How to Become a Virtual Legal Assistant

Career changeIs there a brand new career just waiting for you?

What exactly is a Virtual Assistant or VA? Simply put, a VA is someone who works remotely, online whether from their home or office. They are independent contractors or employees who work and use technology to deliver services. They provide administrative, technical, social media and creative services to clients.

Virtual assistants specialize in various industries such as marketing, real estate, accounting, law or financial services. Firms often hire virtual assistants to save money. They don't pay for the assistant's equipment (including computers), training, overhead, dues, materials, furniture, office space, taxes (if hired as an independent contractor), parking, or insurance.

What Do Virtual Assistants Do?

As a Virtual Assistant, you can do a variety of tasks. You can become a generalist or specialize in a legal specialty such as bankruptcy, litigation, real estate, estate planning or corporate. The Internet has made it possible to do a wide variety of things remotely, or, “virtually.”

A lot of people hear “virtual assistance” and think only of administrative tasks like typing and answering emails. But the range of tasks VAs do is much broader: There are countless services you can provide virtually. Here is a partial list:
• Email management
• Correspondence
• Answer phones
• Calendar management
• Travel arrangement
• Writing
• Ghostwriting
• Graphic design / creation
• Web design / development
• Researching
• Editing
• Audio / video / photo editing
• Consulting / counseling / coaching
• Bookkeeping
• Copywriting
• Marketing / Promotion
• Social media management
• Project management
• Customer service
• Transcription
• Programming
• App development
• Data entry
• Legal: Prepare litigation, estate planning, bankruptcy, corporate, real estate, family law, immigration and other practice specialty documents, schedule events and calendar management for law firms and attorneys; audit letters; handle correspondence; intake; anything and everything a legal secretary can do.

Before you close the door to your cubicle, pack up those Bekins boxes and head out for a bold new life, there are plenty of issues you’ll need to consider. A Virtual Assistant can choose two options: you can be an employee for a company or you can start your own business.

Dawn Draper graduated from Davenport University in 2003 with a Bachelor of Science and major in Paralegal Studies. “I worked as a paralegal “in-house” for 11-years, she says, “and although I found it very rewarding, I chose a different career path as a paralegal in the wireless telecommunications industry for about one-year. I soon realized I missed working in the legal field, but at the same time wanted to own my own business. In January 2008, I began researching the world of virtual assistants. I was amazed to find paralegals working virtually from their homes for document preparation services and law firms performing the same work, with the physical exception of putting files into a filing cabinet, as I did when working in-house. I made my decision to venture out into the virtual world of law as it seemed cost-effective and time-effective both for the attorneys and me.”

Finding Virtual Assistant Jobs with Employers

Let’s start with the fascinating discovery of Virtual Assistant jobs that are available through employers. This up and coming brand new avenue to positions is rapidly becoming a new career path for legal assistants. According to Virtual Vocations, (www.virtualvocations.com) a website offering a legal category, just a few opportunities you can land working for a law firm or company include:

• Telecommuting Trademark Clearance Paralegal
• Virtual Law Enforcement Transcriber
• Virtual Typist Legal Transcriptionist
• Paid Legal Intern
• Attorney Auditor: Review legal and non-legal invoices for services provided to insurance carriers for corporate legal departments.
• Compliance Paralegal
• Virtual Legal Writer: Work for a publishing firms. Core responsibilities include contributing well-written, informative articles to company's websites.
• Junior Legal Operations Analyst in Phoenix
• Legal Web Content Writer: A staffing agency needs an individual to deliver custom Web pages for customer's website products. Provide quick turnaround and be flexible.
• Freelance Legal Translator/Editor
• Sr. Legal Editor in New York City. Candidates will be responsible for reviewing Practical Law resources related to representing public companies in securities offerings and M&A transactions.
• Paralegal: Conduct legal research and initial case assessments. Requirements include: 5+ years of experience as a paralegal. Experience with transactional, family law, bankruptcy and/or probate experience required.
• Legal Secretary: A boutique civil litigation firm in Downtown San Francisco is looking for a part- time, remote litigation secretary. The ideal candidate will commute to the office once a week.
• Legal Application Analyst in New York City: A staffing agency is filling a position for a Bilingual English and Spanish Analyst. Create, modify, test, and maintain queries against data for topical view databases.
• Trusts & Estates Secretary: A well-known, international law firm in San Francisco is in search of an experienced secretary for 60% corporate and 40% probate.
• Remote Intake Paralegal in West Palm Beach: Must be able to assist on personal injury matter type cases. Work with medical providers to get medical records.
• Virtual Technical Assistance Manager - Nationwide position working remotely.

