Throughout my tenure as a paralegal, I have seen attorneys, other paralegals and particularly the general public butcher the role of a legal assistant. If you've followed any of my articles or social media posts, you have been informed that the role of a paralegal and a legal assistant is essentially the same.
There is no difference between a paralegal and a legal assistant and one does not hold more weight than the other. Just to make sure that this is crystal clear in your mind, let's explore, yet again, what the American Bar Association (ABA) has to say about this:
A legal assistant or paralegal is a person, qualified by education, training or work experience who is employed or retained by a lawyer, law office, corporation, governmental agency or other entity and who performs specifically delegated substantive legal work for which a lawyer is responsible.
See, a paralegal and a legal assistant both performs substantive legal work. If that's the case, then why is the paralegal superior to the legal assistant in some law firms? Why do some attorneys treat legal assistants as if they are administrative assistants? This leads me to explain why I feel that the term legal assistant is confusing and misleading.
Legal Assistant/Paralegal Misconceptions
There’s already a misconception, with the general public, about who a legal assistant/paralegal is and what a legal assistant/paralegal does. Some of them think that the legal assistant/paralegal role can take the place of an attorney. Individuals try to get a paralegal to help them “draw up” documents and “fill out” forms (this is known as the unauthorized practice of law or UPL which we will discuss later). They do this to try to save money. This is no bueno! While there are legal document preparers that can prepare legal documents for the general public, they cannot provide legal advice -- they are not attorneys.
Okay. But what's wrong with the term Legal Assistant?
Those outside of the legal industry have been known to equate the term legal assistant with anyone that provides legal support or assistance to lawyers or law firms. In some minds, a legal assistant can be a legal administrative assistant, a receptionist, a file clerk, and the list goes on and on. For someone who doesn’t know the true meaning of paralegal and legal assistant, this person will automatically believe that a legal assistant is anyone who works in a law firm. This is wrong. Some kind of way, the term legal assistant has become the umbrella term for anyone (besides an attorney) who works in a law office or maybe even the legal industry.
For this reason, I believe the term legal assistant can be complicating and misleading to those who are not informed of the differences between a legal assistant/paralegal and a legal administrative assistant. There are some attorneys who are uninformed and want their legal assistant to play the role of a legal administrative assistant, which is two separate roles. A legal assistant can help with legal research, case analysis, argument and strategy. These two roles are rainmaking, profit generating roles when you use them the right way. A legal administrative assistant may assist with workflow, billing and filing documents with the court. I've learned that some attorneys want the legal assistant role to be broad when in fact it’s not.
To minimize the confusion in my world about my role and what I do, I simply go by the term paralegal. I encourage you to take some time to talk to your support staff in these roles and see how they feel. Everyone and every region of the U.S. and the world has different thoughts towards the use of the terms. Just make sure you are using all support roles in the manner of which they were created to benefit you and your firm.
If you would like a brief consultation on incorporating legal support roles within your firm, call or email to schedule an appointment. Remember to join our mailing list to keep in touch, get special offers and find out when my new book Strike That: Forget What You Think You Know About Paralegals will be released!
No matter what type of law they specialize in, at some point, all virtual paralegals experience a time where they are rejected by you. The problem is, virtual paralegals can't seem to figure out why they are being rejected. They've built an amazing service-based business to serve you, they've done impeccable work for their attorney clients, they have a laundry list of references and they still hear excuses as to why attorneys like you don't want to work with them. Those excuses sound something like this:
Any of these sound familiar? Have you used one of these excuses before? For some reason, when a virtual paralegal extends their hand to help you (because you've clearly stated, I need help or posted, "Anyone know a good paralegal?" on social media), you hem and haw and come up with all sorts of excuses as to why you don't want their help. So you sit there, alone, and continue to waste time and money with your paralegal search.
I know these excuses exist, because I've been there too. I'm also standing alongside virtual paralegals who've heard similar rejections. Now truth be told, some of you reject virtual paralegals because you're simply not equipped to see their true value. Quite frankly, if you can't see the value of a paralegal, you definitely won't see the value of a virtual paralegal. But I'll save that topic for a different article. Let me get to the heart of this discussion:
The #1 reason why attorneys reject virtual paralegals is TRUST.
