Almost every time I pick up a legal publication I can’t help but read about how technology advances, the financial crises and the recession have aided in the growth of virtual paralegal services. More and more we are hearing the terms “virtual paralegal,” “virtual assistant,” and/or “VA.”
What is a virtual paralegal, a virtual assistant or a VA? To me all these terms are interchangeable. A virtual paralegal is a professional paralegal that provides off-site services to attorneys. The virtual paralegal meets with the attorneys (clients) solely on line and all the work and communication is done via the Internet.
…. a person, qualified by education, training or work experience who is employed or retained by a lawyer, law office, corporation, governmental agency or other entity and who performs specifically delegated substantive legal work for which a lawyer is responsible.
The American Bar Association… Definition of a paralegal or legal assistant
A virtual paralegal (“VA”) must meet the above criteria and in addition must possess additional skills sets, which allow for the work to be performed from a virtual office.
Experience is a must in this business. When a new project is assigned, the VA must get the job done. If the attorney wants a motion drafted it is up to the VA to figure out what the local court rules are, what needs to be inserted into the motion in order to get it to the attorney completed and ready to be filed. Never forget, the attorney is the one who must sign the motion papers and file them. (Check your local UPL rules and regulations).
Being a VA is a business and as in any other business it is important to keep up with changes in your chosen filed. The legal field is no different.
For a paralegal, whether in a traditional setting or a virtual setting, it is important to be comfortable around the law and rules. Our “world” is all about rules. However, this becomes even more important for the VA as normally the VA has no one to “fall back on.”
It is important to be adept at legal research. The attorney (client) may not know when a statute of limitations runs out, or how long he/she has to file reply papers or answer a complaint. It’s important that the VA is able to find this information quickly and in one phone call or one email the client has an answer so that he can communicate to his/her client. A good VA has lots of bookmarks for several research sites and court websites so that the information is always available.
In my opinion, the virtual paralegal business is a trend that is here to stay. There is plenty of time for those of you who want to get in the game to get in the game. Do not cheat yourselves out of getting the experience you need before you take on this challenge. I do not recommend that a recent graduate launch a virtual paralegal business. My suggestion is that you invest in yourself first and take a few years, maybe 5 or 6, and work at a law firm to learn as you can about being a paralegal. Learn about the administrative tasks that must be accomplished which we all hate doing. Learn about the short cuts of legal research, find your niche and develop your skills. Become really good at it and then embark on this amazing adventure that is being your own boss.