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There are certain important issues to consider when planning your career as a freelance paralegal.
As a freelancer, you must learn how and when to bill your clients. One of the most difficult aspects of working for yourself is collecting money for services you have performed. For that reason, it is essential that you re-member some basic points:
Explain your fees to your clients and make certain that you agree upon what your reimbursement will be. Confirm this agreement in writing, so there is no dispute later on or any confusion about the terms you have stipulated.
Whether you decide to bill on an hourly basis (and you can check either in your community or with your local paralegal association to find out the going rate) or charge a flat fee for a specific project, be certain to bill your clients promptly. For lengthy projects, it is wise to bill regularly, every week or two. For a shorter project, send your bill within two weeks of completion of your work.
Unfortunately, no matter how well you plan and set up agreements, there will always be clients with whom you will have problems in collecting your fee, so you must plan for certain losses as a freelancer. You will come to identify and avoid working with such clients.
Remaining Professional and Avoiding Conflicts of Interest
One must understand that there are ethical responsibilities of being a freelance paralegal which need to be followed mandatorily. This issue is so important that you must always review your plans and actions to make certain that you are not overstepping your boundaries as a paralegal. Your practice, your professionalism, and your future as a paralegal are at stake.
Keep abreast of problems that have faced by other freelance paralegals, and learn how they have solved them. Become familiar with your local paralegal association, not only to learn about job opportunities which may exist, but also to find out how to enhance your professional status as a paralegal within the community, whether you decide to work independently, as a freelancer, or within an organization as a full-time paralegal.
Finally, here are some helpful hints and suggestions on becoming a successful freelancer from Jean Hellman, Director of a renowned institute of USA!
It is essential to keep accurate, up-to-date records of all income and expenses. Formal bookkeeping isn't required, but you must have a system. Keep your check stubs or make copies of paychecks before depositing them. Collect receipts for all supplies, materials and equipment. Have a separate checking account for your business; it is also good idea to have a separate phone line if you are working from your home.
Consider the legal aspects of doing business on your own. If you are asked to sign a contract, read it carefully and make sure you understand every word before signing. If you're uncertain, get legal advice; it shouldn't cost much and will be well worth it in preventing problems later on.
Understand the tax consequences of freelancing. If your employer is not withholding taxes, you may have to make estimated tax payments quarterly and pay Social Security taxes when you file your annual return. If you don't, you may be penalized by the Internal Revenue Service. Again, tax advice is relatively inexpensive. A good tax advisor will also be able to tell you of deductions you may take against your business income (even under new tax laws). This is another reason why your record keeping is so important.
While freelancing as a paralegal may appear to be complicated, the rewards can be great. Only you can decide on the route you wish to follow.
As in any decision, the more you understand about the implications and the consequences, the easier it may be for you to choose the best option for you.
In order to make the maximum use of your time and monetary investment, you need to establish efficient systems for your calendar, billing, telephones, filing, references, and resources. The following checklist may be helpful in the beginning. Beyond Beginner: Freelancing as a Paralegal!
Many paralegals, once they gain experience and establish a reputation for reliability and professional work, consider freelancing, which involves working as an independent contractor or with other paralegals as part of a group. Before examining ways in which you can follow this path, it is extremely important to understand what a paralegal can and cannot do. For that reason, a discussion of the ethical responsibilities of paralegals is essential before any other consideration.
Ethical Responsibilities of Paralegals
In their book - Legal Ethics for Paralegals and the Law Office, Laura Morrison and Gina DeCiani present a clear, thorough understanding of the legal limitations of paralegals. It is crucial to remember that paralegals are not attorneys; even as freelancers they cannot practice law. They must work under the supervision of a lawyer. A paralegal's client is one to whom paralegal services are offered, not legal services.
There are certain areas, therefore, that must be handled very carefully, including depositions, court appearances, pleadings, and the offering of any kind of legal advice. A problem arises when exceptions occur. For example - in some local jurisdictions, paralegals may represent their lawyer-employer in court if the case is uncontested. Such exceptions may set a precedent for other jurisdictions; however, the basic rule remains the same. Paralegals cannot represent clients in court.
Paralegals may be present at depositions, but a lawyer must conduct the deposition. Paralegals assist lawyers and, in many cases, are factual experts as a result of their extensive research on any given case; legally, however, they cannot answer questions or give legal advice.
They cannot sign a pleading, which constitutes a written court appearance, or any other document filed in court on the client's behalf.
Here are some basic points to keep in mind:
Avoid conflict-of-interest situations. If you work for several law firms that specialize in the same area, you may find that you are working for opposing sides of a case. If you are uncertain what to do about this, ask the attorneys for whom you will be working whether they feel that your working for both clients would constitute a conflict. If so, it is your ethical responsibility to act accordingly, particularly if you are working in a litigation case.
While your duties and responsibilities are diverse, you must remember that paralegals are not lawyers, and that you may not give legal advice to a non-lawyer client, may not represent a client in court, and may not advertise your services as those of a lawyer.
In order to protect yourself from any possibility of infringement of these laws, it is best to take some precautions by following these guidelines:
Never work directly for the public. Always work for an attorney.
Do not meet independently with a client of an attorney.
Make certain that the attorney for whom you are working reviews and signs your work.
Have the attorney for whom you are working give you a letter that authorizes you to perform certain duties for him or her.
Be certain that the attorney for whom you are working has been admit-ted to practice law in your state.
These guidelines are easier to follow when you work under the direct supervision of an attorney; as a freelancer, however, it important to remember these distinctions.
In addition to recognizing the legal responsibilities of freelancing, it is important to understand the professional and personal qualifications necessary to succeed and the marketing strategies you must develop as a self-employed paralegal.
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