In today’s economy, law practices have to find creative ways to improve their “bottom line.” One of the biggest ways to reduce costs and increase productivity is to outsource legal administrative support services. Yes; I am talking about hiring a freelance paralegal.
Many firms and solo practitioners in today’s market are recognizing that hiring a freelance paralegal can increase office productivity and decrease the many costs associated with hiring a full-time paralegal. In an ever changing economy, it is important to review the benefits of working with a freelance paralegal. Dorothy Secol, a pioneer in the freelance paralegal business, said it best in her book titled Starting and Managing your own Business: A Freelancing Guide for Paralegals. “When the economy is depressed and firms are downsizing, it is to the freelance paralegal that firms turn. … In this way, companies do not have to provide office space or pay a regular salary and benefits to an employee.” (Secol, p.9).
Perhaps the greatest savings a law firm experiences when it hires a freelance paralegal comes from the fact that the firm does not have to provide medical and dental benefits to freelancers. Studies show that health-care coverage for one employee can average $5,179 annually. In addition, most employees require coverage for their spouse and/or children so the expense incurred by the employer is increased by same.
Another benefit to hiring a freelance paralegal is that the employer does not have to provide a 401(k) plan or pension plan to the paralegal. Many employers offer a “match” of employee contributions in their 4019(k) plans. Employers offer match amounts anywhere from 1 percent to 3 percent of the employee contribution per pay period. As such, the employer contribution can become substantial depending on the number of paralegals that are employed. This does not include any profit-sharing contribution that some firms make after a year-end review of the firm’s profits. The freelance paralegal is not entitled to participate in any profit sharing plan, pension plan or 401(k).
Another benefit that attorneys generally offer to their full-time paralegals is paid vacation days and sick days. Some firms offer two weeks paid vacation and about five sick days within the calendar year. Many also offer floating holidays. A freelance paralegal will not be entitled to paid vacation days or any sick days. Also, some freelance paralegals work on certain holidays and don’t get paid overtime for their services.
One of the benefits to working with a freelance paralegal that may not be recognized by many employers is that the attorney, in most instances, will not have to train the freelance paralegal. The cost and time associated with training a new paralegal can be significant. Most freelance paralegals have years of experience and are familiar with many different type of procedures. Also, the freelance paralegal is used to adapting to different methods of practice because of the amount of attorneys he or she has worked with at any given time. In contrast, a newly hired full-time paralegal may require computer training, special software training, and phone system training, to name a few. Some firms have a whole team dedicated to training new staff and paralegals. Consider the amount of money these firms would save if training was not required.
One significant benefit is that a freelance paralegal is not subject to an annual review or annual bonus. Most firms and law offices have an annual review of their paralegals, and most paralegals that meet or exceed the attorney’s expectations receive a raise during their annual review. Some companies offer annual salary increases anywhere from 2 percent to 5 percent, and annual bonuses from anywhere from $500 to $1,000. Salary.com shows that the average salary for a “Paralegal I” in the Paramus, New Jersey, area is from $61,806 to $69,784. Based on that salary, the raises and bonuses can amount to a significant amount just within a few years of employing the paralegal.
By working with a freelance paralegal, you do not have to provide annual raises or promotions. It has been my experience that many paralegals also take the annual review time as an opportunity to research their current salary at salary.com or similar websites in order to determine if their current salary meets the standard salary for that geographic area.
The paralegals may request a raise if they feel their salary is under the average salary for that geographic area. With a freelance paralegal, an attorney can negotiate the hourly rate they will be paying the freelance paralegal at the onset of the business relationship. Therefore, the attorneys do not have to provide an annual raise to the freelance paralegal and their fees are negotiated and agreed upon prior to any work being completed.
Perhaps the most overlooked benefit to hiring a freelance paralegal is that an employer does not have to provide life insurance coverage. Many law firms provide life insurance coverage to their paralegals equal to the amount of their annual salary. Some firms offer a larger coverage such as twice the annual salary of the paralegal. By working with a freelance paralegal, your business will save on such costs associated with providing life insurance coverage.
We have reviewed the cost savings benefit to working with a freelance paralegal but what about the many other advantages it can bring to your practice? One of the biggest advantages to working with a freelance paralegal is that you can delegate work to the freelance paralegal. A freelance paralegal is used to working with many different attorneys. They carry the natural ability to adapt to different office procedures based on the different number of attorneys they work with.
Additionally, the freelance paralegal is not subject to the general business hours of most law firms. Most freelance paralegals offer evening and weekend hours, and some work on holidays. This means that the attorney’s work will be done in a timely fashion, and it will allow the attorney to have a better work/life balance. A better work/life balance is the greatest advantage to working with a freelance paralegal. An improved work/life balance means less stress for the attorney. Less stress allows for greater productivity, and an increase in productivity allows for an increase in the firm’s profit margin.
By delegating assignments to a freelance paralegal, you open yourself to having additional time to develop your client base. Specifically, you have more time to attend client lunches and new client meetings. You also have additional time to attend legal seminars and to focus on your business development efforts. Lastly, you have additional time to implement new marketing strategies for your practice.
Outsourcing your legal support services can provide many advantages to your practice. Working with a freelance paralegal can help to increase your firm’s “bottom line” significantly. In today’s market, it’s important to find ways to increase your company’s profitability and a freelance paralegal can assist you in accomplishing that goal.
Acosta has been a paralegal for 19 years and is the owner of Melissa Acosta Freelance Paralegal Services, njfreelanceparalegal.com.