By providing legal services at affordable rates, paralegals are valuable members of the legal community. Yet not all attorneys want the overhead costs of full-time paralegals. Nor do all paralegals want to confine themselves to one field of law. Enter paralegal consultants, sometimes called independent or freelance paralegals, who work individually or with a team on a contract-for-work basis. This special work arrangement helps attorneys who want to lower operating costs and paralegals who want to expand their skill set.
Typically, paralegal consultants have formal education, specialized credentials and varied work experience. Some hold both bachelor's degrees and paralegal certificates. Some consultants have passed state and professional associations' credentialing examinations. Seasoned consultants have worked in various fields of law such as litigation, corporate and business law, malpractice and workers compensation. They are trained in formal proceedings such as arbitration and trials. Some start their own consulting firms, serve on advisory boards, teach at paralegal schools and give seminars on paralegal topics.
Paralegal consultants possess top-notch verbal and written communication skills. They conduct client interviews, prepare fact witnesses for testimony, discuss case strategy with attorneys, and communicate with opposing counsel, expert witnesses and court personnel. Consultants understand fundamental legal concepts to research laws and investigate facts. They draft correspondence, research memorandums and court documents. Paralegal consultants possess computer skills sufficient to manage databases, prepare spreadsheets and create graphics presentations. They must know how to follow legal codes of ethics and avoid the unauthorized practice of law.
To keep up with trends in law, paralegal consultants must broaden in-demand technological skills by mastering specialty software that legal employers depend on. This includes case management, scanning, trial preparation, optical character recognition, word processing and timekeeping programs. Other marketable skills include filing bankruptcy petitions online, researching statutory and common law databases, and performing e-discovery, which requires paralegals to know local court rules so they can exchange information electronically.
Working as an independent contractor offers paralegal consultants the chance to escape boring assignments and unappreciative clients, but it requires the wearing of many hats. To succeed, independent consultants must know how to run a small business, which requires managing assets, liabilities, client billing, payroll and employees. They must know how to perform their jobs without the assistance of secretaries and other support staff. Independent consultants must know how to rent office space, purchase equipment and supplies, and advertise their services.
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