So, You Think You Want To Freelance?

By Morag A. Polaski

The reactions I receive when I tell people that I am a freelance paralegal range from “that’s so cool” to “huh?” Many times, people don’t realize that paralegals can freelance.

I recently heard a student in a paralegal program say, “I want to be a freelance paralegal.  How do I do that?” The idea of freelancing can be very attractive — you get to be your own boss, you can wear jammies to work every day, and your schedule is very flexible.  There are, however, drawbacks to freelancing. There are no employer-sponsored benefits like medical insurance coverage or 401(k) plans. You essentially work alone and you have to go out and find attorneys that need your assistance.

Why would someone consider freelancing?  Besides the reasons mentioned above, there may be other concerns in someone’s life that may make them unsuited to a regular 9-to-5 job.  Medical issues rank highly here. Someone who cannot sit for long periods of time may find working in an office painful. Having to care for a family member regularly may prohibit being able to work standard business hours.  Working from home is a blessing in situations like these, but not many employers offer that as an option and those that do often don’t offer it to recent hires. For the purposes of this post, let’s define a freelancer as a person who works for several different entities or individuals, selling their work or services by the hour, day, or project rather than working as an employee for a single employer.  A remote employee is different from a freelancer and can be defined as an employee of a single employer, who works at a location which is not the employer’s primary place of business. Both people may work from their homes (or a coffee shop, or wherever they may choose), but are slightly different.

There seem to be many “pros” to freelancing, but what are some of the “cons”?  As previously mentioned, there are no benefits like medical insurance coverage.  Business will not necessarily come knocking on your door; you will need to go out and find it.  You will have to determine a reasonable pay scale for your work. You will have to pay for your own memberships, certifications, and CLEs.  There usually isn’t someone who can help out with your caseload if it becomes overwhelming. There are no paid vacation days.

If the cons do not deter you and you are still interested in freelancing, research and develop a business plan. How will you find paying clients (attorneys)? How much money must you have saved up to launch your business?  What kind of business entity will work best for you? Reach out to other freelancers and see how they got started. Here are my suggestions:

1)      Have a minimum 10 years of experience in at least one firm/practice area.  This way you have the experience to be professionally attractive to an attorney-client;

2)     Have enough experience to know what practice area you want to focus on.  It could be bankruptcy, Social Security, intellectual property, or you could choose to be a generalist and do a little bit of everything;

3)     Determine your business structure (LLC, incorporated, sole proprietorship , etc.) and how much money you will need to spend on your overhead (office, new machinery, business cards, etc.);

4)     Determine how you will obtain the money (e.g. savings, small business loan); and

5)     Determine where your workspace will be.  Ideally, it will be a private space that is accessible to you at all times.

Another issue that needs to be assessed is your ability to work by yourself.  As I stated before, you may not have co-workers who can help with your caseload, but you also need to remember that there isn’t anyone with whom you can share your joy (other than the attorneys you work for) when that case finally settles, or that long-term client finally gets their disability approved.

Typically, while you may have regular contact with the attorney-client via phone, text or email, you don’t have the same kind of contact that you would if they were in the office down the hall.  If you find that you need direction on an item, you may be waiting a while to get a response. Do you have the drive or motivation to work when no one is watching you? There are temptations at home that you don’t have in a regular workplace. There is always laundry to be done. At my house, there’s always a couch, a book, a dog, and a cup of tea waiting for me. Rainy days always make me want to take a nap, and it can be difficult to be motivated on days like that. When you don’t have an assignment to do, how are you going to fill your time?  Ideally, you should always be marketing, finding new attorney-clients, networking, and getting your name out there. Join a local paralegal association and get involved. Join the e-lists for your preferred practice areas and participate in them.

While freelancing can be fun, exciting, and beneficial, it can also be unpleasant, boring, and disadvantageous. The results you get from it are directly correlated to the plan you have to succeed. Without a good plan, any success is likely to be sheer luck.  Or, as my mom would say, “It’s more good luck than good guidance.” This is your firm, your business, and you are at the helm. It’s up to you to steer it correctly.

Ms. Polaski began her career as a receptionist in a small law firm in Norfolk, Virginia and gradually added more duties until she became a legal assistant and completed a paralegal certificate program at Old Dominion University in 1996.  Ms. Polaski earned her Bachelor of Science degree in 2003 from Excelsior College and her Master of Liberal Studies degree from Fort Hays State University in May 2015. In 2006, Ms. Polaski earned her Certified Paralegal (CP) credential from the National Association of Legal Assistants (NALA), and the North Carolina Certified Paralegal (NCCP) credential from the North Carolina State Bar.   In 2011, Ms. Polaski launched her own freelance virtual paralegal business, Just A Paralegal Virtual Services, and continued her education, earning her Advanced Certification (ACP) from NALA in Social Security Disability in 2012, Child Custody and Visitation in 2013, Trademark and Patent Law in 2015, and Discovery in 2018. Ms. Polaski can be contacted at justaparalegal@gmail.com