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Virtual Legal Assistant - Is This Your Magical Career?

Woman.at deskWhen you work as a Virtual Legal Assistant, you can choose to work as an employee or you can set up your own business. There are pros and cons to each arrangement. When you work as an employee, you don't have to invest any money up front or find your own clients, but your pay rate, work hours, and how you work will be more restricted. When you work as an entrepreneur, you face other challenges.


Over in Decatur, Georgia, Katrina Johnson sits back in her chair and smiles broadly. Her eyes are bright as she recounts her success story as a Virtual Legal Assistant and starting her business: ABC Virtual Assistant Services. “I am a 40-year old single mom with a profound passion to help others fulfill their entrepreneurial dreams. My purpose is to help those who have the desire and idea but lack the knowledge to get their business off the ground. I have worked in the legal field for approximately 15 years and have acquired a lot of knowledge that I don't mind sharing with others to get them on the road to becoming their own boss.”


Wow! Someone with the talent, knowledge and expertise to help newcomers reach new heights along a new career journey. Talking to Katrina, you have to wonder how she started her successful Virtual Legal Assistant business. Here is a motivated, talented woman succeeding in a hot new cottage industry.


“The idea for my business was birthed back in 2016 but was halted when my father fell ill and my mother needed my support and assistance in caring for him. While my father's health was failing, he was and still is my biggest cheerleader. I shared my idea with him before his health got critical. He was excited at the idea of me working for myself, which made me want to move things along faster. I lost my Dad in February 2017 and decided that once I was financially able, I would pull the trigger on starting my business. That day came to pass in January 2018 and I have not looked back since the start of my business."

Going into business was a longtime desire. Her childhood was not an easy path. “I grew up in East Lake Meadows, one of the harshest and crime ridden government housing developments, formerly in Atlanta, Georgia; the housing project has since been revamped”, she says. “I decided one day that I wanted to be a go-to person for small businesses. I figured since I had been so successful working with other small business over the years, it seemed like a no brainer to go into business for myself, aiding smaller business or start up. I felt like I had a plethora of knowledge, patience, and attention to detail, all things I feel are imperative in running and operating a small business. I decided that I wanted more control of my time. I did not want to go back to school, so after much research and critical thinking, the field of virtual assistance found me.”


What does it take to become a Virtual Legal Assistant? “I have worked as a Personal Injury Paralegal, a Real Estate Closer/Pre-Closer, Administrative Assistant and Data Entry Clerk,” she says, “and also for a very small time, a cashier at AutoZone. I researched this specialty thoroughly on Google before entering.”


As with many paralegals, no one really says, “When I grow up, I want to be a paralegal.” That is like saying, “When I grow up, I want to be an actuary.” So, what did Kristina think she would be when she first started out? “I always felt like I was destined for a grander purpose and I felt by deciding to venture out onto the entrepreneurial playing field, the worst-case scenario was, I failed. In my many years, I have culminated the ideal that failure is a part of the path to success and that if I don't try, nothing happens.”


There are ups and downs in any career. What is the most interesting aspect of her job? “The most interesting thing about my job is that I get to meet phenomenal people with their eyes set on their passion. I get to be in on the ground floor of someone's lifelong dream coming to fruition and that is a feeling for which I do not have words.”

While the Virtual Legal Assistant handles many different and diversified assignments, helping clients to succeed is one of the primary high points of the career. “I am presently in negotiations with a client who desires to start a staffing service. I have helped her, on a preliminary basis, by engaging in a bit of research on her target market, her competition, and her Secretary of State licensing information,” she says. “I feel that a lot of people lose their desire to start their own business because of the "hindrance" called administrative tasks. While I understand that, that should not be a deterrent. I like to put myself in a situation where my clients handle the meat and I take care of the sides, giving them an opportunity to focus of the product or service they are selling.”

What does she dislike the most? Ah, the consummate politically correct answer: “The only thing that I dislike is that there are only 24 hours in a day. My clients are awesome!!”

A critical strategy for Virtual Legal Assistants is to continuously analyze the growth pattern of the business. “I am satisfied with where things are. Along with the clients I have now, I am looking forward to obtaining more. With the use of craigslist.org and word-of-mouth, I anticipate that I will be getting more clients very soon. At present, I am serving three clients, two attorneys and a small business on the horizon from the ground up. Because I only started my business in January 2018, I have already excelled past my original goal of getting at least one client within the first 6 months.”

