By Brian Craig
With the growth in e-commerce, more law firms on relying on virtual paralegals and using an office presence to cut costs and to work for efficiently. Many providers of an office presence, such as Regus, provide for fully equipped office space, allows for a solo attorney to maintain an “office presence” without having to have a traditional office space. With an office presence, the attorney can have meeting rooms as needed when meeting with clients or conducting other meetings. An office presence can help save costs, especially for a new solo attorney while the practice grows.
Along with an office presence, a virtual paralegal can also be helpful for a small law firm or solo attorney. An article that recently appeared on Law.com discusses the role of virtual paralegals and how more legal work is moving online.
What is a virtual paralegal? According to the Virtual Paralegal Training Center, virtual paralegals are contract, independent or freelance paralegals that are hired by lawyers, law firms or in-house legal departments to provide paralegal support services on an as needed basis with such services being supplied through the use of technology such as the Internet, e-mail, fax and remote access systems. A virtual paralegal may also be called a digital assistant.
According to a 2011 article appearing in the Texas Law Journal, in general, virtual paralegal rates range between $30 and $65 per hour. See Debra L. Bruce, Testing the Waters: Is It Time to Try a Virtual Legal Assistant?, 74 Tex. B.J. 776, 777 (Nov. 2011).
When a court awards attorneys’ fees based on a statute or contractual provision, courts have generally upheld fees for paralegals, usually at 25 to 30 percent of the lawyer’s hourly rate.
The law firm may have significant cost savings with using virtual paralegals. The law firm pays only for the actual time worked. The firm can save money by not having to pay for payroll taxes, health insurance, retirement benefits, or paid time off. The attorney can also save costs by not having to maintain an office, furniture, computer, software, and equipment for the worker. A virtual paralegal is especially advantageous to a small law firm or solo attorney where an assistant is needed only a limited basis.
The ethical duty of confidentiality and other ethical rules still apply to a virtual paralegal. The ethical rules for a virtual paralegal are the same as a traditional paralegal or legal assistant working in the law office. Under Rule 5.3 of the ABA Model Rules of Professional Conduct dealing with responsibilities regarding nonlawyer assistants, “a lawyer having direct supervisory authority over the nonlawyer shall make reasonable efforts to ensure that the person’s conduct is compatible with the professional obligations of the lawyer.” Rule 5.3 of the ABA Model Rules has also been adopted by a number of states in the ethical rules for lawyers. The lawyer should ensure that there is no conflict of interest with the virtual paralegal and that the virtual paralegal maintains confidentiality with client communication.
Law firms, especially firms that have are starting out, should consider the benefits of using virtual paralegals to help their businesses grow and save costs.