Starting Your Own Business
You can start your own business as a Virtual Paralegal or Legal Assistant. There are many different services you can offer, but even something more to consider is who would you like to work for? While some legal VAs are generalists and work on a wide variety of tasks, it's easier and more lucrative to choose a practice specialty. Figuring out what specialty you want to focus on can be a challenge, but if you mind-map your passions, interests, experience, and knowledge you can narrow it down relatively easy. Stick with your expertise.

When you set up your own business, you have more flexibility with scheduling, choosing clients, and setting your rates, but you'll also have to find your own clients, set up your business, and pay self-employment taxes. Setting up a virtual assistance business is easy and has relatively low start-up costs.

Some items you'll need to get started with are a phone line or cell phone, a computer, high-speed internet access, a printer, fax, and scanner, and a website to market your business. You can set up a website easily. There are several websites you can use such as WIX or WordPress that are very inexpensive and easy to use. Be sure to make your website as professional and “big-time” as possible. Your clients will judge your expertise on how professional you look. A rinky-dink website is not going to bring you a plethora of clients.

You will also need access to the mainstream software used by most law firms or know these programs inside and out. Just a few are:
• Word
• WordPerfect (Yes, some firms are still on WordPerfect)
• PowerPoint
• SharePoint
• Excel
• Relativity
• iManage
• Compulaw
• Chrome River
• Accounting software
• Summation
• Concordance
• Outlook
• Time Matters
• Essential Forms
• World Dox
• Lexis/Nexis Westlaw
• Juris
• Corporate Focus
• Legal Master
• Workshare, Worksite, ProLaw, Abacus, Adobe Acrobat, Conversion PDF to Word/Word to PDF, iBlaze

You will need to be proficient in styles in Word and up-to-date in the latest versions of almost all software. Don’t know the latest in some of the litigation support software and headed in that direction? Check out the websites. Relativity, (www.relativity.com) for example, has a website where you can take free tutorials.

You will also need to be very familiar with social media: Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook, Instagram, YouTube, Snapchat. Your clients may need you to know these. You should have Skype or FaceTime to talk with your clients face-to-face. You need to be able to text them. They should feel they can reach you easily and without stress.

It is important that you understand how to run a business. While you don’t have to have an MBA or draft a five-year plan, you do need to understand cash flow, accounts receivable, billing, accounts payable, how to balance a checkbook and other accounting and marketing functions. Your success doesn’t “just happen” because you set up a website and away you go!
“In order to effectively succeed as a virtual paralegal,” says Draper. “You have at least 5 years of experience in a law firm as a paralegal or secretary with at least a legal assistant or a paralegal certificate. Most attorneys I have spoken or worked with have raised the education and experience issue which is an absolute must to all of them. You must be able to provide services both locally and nationally to succeed. So, you would have to have the ability to follow state and local rules and procedures for any state you provide services to an attorney in.”

Do You Have What It Takes?

BrownNancy Brown of Virtual Gal Friday started her business in 1998.

“I started working as a secretary in 1986,” she says. “All of my experience is hands-on. Most of my background was in oil and gas before starting Virtual Gal Friday. I worked as a solo VA for 10 years and outsourced to the company’s first subcontractor in 2008. The company has grown to having full time in office employees that work with our clients as well as remote employees.

The Upside and the Downside
As always, there’s an upside and downside to every new adventure. In future articles, we’ll explore these. Bottom-line is, done right, you can find yourself in a very lucrative career, whether working for someone else or building your own business. But there is a downside.

Five Warning Flags Before Starting Your VA Business
Don’t be naïve! Here are just five of the “You don’t” zones you need to change to “You do” to create a successful business:
• You don’t have enough money to sustain you while you are building your business. This can be critical. It could take 4 months or more just to bring in your first client.
• You don’t understand how to market for a new client.
• You don’t understand how to bill clients and under or over bill.
• You don’t pay attention to your receivables and your collections are past due.
• You don’t have the expertise or enough experience to carry out the assignments. You are learning at your client’s expense.

Do You Have the Right Personality?

“I think you need confidence and the ability to sell your services,” says Brown. “If this is really something you want to do, you can do it. Make sure those around you support your efforts. Look at what you really enjoy doing and do that. If you don’t have a passion for your business, it turns into a job.”