Trust is an interesting thing, isn't it? Trust is a major component of relationships. Without trust, you have no relationship. When an attorney retains (not hire) the services of a virtual paralegal, that attorney is gaining a partner and a relationship is formed. You, my friend, can't get to this point of forming relationships and partnerships if you don't have the ability to trust.
"If you don't have trust inside your company, you can't transfer it to your customers"
It's funny to me how you expect for your clients and potential clients to trust you with their legal issues, sensitive information and stories they will more than likely tell no one else. How can you expect for someone to trust you if you can't give trust to anyone? You know, trust is much like energy. Energy can be transferred. It can be given and it can be taken away. The same goes for trust. Trust can be transferred -- it can be given and it can be taken away. Don't expect someone to give you something when you are unable to give it.
The Work of the Legal Industry is Bigger Than You
In order to establish trust, it will take some work on your part to get to the root cause of the issue. Maybe something happened to where you're uncomfortable with trust. But what I need for you to understand is that this work that we do as legal professionals is bigger than you. It's bigger than me. Take some time to think about the reason why you became an attorney. What is your why? What is your mission? What is your purpose? If you can't answer this, we have a real problem.
I say the work of the legal industry is bigger than you because sometimes you forget about the big picture. The big picture of the legal industry is to provide legal services and make those services accessible for everyone. Now, if you're letting your trust issues keep you from providing legal services and keeping costs down for your clients, you're hindering the work of the legal industry. Don't let your personal issues with trust make you lose sight of the reason why we are here.
Let's Find A Happy Place and Learn to Trust Again
So yes attorneys, you have to work on that trust. A start to heading in the right direction with trust and virtual paralegals is with my groundbreaking program for attorneys called The Shift Effect or simply, Shift. This program will take you on a journey of self-discovery (breaking the trust barriers), give you key insight on virtual paralegals -- who they are, what they do, how they benefit you and how they can serve as rainmakers for your firm. Finally, Shift will prepare you to locate the best virtual paralegal for you and give you the best practices of working with virtual paralegals.
Learn more about The Shift Effect and I'll catch you in the cloud!
After speaking with several younger solo attorneys about their legal support needs for their law practice, I realize that the way they are operating their law practice is wrong on many different levels. The primary issue lies within their approach to being a solo attorney.
They believe they must do everything alone and that they will not be able to find anyone to help them. They like the sound of the benefits and values a virtual paralegal or a legal support service provider can bring to the table and immediately begin to imagine a life where they can delegate legal tasks to either a paralegal or service provider and in a jiffy, as Olivia Pope says, "It's handled." They start to envision a world where their lives are easier and less stressful because of the help they could have. Then, they immediately jump off of cloud 9 when they hear the standard rates of the service provider and go into the "I can't afford this" mode. Why? Because they haven't taken the time to incorporate a paralegal rate into their firm's standard rate practices.
How to establish paralegal rates within your firm
Let's say your attorney rate is $300 an hour. You voice this to your clients and have this rate listed in your fee agreements so your clients are well informed. In your fee agreement, you state that paralegals may work on your cases, but no one has a clue as to how much your paralegal rates are. Your paralegal does the work and you go and bill your client at your rate...the $300 an hour rate. This is wrong. Your paralegal rate should be at least half of the attorney rate, making the paralegal rate $150.
You eventually decide to retain a virtual paralegal support provider like Pinnacle Litigation Connections, LLC which has its own billing rate. Now, when the virtual paralegal works on your case, your firm bills your client $150 an hour (your firm's standard paralegal rate) for the work the paralegal has performed. When you receive an invoice from your virtual paralegal support provider, using its own billing rate, this rate should be significantly lower than your firm's standard paralegal rate.
If you hire an employee, this concept will be the same. Just keep in mind that a virtual paralegal support service provider is a business and/or independent contractor. This means you don't have to pay any employee taxes or create space for the individual providing the service. The amount you pay your virtual paralegal support service provider is also a tax deductible expense. Check out the profit margin that lies between your rates and your virtual paralegal support service provider rate.
Here you can see how having a paralegal minimizes your client's legal fees, generates profit for your firm, saves you time and makes your life easier. Stop undervaluing your legal services, gambling with your time and money and hire a virtual paralegal. You can't afford not to have a paralegal in your firm. Call 1-855-215-8455 or email SupportMe@pinnaclelitigationconnections.com to get started on your firm's path to profit!
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