While perhaps a slightly less traditional career path, being a freelance paralegal can offer the best of both worlds: the excitement of big legal cases with the flexibility of a freelance business model. Freelancing in any profession poses its own set of rewards and challenges, but there are several additional considerations when offering paralegal services. This article outlines the major steps needed to begin freelancing as a paralegal.
What Do Freelance Paralegals Do?
Generally, paralegals find freelance opportunities in one of two ways: either through an agency or on their own as independent professionals. It may help you to think about this work as “contract services.” Rather than working for a law firm or company as a permanent employee, as a freelancer you will be an independent contractor hired for a specific project or time period. These entities may not have enough work to justify a paralegal in a full-time position, but they hire additional assistance during major litigation and investigations.
How Will I Find Jobs?
If you have recently completed a paralegal program and are just beginning your freelance career, you may find it most helpful to associate yourself with a paralegal agency. The agency will find contract jobs and notify you when opportunities become available. If you are a more experienced paralegal with a well-developed network of your own, you may be ready to simply “go out on your own.” In addition to potential employers in your own network, you can also seek opportunities through professional associations and trade publications.
How Will I Be Taxed?
As an independent contractor, the firms or companies you work for will not withhold employment taxes from your paychecks or pay you other benefits like health insurance. Instead, you will be taxed as a self-employed professional. You may want to register a business name for these purposes, particularly if you are not working with an agency. The National Federation of Paralegal Associations also recommends that you discuss business structure and tax consequences with both a lawyer and a financial advisor to determine how best to design your business.
What Are The Risks of Freelancing as a Paralegal?
Freelancing in general carries certain risks because you will be responsible for managing your own tax payments and securing your own health insurance. There are several additional considerations, however, that apply to freelance paralegals. First, attorneys and their agents are subject to special rules regarding confidentiality and conflicts of interest. As a paralegal, you may be required to undergo a “conflicts check” prior to beginning work for a new client. To prepare for these screenings, you should maintain records of the clients and cases that you work on as a freelancer. Second, each state maintains laws regarding the unauthorized practice of law. As a paralegal, it is your responsibility to understand your state’s law and to document assignments given to you by your supervising attorneys.
Many paralegals find that beginning a freelance career is a way to maintain autonomy and control over their demanding jobs. The flip side of that benefit is that you must also take control over your accounting and finances to a greater degree. Whether you are working for an agency or opening your own business, being a freelance paralegal will require motivation and responsibility.