Have the fortitude to be a great virtual assistant and make your clients love you. I did a little research and here are the 10 top personality characteristics I came up with you’ll need for success:

Ten Ways VAs Can Make Their Clients LOVE Them
1. Care about your client’s company as if it were your own. This isn’t always easy. Caring for your client’s company in subtle but important ways builds trust essential to the long-term VA/Client relationship.
2. Take initiative. Reminding your client that you are there to help, prompting them for tasks coming due, and reminding them when you don’t hear back from them are all ways that you show your client that you “have their back.”
3. Bring fresh ideas to the table. Clients often have set ways of doing things, but you, as a VA can bring them alternative ideas to do business. Stay on top of technological advances, try free trials of innovative new systems, and suggest ways to improve the bottom-line or staying ahead of the competition.
4. Be flexible and juggle priorities well. Clients really appreciate flexibility and a finite ability to juggle priorities. The old “multi-tasking” idiom applies here. You may have several clients coming at you at the same time. It is the same as if you were in the office working for five attorneys on one secretary. Yes, you are working remotely but you still need to juggle priorities.
5. Own mistakes. Mistakes do happen, and we hate it when they do, but they are inevitable. Client’s don’t like it when mistakes happen but they are more forgiving if you own up if the mistake is yours.
6. Don’t take criticism personally. This may sound trite but it is important. It’s business and you are there to get it right. Get over it! Grow up and stop taking feedback personally. Look at it this way… if a client is taking the time to tell you what they don’t like and what they prefer, then they are taking the time to groom you into a better VA. That’s a good thing. When they go radio dead silent and stop issuing ways to improve, they may be shopping for a new VA.
7. Endure isolation: Do you possess the ability to work on your own? Remember: you are working at home. That means that you are not surrounded by colleagues. Sure, your kids may be there, your dog may be running in and out of the house but you may also be isolated. On the other hand, you could be on the phone and that may be enough human contact for you. Can you handle that?
8. Don’t lose your temper: If you’ve worked in a law firm, you know that attorneys and peers can sometimes drive you nuts. Nothing has changed when you work remotely. Are you even- keeled and do you have patience? You will lose the client or lose your job if you lose your temper. It’s that simple.
9. Be a Problem Solver. Ultimately, you are there for your client to solve problems. When an obstacle emerges, don’t just contact your client and ask what you should do. Instead, inform your client of the situation and offer at least two possible workarounds. Select a recommendation and say why, and then ask your client which she prefers. Make life for your client as easy as possible.
10. Bring humor. Be careful not to go overboard and stay professional! However, my mother used to say you catch more flies with honey than you do with vinegar. She sure was right with that one.


Chere Estrin is the CEO of Estrin Legal Staffing. She is a former Administrator at two major law firms and a Los Angeles Paralegal Association Lifetime Achievement Recipient. She previously held the position of Sr. Executive VP in a $5 billion staffing company. She is the CEO of the Paralegal Knowledge Institute and Co-Founding Member of the International Practice Management Association and The Organization of Legal Professionals. Chere has written 10 books on legal careers. She has been written up in the Los Angeles Times, Chicago Trib, Newsweek, Daily Journal, and other prestigious publications. She is a recipient of the Los Angeles/Century City Women of Achievement Award. Her blog, The Estrin Report has been around since 2005. Reach out to her at chere@estrinlegalstaffing.com.

 


Law Firms Increasingly Using Alternative Legal Service Providers

Man.positive negativeBy Tami Kamin Meyers for Progressive Law Practice

I was fortunate to be quoted in an article by Tami Kamin-Myers for Progressive Law Practice about ALSPs - Alternative Legal Service Providers. Here is a portion of the article. Please check it out. Thanks!

If it seems that ads from businesses offering services supporting the practice of law are popping up on your LinkedIn or Facebook feed more often than they used to, it’s not your imagination.

According to a new study (PDF) recently released by Thomson Reuters, Georgetown University Law Center’s Center for the Study of the Legal Profession and the University of Oxford Said Business School, more than half of large law firms and 60% of corporate law departments say they utilize alternative legal service providers (ASLP) to assist them with their burgeoning caseloads.

According to Chere Estrin, president and CEO of Estrin Legal Staffing, law firms and corporate legal departments outsource work in three main areas. They are:

  • Document review
  • Electronic discovery
  • Litigation support

In fact, the ever-increasing demand for professionals who can support the efforts of law firms and corporate legal departments is what led Estrin to create her company in 2009 in the first place. She is also the founder of the Organization of Legal Professionals (OLP), a non-profit entity providing online e-discovery training.

Based on the success of the OLP, it became clear to Estrin that her company “had a handle on people looking for jobs. We had an 'in' with candidates,” she says.

When the recession hit and many lawyers lost their jobs, they sought ways to support themselves. Meanwhile, law firms and in-house departments still had work that needed to be completed, and the idea of hiring experienced lawyers on a contractual basis to assist with support services grew more appealing. Certainly, costs were lower, and slowly, law firms and in-house departments broke away from the notion they themselves needed to provide every service to their clients emanating from their cases.

