for a job, or do the law firm and the applicant do a virtual interview?

A. Generally, at least the first interview will be on the phone. An attorney I just started with is from a different state – Virginia. I sent her a contract, and she reviewed it, and we’re now working together. I also have an attorney in Indiana I work for and a document preparation service located in Michigan.

Q. What is the average salary for a virtual paralegal, and how does it compare with the salary for a paralegal in a law office?

A. I think a virtual paralegal earns a little more. Most of the people doing this are charging around $30 to $45 an hour. In a law firm, where I’m from, I would be lucky if I could make about $12 an hour. This is kind of a low-paying area. But other places, in a law office the salary would average about $18 to $20 for a paralegal with my experience.

Q. What are the advantages of hiring a virtual paralegal? Are there any disadvantages?

A. Cost effectiveness is definitely a major advantage. [Law firms] don’t have to purchase additional office equipment or provide me with benefits; they don’t have to pay employment taxes. And they’re still able to use my services in their billable hour charges.

The one disadvantage I do see in being [a paralegal from] home is the lack of the ability to converse with colleagues, to have that physical adult conversation. … So I joined forums; every day I go to virtual assistant forums on the Internet.

Q. Paralegals are called on to handle highly confidential documents. How can a law firm be sure their clients’ privacy will be protected by a virtual paralegal?

A. In my contract I have a non-compete and non-disclosure-type clause in there that they probably would be comfortable with … that I would not disclose any private information. Also, for the documents that ago back and forth in the e-mails I usually will create an Adobe PDF so that the information is more protected than that of a word document.

Q. Can you estimate how many virtual paralegals there are and where they are?

A. I know that there are a lot of virtual assistants who do everything from bookkeeping to office administration, but the virtual paralegal is not real prevalent yet. The only one I know of, other than me, is in Michigan.
I think it’s something that’s very new. I’ve had people tell me I’ve got a really good niche here. I hope I get to the point where I have to hire other virtual assistants to help.

Q. Do you think that lawyers, being members of a very traditional profession, will resist the trend toward virtual paralegals?

A. I don’t think they will. A large amount of attorneys have thought about going paperless. I see them popping up all over the world.

Stay in Touch with TVP

The Virtual Contract Freelance Paralegal Facebook Independent, Contract, Freelance, Paralegal, Services Twitter    Virtual, Freelance, Contract, Independant, Paralegal, Legal Assistant LinkedIn
Facebook          Twitter            LinkedIn

Virtual Paralegal EBook

Want to learn how to become a successful virtual paralegal?  Check out our EBook.

Virtual Freelance Independent Contract Paralegal EBook

Contact Us

For more information on the services that The Virtual Paralegal can provide your business, please contact us for a free consultation.

FAX: 360-343-9551