Hiring a Freelance Paralegal or Legal Assistant for your Firm Lowers Annual Costs by 45%.
Given the rough economic times, law firms and corporate legal departments are under a lot of pressure to reduce costs. For many senior attorneys, reducing costs can simply mean firing in-house lawyers. However, the effective use of freelance paralegals can achieve similar cost cutting results as well as improve the productivity of everyone in the firm. To utilize paralegals properly, in-house counsel must first understand their capabilities and limits, as well as the benefits they bring.
This Top Ten presents issues every law firm and corporation should know and consider when dealing with Paralegals.
1. What is a Paralegal?
A Paralegal is generally a college graduate with a B.A., or at minimum a certificate from an accredited business school. Paralegals are often people who chose to be Paralegals, not simply people on their way to law school. Furthermore, the Paralegals are generally people who applied to and were accepted to competitive, selective programs.
One such important certification (not required) is the NALA Advanced Paralegal Certification. This is given after the Paralegal graduates school and takes the difficult advanced exam. Once passing the NALA exam their considered to be a Nationally recognized Paralegal.
2. Paralegals Learn…
Paralegals are subject to rigorous assessment and overview in their certificate or masters programs. Attorneys, other Paralegals, and professional educators review these programs and their overall performance. The curriculum of these programs generally focuses on the local legal market. For example, Paralegal programs in New York City focus on corporate international law, while perhaps Hollywood or Los Angeles programs focus on contract law and entertainment law.
3. Paralegal Capabilities
Paralegals have a broad range of skills that make them very useful in any legal setting. Paralegal programs teach their students how to:
- Conduct legal research via web, law library, and legal software (LexisNexis – Westlaw);
- Legal writing, business contract writing, letter writing, and proper citations;
- Rules of procedures and evidence;
- Filing procedures;
- Motion practice; and
- Statutory law.
Executive Paralegals may also have IT skills and the ability to design law firm websites. Hiring a well-rounded Paralegal with such skills will save you thousands of dollars per year in SEO, IT and marketing fees.
4. Substantive Tasks
A Paralegal’s usefulness to an in-house legal department goes beyond answering phones, drafting documents, and conducting legal research. Paralegals complete tasks that may not seem legal in nature such as:
- Review and coordinate annual property tax documents and draft tax appeals;
- Draft and review commercial leases or landlord/tenant leases;
- Coordinate corporate real estate matters related to acquisition, sale, zoning, etc…;
- Investigate potential class actions suits and product liability issues.
By utilizing Paralegals appropriately on tasks that may led to actual legal work, you can pass the actual legal case loads onto the higher paid in-house attorneys.
5. Paralegal Limits
Paralegals may not in any situation provide legal advice. Although Paralegals may be just as knowledgeable as their attorney coworkers, they must be very careful. Paralegals are capable of contributing to the practice of law, but that same law prohibits them from serving certain functions. For example Paralegals can not:
- Accept cases;
- Set fees;
- Conduct depositions;
- Sign off on any legal documents (except as a Bankruptcy Preparer or certain Real Estate documents depending on the state of the property);
- Represent clients in courts; or
- Provide legal advice.
6. Decreased Expenses
The biggest benefit of Paralegals is cost reduction. The average in-house attorney makes $90,000 to 125,000 per year or about $50 – 100 per hour. A Paralegal on the other hand makes $36,000-60,000 per year, or $30 – 40 per hour. Attorneys should consider the difference in cost and allow them to do what their able to do without going over stepping boundaries.
7. Balance Everyday Schedule
Paralegals can do most of the things lawyers do, such as lengthy tasks like legal research and legal writing. Giving this work to Paralegals, attorneys can limit the amount of time spent in the office doing administrative work and hours of reading case-law. Allowing attorneys to spend more time with family or go golfing.
8. Effective Use Of In-House Attorney’s Time
Utilizing effectively the management of in-house attorney’s time and knowledge is key in balancing life at home and work. A Paralegal can open up time for attorneys to work on complex legal issues and handle tasks only attorneys can lawfully handle. Allowing the in-house attorney’s to work on specific complex tasks also provides a level of personal satisfaction. Ultimately, allowing corporate law departments to get the most out of the high salaries their paying the in-house attorneys.
Paralegals want to receive work relating to researching and writing on substantive issues. Many hours are spent in college learning how to master such legal tasks. Creating such distinct professional lines helps avoid the tendency of in-house junior lawyers to take advantage of the Paralegal.
An obvious benefit of using a Paralegal is to decrease legal costs which in the end benefits shareholders. Especially in small corporation or law firm, a legal team can be a significant source of overall costs. By effectively using freelance Paralegals, in-house attorneys can reduce those costs, resulting in more money being available for expanding the firm or increasing investor profits. As the economy continues to shuffle along, many companies have reduced department budgets, especially legal departments, and laid off employees. By reducing overall legal department costs through the use of contract Paralegals or freelance Paralegals, you will avoid those consequences.
10. Managing Paralegals Properly
A key strategy to effectively managing Paralegals is to first assess the needs of the law firm. In-house attorneys can reap most of the benefits detailed above by understanding the legal needs of the firm. Develop a detailed list of tasks the department needs to fullfill regularly and an outline of how you want those tasks accomplished. This simple process helps senior attorneys allocate tasks among Paralegals and junior attorneys.
“VAP Services is a full service legal marketing network providing legal web marketing, web content management, and executive paralegal services to law firms nationwide.”
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