With so many lawyers out of work after the recession, “unemployed lawyers could be hired for less than a paralegal,” Estrin says. While fees being charged by these attorneys have increased since the recession, they are actually lower now than they were five years ago, she says. “What you get is a high quality, good attorney doing the work.”

Today, it’s not just out-of-work attorneys drawn to offering support solutions to law firms. They are attorneys in transition, retired lawyers seeking to supplement their incomes and lawyers looking to pad their caseload, Estrin says. And, contrary to the findings of the Thomson Reuters study, Estrin says it’s not just Big Law or corporate-types outsourcing support services.

In fact, she says, it is mid-size law firms “where there is growth,” she says. Still, Estrin says the overall findings of the report are right on. “Because of training aspects, law firms and corporate law departments are better served by utilizing outside support,” she says, offering several reasons for that opinion.

Among them:

  • ASLPs are entrepreneurial
  • They possess the necessary software to perform the work
  • Their staffs are already trained
  • It is cost-efficient
  • Hiring an ASLP saves the firm from needing to create their own technology department

Steve Smith, president and founder of GrowthSource Coaching, agrees there is a growing need for ASLPs. “Areas that are gaining increased opportunity have to do with specialties the law firm does not have knowledge of,” he says.

In addition, with the massive amount of government reform currently taking place, “huge areas of opportunity” are opening up for traditional law firms. Examples include taxation, healthcare, environmental, gender bias and workplace compliance.

READ MORE


Here's How Legal Technology Expertise Can Make or Break Your Career

Computer mossIn a perfect world, all paralegals know everything about legal technology.  As you and I know, there’s no perfect world. However, not knowing enough about technology or believing you do, is the best way to bust your career. Trust me. I have 20+ years of experience managing, educating and staffing thousands of paralegals. (OK, I can admit to having more years of experience but then I have to search around for fancy anti-aging creams.)

Legal technology does not stop at litigation. It extends to every specialty whether you are in litigation, corporate, real estate, immigration, personal injury, or any practice area including the latest hybrid: the paralegal/legal secretary. No matter if your firm does not partake in the latest technology, it is incumbent upon you to stay up-to-date. Why? Try to get a new job or advance with outdated skills. Not going to happen. Guaranteed.

Since paralegals are expected to follow attorneys, you must be familiar with ABA Model Rule 1.1 on Competence with Comment 8:

“To maintain the requisite knowledge and skill, a lawyer should keep abreast of changes in the law and its practice, including the benefits and risks associated with relevant technology, engage in continuing study and education and comply with all continuing legal education requirements to which the lawyer is subject.”

Let’s start with practice management. A knowledgeable paralegal must know which software to use for file storage, evidence organization, billing, accounting, research and calendaring. It is critical to understand and utilize MyCase, Clio, SharePoint, Outlook and the cloud. These are just the basics.

There are new opportunities utilizing technology in eDiscovery, Project Management (not legal project management), Information Governance, Compliance, Knowledge Management, Law Firm Pricing, Litigation Support Project Management, Human Resources, Library Resources, Competitive Intelligence, Forensics, Law Firm Accounting, Cyber Security and more where you can leverage your paralegal background.

eDiscovery and Litigation Support Project Management are the hottest areas paying some of the highest salaries and offering challenging and upwardly mobile career opportunities.  It is not unusual to see salaries for Senior Litigation Support Project Managers in the upper $150,000 at major law firms or at Top Tier Legal Support Providers.  Salaries can range from $80-$100,000 or $50,000 - $75,000 for junior level project managers.

According to Marnie Carter, a high-profile San Francisco Paralegal Administrator from major law firms and in-house legal departments, “Litigation support professionals average salaries that often exceed the top ten percent of paralegal salaries. Roles in information governance, compliance, and cyber security also present previously nonexistent opportunities to ambitious paralegals with an understanding of legal technology.”

Carter has hired and supervised hundreds of paralegals. “Paralegals can broaden earnings potential and career opportunities with legal technology skills and are breaking through prior salary and career limits with the aid of technology knowledge. There are new opportunities to specialize in e-Discovery that equates to an increase in value to employers and an ability to command higher salaries. Legal project management is emerging for paralegals. Firms, companies and service providers are hiring project managers with legal expertise to manage litigation more efficiently and at a lower cost," she says.

"Paralegals who combine their legal knowledge with advanced technical skills are finding litigation support roles at much higher salaries. Litigation support professionals average salaries that often exceed the top ten percent of paralegal salaries. Roles in information governance, compliance, and cyber security also present previously nonexistent opportunities to ambitious paralegals with an understanding of legal technology.”