Planning the future is an important strategy. “In the future, I would like to move into doing some business consultations where I am brought in to advise a business on how they can operate more efficiently, less costly, and how to generate more revenue.”

The career is not without its challenges. Katrina’s biggest challenge is juggling being a full time Mom. “It can be a bit challenging,” she says, “but Mom is my most important role and I make it work. I make it work well.”

Katrina is sensible about starting a Virtual Legal Assistant business. “Starting my business has not been costly at all. In fact, the most expensive thing I have paid for since I started my business is my credentials to start my business. I used Legal Zoom and I've already seen what I paid Legal Zoom ten-fold.”

What advice does she have for someone getting into this arena? “Be patient, understanding, and steadfast. I love what I do and I can't wait to start the next chapter of Business Consultations.”

16 Websites to Help You Find a Virtual Assistant Position
Where do you find virtual assistant jobs? Whenever you are working as a virtual assistant, you are going to have to find virtual assistant jobs for yourself. Thankfully, this is something that you can do online if you know where to look.

There are a number of free job listing websites that will list virtual assistant jobs. This may not be the best way to find a Virtual Legal Assistant job as few seem to be listed. However, a good, diligent search will uncover several. Many of the jobs that you will find on these websites are small, short jobs that need to be done quickly. While this can be a great way to build up your skills and get your name out there, these jobs are not going to pay you a lot of money. Be careful that a number of these websites charge a small fee. This fee will either need to be paid whenever you get the job or once the job has been completed.

While there are many websites for finding virtual assistant jobs, there are none strictly for Virtua Legal Assistants. These websites are seeking Virtual Assistants already set up in their own businesses to join with them.

Here are just a few you can explore and register your new business or apply as a Virtual Legal Assistant:

24/7 Virtual Assistant 
Assistant Match 
Belay 
VaVa Vitual Assistants 
People Per Hour 
Fancy Hands 
Freelancer 
FlexJobs 
Guru
Red Butler 
Time Etc. 
Uassist.Me
Upwork
Virtual Assistant USA 
Virtual Staff Finder 
Zirtual 


Create a Website
In order to find a Virtual Legal Assistant job, you are going to first need to create a website. The website can simply list your qualifications, contact information and payment terms and a list of what you can do including specialties. It doesn't have to be anything fancy or flashy but a simple, professional-looking website to help you obtain clients.


Don't Underestimate Referrals
Make sure that you communicate with your clients. Remember, it is different whenever you work from home because your "boss" cannot see you hard at work. It is important to make sure that you respond to your client's emails and phone calls promptly. By doing so, you will create trust, put your client at ease and show that you really are a competent online Virtual Legal Assistant. Make sure that you provide high quality work and meet all critical deadlines. Whenever you know that you have done these things and that your client is a happy camper, ask them to give you a referral. This way, you will be able to help your business continue to expand.


Make Networking a Regular Part of Business Development
It is important to join at least three networking groups, either online or in person, because no one will know that your business exists unless you get the word out. You can find these groups on Google. Network with paralegal associations, Bar Associations, and other related organizations such as the ALA - Association of Legal Administrators.
Get on Facebook and LinkedIn. Find related groups who can use your services. Think in terms of hanging out where attorneys and hiring authorities are most likely to be found.


Spend Time Marketing Yourself
Make sure to consistently market your virtual legal assistant business. Find websites that will allow your resume to be viewed by numerous businesses. While these websites may charge you a small fee, this can be a great option because it will allow serious long-term employers to find you. Utilize social media. If you don’t know how, find someone who can show you.


Check Out Other Virtual Assistant Websites
Take time to look at other similar websites. Many will tell you if they are looking for a virtual assistant.
You are going to need to be patient whenever you are looking for online Virtual Legal Assistant jobs. In most instances, it may take between four to six months to land your first client.


Starting down the path to a new career can be fun, risky and rewarding all at the same time. With the trend towards working from home growing by leaps and bounds every year, this new career can ultimately offer you a missing element from your present situation. Investigate and discover for yourself whether this journey is right for you. And who knows? Here may be the magic career path you have ultimately been seeking!

