The legal industry is witnessing a significant shift in how legal support services are delivered. For instance, there is a growing trend towards hiring virtual paralegals. Remote legal professionals offer cost-effective, flexible, and specialized alternatives to traditional in-house paralegals.
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, employment of paralegals and legal assistants is expected to grow 12% between 2020 and 2030, and that’s faster than the average for all occupations. Another study by Global Legal Post shows that 57% of law firms now use remote paralegal services.
The rise of virtual paralegals is a response to the changing demands of the legal profession. It begins with leveraging technology and remote work capabilities to optimize efficiency and reduce costs.
In this article, we will assess the growing importance of virtual paralegals, list the tasks that can be outsourced to them, assess their viability, and note how they are poised to grow. Let us start by analyzing their similarities and dissimilarities with traditional in-house paralegals.
How do virtual paralegals differ from in-house paralegals?
Virtual paralegals and in-house paralegals are similar in that they share the same core responsibilities of a law firm. This includes legal research, drafting legal documents, and assisting attorneys. However, they differ in several keyways, chief amongst them are as follows:
- The most obvious difference between a virtual and in-house paralegal is that virtual paralegals work remotely. They work from their own offices or homes, while in-house paralegals work within a law firm or legal department’s physical office.
- In-house paralegals could be full-time, part-time, or contract staff, while virtual paralegals mostly work on a freelance or contract basis. They often work with multiple clients simultaneously, allowing for more flexible scheduling.
- From a cost concerns perspective, virtual paralegals often turn out to be more cost-effective for law firms and legal professionals vis-à-vis in-house paralegals. This is because the former does not require office space, benefits, or equipment. Clients pay virtual paralegals for the actual hours worked or assignments completed. This generally works out cheaper compared to in-house paralegals with fixed salaries and other social security costs like Insurance.
- In today’s fast-evolving world, virtual paralegals are offering a broader range of legal experiences and specializations. This is owing to the learning and exposure of working with various clients on different types of legal matters. In-house paralegals, focusing on specific practice areas, are therefore often at a disadvantage in comparison.
- Most virtual paralegals bring with them extensive proficiency in using legal technology and software. In-house paralegals, on the other hand, often are limited by using the technology and systems established by their employers. Few law firms operate on legacy systems till date.
- The biggest advantage that virtual paralegals offer is their ability to work with clients and law firms from different locations and even different countries. In-house paralegals are typically constrained to working in the physical location of their employer.
- Virtual paralegals offer greater flexibility in terms of work arrangements, making them suitable for firms with varying workloads or those needing specialized assistance for specific projects.
- The advantage of in-house paralegals is that they can attend in-person meetings, court proceedings, and document signings that virtual paralegals cannot. Hence, law firms cannot completely do away with the services of in-house paralegals.
What types of legal tasks can virtual paralegals handle?
Virtual paralegals offer synergies across a wide range of services. These include legal research, document preparation, case management, discovery support, legal compliance, specialized services across estate planning, real estate transactions, divorce and family law cases, intellectual property, corporate law, immigration assistance, bankruptcy proceedings etc.
Pros and cons of virtual paralegal services
It is easily visible how virtual paralegal services offer a whole range of advantages. On a broad level, the pros of virtual paralegal services include:
- Virtual paralegal services are often more cost-effective than full-time, in-house paralegals owing to the money saved on overheads such as office space, equipment, and employee benefits
- They can be hired as per requirement/project, thereby allowing the flexibility to scale up or down according to workload.
- Virtual paralegals offer diverse expertise because of their exposure to multiple clients.
- They bring geographical independence, allowing access to a broader pool of talent. This is particularly helpful when looking for specific skills that may not be readily available locally.
- Most virtual paralegal services bring in expertise in new-age technology and tools that transform operating models faster and offer higher efficiency.
These are big positives in the modern-day environment of a fast-changing tech landscape, geo-political equations, and the resultant regulatory and compliance changes.
Virtual paralegals, however, cannot completely replace in-house paralegals. This is because of their limited physical presence for tasks that necessitate physical presence, potential communication challenges, and data security concerns. The key cons of virtual paralegal services include:
- Since virtual paralegals are not physically present in the office, often, there are communication and coordination challenges that can impact collaboration and real-time problem-solving. When they are from different time zones, the problem is aggravated, leading to delays and disruptions.
- Sharing of sensitive legal information and documents gives rise to security concerns.
- Virtual paralegal services rely heavily on technology. Technical issues, such as internet outages or software problems, can disrupt work and communication, affecting productivity.
- Building a strong working relationship with virtual paralegals can be more challenging than with in-house staff, as personal connections and rapport may take longer to establish. Clear communication and expectations are key to overcoming this challenge.
For any law firm or legal department, it is, therefore, advisable to maintain a judicious mix of in-house and virtual paralegals so that the benefits far outweigh the disadvantages.
The future of virtual paralegal services looks promising
Even as legal technology advances, it will enable even more efficient and secure remote support. A growing emphasis on overhead savings, process efficiencies, and business agility, and the need for adopting changing technology in real-time. Virtual paralegals, as the Global Legal Post report points out, are likely to become an integral part of the legal workforce.
Legal Support World is a leading global business process management organization. It offers comprehensive and innovative virtual paralegal solutions for law firms, legal professionals, and legal departments. With a track record of delivering top-tier legal support, we can meet your diverse legal needs continuously. Our virtual paralegal teams have experience in new-age legal technology and changing regulations regularly. In addition, our commitment to data security, effective communication, and thorough governance will give you access to a global talent pool. LSW’s endeavor, at all times, will be to make you competitive in the ever-evolving legal industry.