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Paralegal Work and Growth Prospects with Small Law Firms and Solo Practitioners

published January 21, 2013

By CEO and Founder - BCG Attorney Search left
( 141 votes, average: 4.7 out of 5)
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The smaller general practice law firm enables the paralegal to learn in depth about one or several types of law. This size law firm is usually located in a suburban or rural area. In a small office, the paralegal can work on litigation, personal injury cases, criminal cases, bankruptcy proceedings, real estate transactions, and matrimonial cases.

In the smaller office, the paralegal can be expected to perform receptionist and secretarial duties as well as paralegal work. The paralegal who chooses to work in a small law firm will find that he/she is working closely both with the attorney and the clients. He/she will also find that he/she is expected to work with little direction from the attorney but at a high level of efficiency. Very often, a paralegal working in this type of firm will be the only one employed.


The law library will probably not be as complete as the law libraries in larger firms. The paralegal will be expected to do legal research in the nearby bar association's law library. In addition, there may not be a secretary or other office staff to assist the paralegal. This means that very often, the paralegal is responsible for typing and photocopying his/her own work.

One advantage to working in a small firm is being able to have extensive client contact. Much of the work delegated to the paralegal will be the same kind of work which a first-year associate would do in a bigger firm. Salaries may not be as high as those being paid to paralegals working in the larger firms, but the kind of training and experience received in the small firm will allow the legal assistant to become highly specialized in one or more areas of law.

Profile—Working for a Sole Practitioner

Vicki S., a paralegal working in Westchester County, New York, began her legal assistant career in 1975. An interior decorator in her mid-thirties, with a college degree in music, she sought a career change. She decided to attend a sixteen-week paralegal program in New York City and seek a legal assistant position in Westchester.

Unable to get placement assistance from her paralegal program and with very few paralegal positions available in Westchester County at that time, Vicki found that she had to invent an ingenious way to get "her foot in the door" in this career. She was particularly interested in the area of family law and felt that her litigation specialty would stand her in good stead. She researched all of the matrimonial attorneys in Westchester County, chose the one with the busiest practice, and volunteered to work for him without pay during the summer to prove how valuable a paralegal could be to his practice.

Eager to try Vicki as a paralegal, the attorney spent many hours teaching her about his matrimonial practice. That summer her duties included filing and organizing files, interviewing some clients, and reading law journals to find relevant matrimonial cases which she digested on file cards for future reference. Later on in her paralegal career she found how valuable this experience was; it saved her much time when she was doing legal research on a particular case and wanted to refer back to relevant cases. She also added cases from advance sheets that came into the office.

By the end of July she was going to court with her employer. She discovered that the attorney was spending an hour and a half or more waiting for the judge to call a case, causing the attorney to lose time that he could be spending working at the office. At the $125 an hour he charged, Vicki figured out that he was losing about $250 each week. So she convinced him to allow her to go to court to answer calendar calls for him, and to call him to court, if necessary, to save him that $250.

By the end of the summer, the attorney realized how indispensable Vicki had become to his practice, and arranged a part-time, two-day-a-week schedule for her at $40 a day. Her duties increased, and she attended examinations before trial, prepared orders to show causes and exhibits to be produced, and had more client contact. Vicki found that her organizational abilities were the key to her success as the only paralegal working in this law office.

A large desk calendar and a day-to-day diary became invaluable to her work. The diary would serve to remind her when and which papers were due into the office and court. She was then able to inform the clients so they could have the necessary papers ready on time. By becoming a notary she was able to notarize clients’ signatures when needed.
Since the law practice was a busy one, Vicki found that she was meeting with many different clients each day. To refresh her memory before meeting with each client she would refer to the fact sheet she prepared for each one. She also knew that nothing could be sent out of the office without first being copied. This included all letters, checks, and legal documents.
One of Vicki's other major roles as a paralegal was to bring along a capsule summary of each case to prepare her to speak to the court clerks. Before going to court she made sure to find out how many copies were needed of each document and what the filing fees were. The courts often proved to be slow when processing papers and Vicki found that anxious clients would want to know the reason for the delays in getting their case on the court calendar.

To better accommodate the clients, Vicki asked to see how a certain type of paperwork was routed through the courts. She found that it would have to go through seven places before the card giving the date for the trial would arrive in the office. By being able to explain this to anxious clients, she was able to reassure them.

Vicki's duties increased over the next few years to include drafting legal memoranda, writing motion papers and bills of particulars, and hiring the other personnel in the office. By 1980, she was making $100 a day. Vicki proved to be a thorough, efficient, and professional matrimonial paralegal. After six-and-half years of working for one attorney, she decided that she would like to freelance as a matrimonial paralegal.

She printed up new business cards, revised her resume, and called up some of the attorneys she worked with through her firm's clients, and set her fee at $125 per day. In each law office she contracts with, she begins by reorganizing their files and ascertaining the papers needed to be served and answered. She draws up the client fact sheet and financial affidavit. Her client contact now includes four-way conferences with the husband, wife, and their attorneys. Although she still works under the supervision of an attorney, she enjoys the independence of doing things her own way and controlling her own work schedule.

Read More: Paralegal Work Environment and Growth Prospects in Large Law Firms

Read More: Paralegal Work and Growth Prospects in Mid-sized Law Firms

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