Chere Estrin is the CEO of Estrin Legal Staffing; CEO of the Paralegal Knowledge Institute and President of The Organization of Legal Professionals. She can be reached at chere@estrinlegalstaffing.com. 


Are You Playing A Good Game? How to Improve Your Career and Move to the Major Leagues


BicyclesBy Chere B. Estrin


Have you ever participated professionally in a competitive sport? Are you familiar with the approaches in which professionals train for one? If you look deeply, you will see a strong resemblance in principal to sports and the legal professional field. The reality is, if we focus on the actual mechanics of what we do over a period of time, we can see that we receive results through our reflexes.

Throughout our working day, we continually encounter a multitude of seemingly minor circumstances, objections or stop-gaps that require us to respond, perhaps by additional probing questions, perhaps with rebuttals. If these situations are handled properly, we gain additional information or we overcome the objection or stop-gap and proceed to our next step. Does this always happen? No. But to the degree we do respond with maximum effectiveness, we improve our production considerably...with no extra time in the office, on the phone or hammering out lengthy emails to attorneys who don’t want to hear about it anyway.

Consider it. An attorney says she has an assignment for you that has impossible deadlines but you can’t help her. The IT department cannot assist you immediately. Clients say they can’t reach your attorneys but you have no answer for them. You are having trouble meeting billable hours and it’s because the firm doesn’t have enough work. Several times a day we encounter situations where we might respond a bit better. But do we? Maybe. But if, as it has been said, baseball is a game of inches, getting our best results is a game of improving the odds by enhancing your skills in terms of how you respond to the situation.

DEVELOPING NEW REFLEXES

Sharpening your reflexes is a two-step process that can be repeated indefinitely as you see additional areas to improve your performance.

The first, of course, is identifying the areas where sharper reflexes will result in incremental upward career mobility. This could mean increased billable hours, improved and more sophisticated assignments, even a promotion. This does not have to only include obvious areas such as getting the assignment correct from the beginning. Are you glancing at the assignment and not delving in-depth as to what it is about? Are you doing routine and repetitious work and wondering why you are getting bored with your job? Do you ask questions to elicit more specific information rather than making statements? These also are considered reflexes.

WHERE TO FOCUS

Your first step is obviously to narrow your focus. Don't think you can just say "I need to do better" and leave it at that. You must train like a professional athlete. What does that mean?

There is a major difference between how amateurs and professionals train. An amateur just does more of his sport. For example, Kate plays more soccer or tennis or Brian runs more often. By doing so, they may improve slowly, but will never progress past their amateur level. We call this “victims of empty-loading.” It is the same as saying, “I am going to upgrade my career.” So instead of summarizing six depositions a week, you summarize twelve. More of the same with no improvement or upward movement.

A professional determines which specific area he needs to improve, and then spends time focusing on precisely that arena.

To do so, you must find your weak spots which is not always an easy task.

SELF-REFLECTION

Initially, ask yourself where you could improve. Over the years, chances are you've noticed or been told about certain improvement areas, and have said to yourself "I need to work on that." Have you? Probably. But has the problem been fully corrected? Maybe not.

TAP INTO YOUR MANAGER- A MAJOR RESOURCE

If you have a manager, it's a mistake to think that she can't help you. If you haven't indicated a willingness to improve, she may just be concentrating on new people or those who ask for help. Tell her you're ready to learn more and ask for assistance. Have a plan ready as to how to get the help you need.

If you are the manager, ask your most effective legal professional, HR manager or attorney for some suggestions. He won't think you're "showing weakness" by asking for help; he'll respect you for wanting to improve...and he should.

ANALYZE YOUR CALLS

Professional athletes record and evaluate their performances all the time to improve. You should, too. Consider recording your voice and what goes on in a phone call. Fifteen minutes a day, three days a week, listening to your own calls after hours will get any experienced legal professional realizing where you can improve.

Be aware there are laws in California and other states against recording two-way calls without consent. If you live in one of the states, you may be able to record only your voice.

Alternatively, you can take notes during your conversations. Jot down notes while the conversation is taking place. Not only the answers to your questions. That’s not what you are after. Instead: What specifically did you ask? How did you ask the question?

