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Remember that your first clients are the ones who will help you to establish your reputation. You cannot afford to be anything less than punctual and completely accurate in the work you do. While these traits are important in any job, as an independent paralegal, you will never hold clients or gain new ones if your reputation is not built on these factors.
How much start-up money will you need? Certain investments will have to be made, even in the early stages of freelancing, if you hope to succeed. You should have a personal computer, a separate business phone line, a fax machine, business cards, and business stationery. You should subscribe to WESTLAW or LEXIS/NEXIS. These are basics. Later on, you may wish to develop a brochure or other marketing materials. Speak to other paralegals that are freelancing or have done so in the past. You can do this at professional meetings. Even though other paralegals may be potential competitors, in the early stages of your freelancing, you will not pose a threat to them. And if you have developed your networking resources, these contacts will come in very handy before you embark on your entrepreneurial career. You may be able to save time and money and avoid a lot of headaches.
Many freelancers work part time for someone else until they develop their own clientele. And this raises a very important issue which we will address later: conflict of interests.
A final qualification that will serve you well as a freelancer is development of your selling skills. You are selling a service, as well as yourself. But in order for someone to buy your product, you must know how to present it. A good speaking or presentation skills course and constant practice will prove very helpful to you, particularly before you approach your first clients. One way to gain such experience is to give speeches before any audience, including paralegal and other professional associations, and civic and church groups. If you choose a topic that interests you as well as the group, you have an enthusiasm for your topic. You will also be developing self-confidence, interacting with the public, learning to overcome your weaknesses, and, at the same time, developing an identity within the community. It will require a commitment of your time and energy, but you will gain valuable experience that will help you later on.
In a competitive marketplace, you also gain the edge over other freelancing paralegals if you develop a specialty and gain as much as experience as you can in it. In doing so, you develop a reputation as a qualified, skilled paralegal and build your clientele by good, strong referrals.
How Will You Get Started?
Once you identify your special skills and talents and order your business cards and stationery, you must make a plan for marketing your services. This means doing your homework!
The art of selling your services as a paralegal is to know the needs of your clients and convince them that you can meet those needs. They must also recognize that you can save them time and money; you offer them convenience and value. Some of the following guidelines may help you to get started.
1. List your particular skills and specialties. What specific tasks can you perform and what experience have you had that will demonstrate your abilities in these areas? Remember that any employer is always looking for skills and accomplishments. Although you may be self-employed, every client is a new employer.
2. Identify your prospective clients. Evaluate how they could use your services to save them time and money. For example, could they use someone skilled in a particular area at a particular time of year or for a specific project? You have to convince them that it is in their best interest to contract individually for these jobs, rather than to hire a full-time person or use their own in-house staff that could, perhaps, use their time and talents in other areas, in a more productive way. In other words, you must prove to them that you are cost effective.
3. Focus on your specific personal and professional skills by listing them. This stage is important as a preliminary step for your marketing literature.
4. Plan a brochure. While this step may seem costly and you may not want to initially invest money in a printed brochure, think about what you would like to include. Eventually, a brochure will be an important part of your marketing strategy.
A good brochure need not be complicated; as a matter of fact, it should be clear and direct so that a potential client can easily see what you have to offer. Be brief and specific, and include all essential information, such as your name, address, phone number, and fax number. As you develop a client list, you may want to include that list (with permission of the clients, of course), as well as any comments or quotations from clients, in your brochure.
To keep costs down, make your brochure a one-page brochure that can be folded for mailing purposes and easier reading. Avoid distracting graphics; you project a more professional image if you keep your lettering simple and your copy basic. You can always give additional information and details when you meet a client in person. A brochure should be an invitation to find out more about you and your services. Remember: In many cases this will be your professional introduction, so make certain that it looks absolutely professional in every way, including professional printing.
Take the time to review sample brochures that most printers have available. While you can get started as a freelancer without a brochure, you will market your services with greater ease if you have some printed material to explain what you do. For mailing purposes, a brochure enclosed with a letter makes your selling job much easier.
5. Order business cards and stationery with your letterhead. If you cannot afford the services of a graphic artist, a good printer can help you with a professional logo or design.
6. Successful marketing is ultimately a matter of numbers. For every hundred letters or phone calls you make, you may receive only a few responses. In the beginning, you have to develop a reputation. This requires patience on your part; it also requires that you spend time following through or calling back potential clients.
Where do you find these clients? Every organization, whatever its size, is a potential client base if it has a need for the services of a paralegal. You might feel that small, independent practitioners or companies would be your most likely clientele. That is not necessarily the situation. Many larger firms do have in-house staff, but at certain times, with specific projects, they may have too much work for their regular staff and would welcome the services of a freelance paralegal, particularly one with the specialty they need.
To let potential clients know about your services, you must advertise what you have to offer. This does not mean expensive advertising, particularly in the beginning. You can place ads in legal newspapers under "legal services"; this will attract the attention of a population that you want to reach-the attorneys in your city or town. Other inexpensive means of advertising include listing your services on the bulletin boards of your local bar association, if permissible, and in newsletters, and having your brochures available for distribution at any large gathering of professionals who could use your services.
Whatever the marketing plan you develop, remember that it is essential for you to follow up on everyone who expresses an interest in your services. Keep a record or log, along with the dates of your meetings, letters, or phone calls. If you are to be successful as a freelance paralegal, potential clients must know who you are and what you can do for them. In other words, you must find ways to gain visibility so that attorneys will have you in mind when they need the services of a freelance paralegal.
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Hi, I’m Harrison Barnes. I’m serious about improving Lawyers’ legal careers. My only question is, will it be yours?
About Harrison Barnes
Harrison is the founder of BCG Attorney Search and several companies in the legal employment space that collectively gets thousands of attorneys jobs each year. Harrison is widely considered the most successful recruiter in the United States and personally places multiple attorneys most weeks. His articles on legal search and placement are read by attorneys, law students and others millions of times per year.
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