What does it take to get into the field? Vincent Garcez, a former Los Angeles paralegal, now a Litigation Support Manager in DC, has an interesting career history: “I got into legal technology when I was recruited for Lockheed Martin as a contractor for the Department of Justice (DOJ). They partnered me with several senior eDiscovery project managers to assist with trial matters. I immersed myself with senior project managers as they took me under their wings. They taught me the foundations of eDiscovery and opened a new sect not taught in paralegal school. Taking this new leap into the eDiscovery field not only excelled my career but allowed me to learn something new.”

I’ve witnessed paralegals give in to their firm’s philosophy of “We just don’t do that here.” Career opportunists beware!” This is the biggest career buster of all! While you think that you’re not going to make a move any time soon, do you know what’s going on in the Executive Committee? Chances are excellent, you do not. One week you’re good, the next, managing partners decide to merge, purge or otherwise scourge as in lay-offs. You can’t get a decent raise. You’ve realized you’ve capped out. The firm’s cash-flow isn’t fluid. The firm lost its best client/rainmaker. Who knew??? A host of unanticipated reasons arise and suddenly, without warning, you need to move on and your skills are out-of-date.

Think ahead! What do you do if your firm does not reinforce continuing education or stay up-to-date in the latest technology?

According to Carter, “An understanding of legal technology is critical to a paralegal's career regardless of the work performed. Recent amendments to the FRCP, State and local rules outline expectations that attorneys know more about eDiscovery than ever before. This means paralegals must know more about ESI eDiscovery. Paralegals need to understand how to manage electronic information timely and efficiently.  

Cost is one of the biggest obstacles. Clients analyze bills to reduce costs and look for opportunities to leverage flat fee and volume pricing. Paralegals with knowledge of a variety of technological tools and processes and who efficiently utilize technology in a defensible manner, thereby reducing firm and client cost burden, are indispensable.”

Can’t get training? Carter says, “ASK! ASK! ASK! Many firms are highly encouraged by paralegals who are working to advance their technology knowledge. Demand is high for tech savvy paralegals. There are numerous free or low cost online webinars such as those offered the Organization of Legal Professionals (OLP) and seminars, Lunch and Learn sessions offered through International Legal Technology Association,(ILTA),  International Practice Management Association, (IPMA), Women in eDiscovery, and paralegal associations.”

Garcez recommends, “Many corporations like Kcura, Lexis Nexis and other review providers have free webinars. Look at vendor websites. They post articles and advertise free seminars. You are the gatekeeper and should speak the same technical language as litigation support to ensure that the case will run smoothly."

As a litigation paralegal, Garcez says, “Relativity is arguably one of the most coveted, web-based eDiscovery mechanism that any vendor or law firm may currently use.  Its growth is exponential, with more vendor providers and enterprises demanding an extensive knowledge. As a paralegal, learning more about Relativity will accelerate your career.”

What about the hybrid position sweeping the country in smaller firms - the paralegal/legal assistant (legal secretary)? According to Chris Donaldson, President of Los Angeles based, Career Images, “This new position combines paralegal and secretarial technology skills in all specialties. The paralegal/legal assistant performs duties that are billable and non-billable.

They may have some minimum billable requirement, draft legal documents, interface with clients and perform duties that cannot be billed such as travel arrangements, scheduling depositions and calendaring. The position can pay up to $85,000 - $90,000 for someone with incredible technology skills at some boutique and mid-size law firms. “However,” says, Donaldson, “be aware these are top salaries and growth potential might be limited.”

A litigation paralegal/legal assistant should know: Adobe Professional; Best Authority; Forms Workflow; MacPac; OmniPage; Roxio; MS Word 2010 (proficient TOC/TOA user) and MS Office 2010; WorkShare Compare; Bates labeling w/Copy Desktop Pro; Win AIR Forms; calendaring w/MS Outlook and CompuLaw, AIA Forms, CAR Forms,  Groupwise E-mail, Automated Judicial Council of California Civil Jury Instructions (CACI), LexisNexis® Research, and LexisNexis® File&ServeXpress, Concordance, Summation, Relativity, Proforma (Legal Solutions), Finereader-OCR, Carpediem, PowerPoint, Excel.

Being familiar with certain technologies can change your career path. To say that paralegals do not need to be expert legal technologists is like saying a pilot does not need to understand wind currents, just how to get from Point “A” to Point “B.” Increasingly so, our trips from Point “A” to Point “B” are involving technology and can even be driven by technology. Give yourself the continued boost you need – stay on top of legal technology, now and throughout your unceasing successful career journey. 