Notes and Numbers

Have a brightly-colored sheet of paper on your desk (so it doesn't get lost in the stacks). Whenever something happens that you feel you didn't handle particularly well, write it down. Keep doing it. Over the course of a few weeks, a pattern is most likely to emerge. Did your time get written-off again? Do you know why? This technique can track your performance via self-evaluation.

Don't concentrate only on the words that you say. The manner of your response or your reaction is not to be overlooked. It can be changed to equally enhance your production.

HOW TO IMPROVE

Notes on Your Phone

Take a look at your computer. Is there a note on it relating to improved performance? If not, you're missing an easy way to improve. Reflexes are habits. Habits, to change, require ongoing reminders. Put a new Post-it on your computer every week. Don't just leave it there until you have forgotten about it. Change notes regularly or, if it is the same note, change paper colors. Pick a date to change the note: Say, every Monday, the note gets changed.

While brief pieces of "script" are certainly possible, it is more likely that these will reflect your manner of presentation and broad principles. Some examples might be "slow your pace", "ask more probing questions", "listen more carefully" or "reinforce what you heard."

Role-Playing
No matter how good an athlete is, she practices. No matter how good a musician is, he practices -- every day. Do you?

Role-playing is our equivalent of practicing, and it will benefit you, the experienced legal professional, just as much as an entry-level. It is also likely to help you identify specific areas in which you need to improve.

Let's take an example. Your role-playing partner, playing the "part" of the attorney or supervisor, is giving you an assignment. In answer to your question, she replies that she just wants the assignment on Thursday and gives you very little information as to how to accomplish the task. Do you reinforce and ask for specifics? "Kim, I understand what you are saying. However, specifically what are you looking for? What resources do you recommend?” Or did you just say "OK" and go on to the next question on your list?

Don't make excuses and don't let your role-playing partner do so. You are creating a habit. And if you make a mistake in role-playing, there's a good chance that you are making it constantly when receiving assignments.

Consider Teaching or Speaking Engagements

Take it from the originators: Aristotle once said that "the truest knowledge of an art is achieved only by teaching it." You don't need to teach this field; you just need to do it. But teaching a subject or giving a talk on it will force you to organize your thoughts, consider the problem and the solution in depth, and formalize your knowledge. It also looks great on your resume.

Maximizing Your Commute

Serious professional-level athletes do not always "eat, sleep and breathe" their sport. But they do come close. So should you.
If you commute to work, you already know that it is not the most exciting or pleasant part of the day. Particularly, if you live in a major metropolitan city and encounter heavy traffic that has gotten incredibly worse over the years. Yet, there are excellent benefits you can achieve during this everyday time that is not going to disappear.

A 30-minute morning commute amounts to a solid ten hours a month of time spent driving to work. A 15-minute commute equals 5 hours a month. The time before you sit down at your desk sets up your attitude for the business day. Sign up for webinars and if you don’t attend the live session, listen in the car.

Is skill improvement the responsibility of managers to deliver to legal professionals? Probably. However, waiting for this event to happen can stall your career. Skill improvement is an individual responsibility and investing in yourself can pay huge dividends.

We always have to quote someone in the know: Andrew Carnegie wrote that a career is made or marred in hours after formal work is done. That’s true for you as well as you commit to improving your legal professional career. And, concentration on your career after hours is a great way to go.

THE LAST WORD

No matter how talented or experienced you are, meaningful career improvement is possible. Accomplishing it will not only give you a sense of upward movement - the hallmark of a successful person - it will make you a better legal professional, promote your journey and get you out of stagnating, career inhibiting situations. It just takes a little effort, change in attitude and a fresh outlook! 

Chere Estrin is the CEO of Estrin Legal Staffing; CEO of the Paralegal Knowledge Institute and President of the Organization of Legal Professionals, a non-profit eDiscovery training organization. She is the author of 10 books on the legal career and hundreds of articles; a national seminar speaker; Recipient of the Los Angeles Paralegal Lifetime Achievement Award; an Inc. Magazine Entrepreneur of the Year Finalist; former legal professional administrator and senior executive in a $5 billion corporation. She has been written up in Newsweek, the Chicago Tribune, the Los Angeles Times, Daily Journal and other publications. Her blog, The Estrin Report, has been around since 2005. Reach out to her at chere@estrinlegalstaffing.com