Chere Estrin is CEO of Estrin Legal Staffing; President & Co-Founding member of Organization of Legal Professionals (OLP, a non-profit specializing in online training for attorneys and paralegals in legal technology; CEO of an online paralegal training company, Paralegal Knowledge Institute, She is a former Paralegal Administrator at two major firms and an executive in a $5 billion corporation and a career coach at Legal Careers Rx. (view free You Tube videos on Legal CareersRx on writing dynamic resumes.) Chere has written 10 books about paralegal careers including The Paralegal Career Guide 4th Ed., and has been interviewed by the Los Angeles Times, Newsweek, ABA Journal and other prestigious publications. She is a recipient of the Los Angeles Paralegal Lifetime Achievement Award and the New York City Excellence Award. Talk to her at chere@estrinlegalstaffing.com


The Uberization of Legal Services & Why Ignoring It Wipes You Out of the Field

Richard Granat, a legal icon in this field, has written a blog piece that whether you are paying Uberization of Legal Servicesattention or not, need to know if you want to continue in today's legal market: http://bit.ly/1Cp5vt0. I exaggerate not.

The Uberization of Legal Services

By Richard Granat on June 19, 2015    Posted in Law Startups, Limited Scope Legal Services, Unbundled Legal Services

Richard has been my "secret/silent/unbeknownst to him mentor/idol/well, you get the picture/now for 20++ years. Everything he does is in advance of the trends. Everything he does is right. Every move he makes is spot on. Here's the latest. I strongly urge you to pay attention whether you are an attorney, non-attorney or wannabee. It's one more time you'll be glad you did:

The legal profession will not be immune from the rise of the uberized economy. Consumers want to purchase only the legal services they need. This means that the trend towards offering “unbundled” or “limited legal services” will continue to accelerate as the most economical way for consumers to purchase legal service is by the “task”, rather than the hour.

Think of “task rabbit for legal services” – legal services at the click of a button on your smartphone.

The new virtual marketplaces connecting lawyers with clients for the purchase of specific legal tasks will also accelerate this trend. These legal marketplaces are a response to the inefficiency of bar-sponsored legal referral programs (the subject of another blog post to come), and the desire of consumers to have a more transparent way of selecting attorneys to solve their legal problems. The last few years has seen the ascendency of these legal marketplace platforms.

To name just a few of these new legal marketplaces, look at:

  • Avvo  – “Get legal advice from a top-reviewed lawyer on the phone – $39.00 for 15 minutes.”
  • Bridge.US – “Top attorneys and easy-to-use software that make immigration delightfully simple”
  • DirectLawConnect – “FInd a fixed fee online lawyer in your state now.”
  • Hire an Esquire – “Legal staffing redefined online.”
  • LawDingo – “You won’t believe how simple and affordable it is to get a lawyer;s help.” “$50 for a telephone consultation. Other projects for a fixed fee.”
  • LawGives – “Get free quotes and consultations from trusted lawyers in 100+ cities”
  • LegalHero – “Law Done Better. Experienced attorneys for your business at clear, upfront prices. ”  “No hourly rates. No retainers.”
  • LawKick – “Find the right lawyer at the right price”
  • LawNearMe – “Law Near Me offers an attorney referral service to help you find the legal representation you need in a variety of areas.” “ZocDoc for lawyers”
  • LawZam -“Free legal consultations by video-conference.”
  • LegalZoom – “Find an attorney you can trust for your family for $9.99 a month”
  • PrioriLaw – “lawyers hand-picked for your business.”
  • RocketLawyer – “Legal Made Simple”
  • SmartUpLegal – “Quality Legal For Startups and Business.”
  • UpCounsel – “Hire a great attorney for your business. Fixed fee projects”

Some seek to link consumers with lawyers who charge their regular hourly rates, but the marketplaces that will scale are those that offer limited legal services for a fixed fee, ideally powered by technology to keep legal fees low. These new vertical marketplaces will serve what Richard Susskind has called, “the latent market for legal services.”, but in the fullness of time, the “limited legal services” approach will move up the value curve serving small business and eventually larger business entities and more affluent clients.

Not all will survive as many cannot generate the traffic to justify the fees charged to lawyers or consumers to participate in a particular platform. Survivors will be those platforms that can generate consumer traffic and which can scale their offerings. A likely winner could be AVVO as it leverages its huge consumer traffic and large lawyer data base into delivering legal services for a fixed fee.

Some larger law firms will adopt this independent contractor labor model using contracted labor to perform tasks for their clients. This is already happening in the United Kingdom. See: Lawyers on DemandRiverviewLaw; and Peerpoint from Allen & Overy

The services that will scale the most will be smart legal software applications that can do a task for the fraction of the fee that a lawyer can charge for the same work.

As the idea of offering limited legal services goes mainstream, powered by these new marketplaces, consumers will benefit through more affordable, accessible, fast, and transparent legal services.

The legal profession, particularly solos and small law firm practitioners, will not benefit as much as the consumers they serve. Here are some of the negative consequences:

  • A downward pressure on legal fees;
  • More competition for solos and small law firm practitioners;
  • Lawyers will have less or no social structure to support collaboration and cross-communication with peers;
  • Newly admitted lawyers will lack the training and professional development structure for them to really learn how to practice law. (as law schools don’t really train lawyers to practice law).
  • Less organizationally sponsored fringe benefits for lawyers.
  • Loss of control of a client base, as clients are attracted and owned by the new legal marketplaces;
  • Reduction in the size of the legal profession as it becomes harder to make a living as a lawyer, with a consequent reduction in the number of law schools – particularly those that turn out lawyers for solo and small practice but continue to teach the a purely doctrinal approach to law and law practice.

Recent litigation in California where California judges have rule that the issue of whether drivers for Uber and Lyft are independent contractors or employees will have to be decided by a jury suggest that the new  rules the apply to the new ‘sharing economy” are not so clear. It will be interesting to see at some point in the future whether a group of lawyers -so-called independent contractors- might sue their platform provider or an AxiomLaw, on the theory that that the platform that they are using exercises so much control that they are really employees and entitled to the benefits of being an employee. See generally:  1099 vs. W-2 Employee Classification Infographic from Hire An Esquire.

Surely, the legal services industry is continuing to evolve driven by Internet-based innovations.

TAGS: Competition, law, Legal Fees, Legal Referral, LegalZoom, Marketing On-Line Legal Services, sharing economy,uber, uberization, Unbundled Legal Services


The Old Gray Mare - Is She Still What She Used to Be? Ageism and Paralegals

Guest Blogger: Raul Estravit

This popular post first appeared in The Estrin Report in 2013.

EstravitRaulI started my paralegal career back in 1984 by cutting my teeth on the AT&T v. MCI Telecommunications anti-trust case. This is the case that broke up AT&T ("Ma-Bell") and allowed the world to go on and have all of the new telecommunication devices we now enjoy. I was on the "Damages Team" and we were able to prove damages caused by AT&T against all other competitors who were trying to enter the telecommunications market. 

At that time, I was also attending Golden Gate University where I graduated summa cum laude in Political Science and Business Administration.  Once I graduated and the case was over, I was hired by Gibson Dunn & Crutcher (a major law firm) and eventually became the Senior Paralegal of the firm.  I brought Gibson what was then the new frontier of digital technology. The term "Litigation Support" was not a term-of-art at that time.  The firm just did not know what to call me, so we used the term "Technical Paralegal". 

Around 1989-1990, I introduced Gibson to scanning and coding documents. We used the first version of Concordance to keep track of a very large securities case for a very large client. The documents ranged in the hundreds of thousands of documents resulting in a few million pages. 

One of the highlights of my life was when I was invited to have lunch with President Reagan up at his office in Century City (California). This was back in 1993.  While I was at Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher, I was the paralegal who assisted with the building permits of the Reagan Library and secured the permits for his burial there. He wanted to meet and thank me personally. 

Several years later, I was recruited by Chere Estrin for a case that took me to another law firm.  I landed in the island of Guam where I sharpened my technology skills. I was exposed and embraced the world of  Trial Technology. I learned the popular software program, Trial Director, when it was in its separate component format. There I was, supporting a construction defect case trial on the Island of Guam that lasted 366 days.

Not only did I run the trial but ran the servers, acted as the Help Desk for work stations at all of
the attorney desktops and staff computers.  While in Guam, I managed the network and VPN.
I also managed an ongoing coding project that involved approximately a dozen paralegals in our Los Angeles office. This was a big challenge and a great case.  Our firm won a very substantial
sum of money for our client.

I have had the honor to work on or successfully manage some of the largest litigation matters in our country's history and work alongside of some of the most well-known and respected attorneys.  It has been challenging but I have always learned new methods and have been able to test and prove my own metal in the heat of litigation wars. It has been rewarding on many different levels including job satisfaction, challenges and yes, financially.

I have embraced litigation support tools and applications and am certified in many different applications.  When asked by students what is my single most important key to success (besides skills), I tell them that I leveraged my experience and knowledge.  I had to. The legal world is moving very rapidly and staying ahead of the game is vital to your career. I am now in the process of getting my eDiscovery certification from OLP!   I have found OLP to be one of the best online training organizations for the advancement of your career.

I love this career but it does have the same unlawful circumstances as all others. At a recent position, I found myself in the terrible situation of age discrimination. I was basically led out the door. My supervisor remarked to me on two separate occasions that I may be "too old" for the type of work I was doing.  At the time he said this, I had reached the age of 54. The supervisor was 46.  

A few weeks after the second “you’re too old” remark, I was let go - even though my reviews were excellent.  In California, you can be let go for a reason or for no reason.  You cannot be let go for illegal reasons.  I have yet to be informed why I was dismissed but I don’t think it takes a brainard to figure it out. 

After that potentially career-busting experience came the interviews.  I was pretty discouraged because I was not receiving the type of offers I am accustomed to, even with a pretty extensive work history.   Although the average age of entry-level paralegal is 36-38, unfortunately, it has been my experience  that age does matter.

After being let-go and experiencing several rejections for jobs, I refused to let myself sit around.  I gave myself another opportunity by opening my own shingle called "Encore Litigation and Trial Technology Services".

Not only can I consult and manage databases, oversee processing and transfer of data into usable databases such as Concordance and Relativity but I also consult and instruct with attorneys and paralegals on effective and efficient ways to work with these applications. Thus far, it has been great! In the past four months, I have already successfully completed three trials and consulted with two different law firms on various software and databases.

Going solo as a hired gun can be scary but with a little smart marketing, leveraging of your
background and skill set, remaining competitive in pricing and rates, you just never know where you can end up. Recently, I have been retained by a large court reporting agency for a very large international client. I am their "go to" guy for everything involving trial technology and litigation support. 

Ageism is definitely out there - even in firms where people ought to know how to adhere to the law. The struggle against it remains.  You won't win this battle by yourself, it takes a community. However, I have found that life can be good on the other side. You just have to believe in yourself and try. 

Raul Estravit
EncoreLitigationServices@gmail.com

Organization of Legal Professionals (OLP ) is offering a new online certificate program in Legal Project Management.  If you are a seasoned vet or are seeking to enter this hot field, you can benefit from this online, interactive program taught and designed by top experts.  For more info:  www.theolp.org.


Managing Effective Relationships with Vendors and the RFP Process


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Our guest blogger today is Joe Kanka.

Recently, I had the opportunity to be a guest lecturer as part of the Organization of Legal Professionals (OLP) Paralegal Management Certification Program. As a former paralegal, I always welcome opportunities  to speak with today’s paralegals about how they can enhance their management skills. While the topic of the session was law office management, my presentation focused on Managing Effective Relationships with Vendors and Preparing RFPs. After all, we depend on diverse services and products to do our jobs successfully. And we must have different options available to us.

In my view, the ability to effectively manage vendor relationships and the RFP process are skills that are much needed in any industry including legal. And there are several reasons for this. So as a follow up to my OLP presentation, I have decided to write a series of blogs on the importance of strategic partnering. I prefer to call it strategic partnering and not vendor management. While paralegals are in a good position to add-value to the overall vendor management program, strategic partnering skills are also needed by attorneys, managers and litigation support professionals. As I pointed out in my presentation, a successful vendor management program helps organizations to be more competitive and strategic in managing their legal operations.

As I kick-off this series of blog posts on strategic partnering, let me state at the beginning that the legal industry must eliminate the word vendor from its vocabulary and replace it with the word partner. This was the topic of a previous blog post I wrote (see Do You Have the Right Business Partners?). The word vendor is a thing of the past.  Yes, I recognize that this will require a change in the legal industry culture but one that is long overdue.   

When it comes to strategic partnering, an important exercise that must be undertaken is what I like to call synergy analysis. That is, you should conduct an evaluation of current partners by looking at:

    The strengths and weaknesses of current partners
    The benefits that current partners provide to your organization
    The impact on your organization if you lose any current business partners

This same synergy analysis should be conducted whenever you evaluate new business partners. The key is to understand how any partner fits into the organization.

You should also break out your business partners into the following three key categories:

    People partners refer to service providers, forensic and eDiscovery companies, consultants, advisors, subject matter experts and staffing firms.
    Process partners refer to those companies who can support the key processes defined by the Electronic Discovery Reference Model (EDRM).
    Technology partners refer to companies providing software and service providers with the ability to work with several leading applications.

And yes, some partners may fit into more than one category.

In my upcoming blog posts on strategic partnering, I will address such topics as:

    Why are business partners needed
    How do you find business partners
    What makes a good business partner
    What can partners do for you
    How do you best manage partner relationships
    Are RFPs really necessary
    Types of services and products you will need
    Why use RFPs
    The three phases of RFPs
    Conducting due diligence on business partners
    Partner pricing considerations

My key conclusion is that partners can help you manage the business side of law involving people, process and technology. However, strong strategic partnering or vendor management skills are a must to achieve success in today’s legal environment.

Posted by Joe Kanka, Vice President of Corporate Development, eTERA Consulting. Joe can be reached at jkanka@eteraconsulting.com.