Paralegal Dana Fortier Discusses Her Virtual Legal Support for Small Law Firms and Solo Attorneys

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Paralegal Dana Fortier
Professional Overview

Dana Fortier owns and operates Your Branch Office in Novi, Michigan. She provides virtual legal support for small law firms and solo attorneys who need the benefits of having a large staff, but don't have a budget for that staff. Ms. Fortier specializes in document production, management, e-discovery, file management, mediation, arbitration, and facilitation coordination. Along with basic schedule management, she offers services essential for smooth negotiations, so parties can focus on a positive outcome for each case.

Ms. Fortier is a legal assistant who has over twenty years of experience in personal injury, insurance defense, real estate, and corporate litigation. She also has experience managing the litigation department of a large national firm, where she was responsible for supervising the work of nine legal secretaries, six paralegals, and was in charge of scheduling for thirteen attorneys' hearing dockets. Ms. Fortier was also responsible for her department's budget and tracking continuing education requirements for paralegals as well as attorneys. Additionally, she provided operations and project management for coaches/speakers, commercial real estate agents, and million-dollar companies.

Ms. Fortier served as a legal assistant for Legal Industry Professionals and was the founder of the Academy for Legal Virtual Assistance. She served as a volunteer for Buy Michigan Now and was a Moxie executive for the Moxie Exchange in Detroit.

Over the years, Ms. Fortier has been awarded with several distinctions. She served as the membership director for the Michigan Virtual Assistants and was a forum moderator for IVAA and VANetworking. Ms. Fortier served as IVAA's VAC (Virtual Assistant Connections) Coordinator and was recognized as IVAA's Volunteer of the Month (October 2008). She served in the 2009 and 2010 IVAA Summit Planning Committee (Sub-Committee Chair - Speakers & Program Development) and is an IVAA Ethics Checked Virtual Assistant. Ms. Fortier was the recipient of the VAccolade (November 2007). She is also proud to be featured in Chere Estrin's podcast:

Ms. Fortier was born in Oklahoma City, OK. She earned her B.S. in Business Management from University of Oklahoma. Ms. Fortier resides in Michigan with her husband and two children.

When asked about her favorite book, she replied:
"My absolute favorite book is 'Coach Yourself to Success' by Talane Miedaner. I picked up the book at a garage sale, of all places, about 10 years ago and read it cover to cover in about 2 days. Then I read it again. And again! I read it so much it fell apart. So I bought another copy. I buy them for friends who 'don't know what they want to do with their life.' It helped me understand I really wanted to be self-employed."
Ms. Fortier's Successful Career

Why did Ms. Fortier decide to become a virtual paralegal? She noted:
"I started working for a small law firm while I was in high school and I just kept with it. It was never something I set out with the intention of doing, but I think my calling found me. I am very good at supporting busy attorneys and busy executives. I excel in being the support system for my clients. Not everyone understands that I really love to hear about the big ideas and end result projections and figure out all the steps to get to that end result, or make that big idea into reality. I also love keeping all the wheels turning when a project is underway.

It just kind of happened, I guess. The firm I was working for until early 2007 ended up closing its doors. At that time I didn't know anything about virtual assistance or being a virtual paralegal. I was given an article about virtual assistance by my mother-in-law right after the firm closed. After a disastrous 4th interview at a very large downtown Detroit law firm (the interview lasted 6 minutes, after spending 45 minutes driving there and finding parking and then waiting over an hour for the interview, which was scheduled for 1 p.m., and I was called in for it at 2:10 p.m.), I called the recruiter who sent me on it and told him to stop sending my resume out, that I was starting my own business. The very next day, I had 2 clients. While they were not attorneys (one was a florist and the other owned daycare centers), they appreciated that I had legal experience and that I was a detail-minded person. After that, my business kept building with a diverse group of clients. Yet they all had one thing in common: they appreciated that I had a legal background."
When did she decide to establish her company? Ms. Fortier explained:
"I started my business in 2007 and worked at it successfully until the middle of 2012, when I lost 3 clients almost simultaneously. I was offered a job at an insurance company's legal department at that time that I thought I would love. It turned out to be a soul-sucking job, not at all what I thought it would be and not what I was told it would be. Since I was laid off from that job earlier in 2014, I've been working on reestablishing my business with the focus on serving solo attorneys and small firms as well as executives and business owners who appreciate that I have a legal background and all that that entails: my attention to detail, my ability to see all the steps necessary to make something happen, and the ability to switch from one task to another and then back again fairly quickly."
What advice would Ms. Fortier give to someone who's brand-new to her position or just starting out as a paralegal? "Be realistic in your expectations. It takes time to build a business and there's going to be some mistakes made along the way. Learn to roll with it and not let it get you down."

What does Ms. Fortier think are the keys to becoming a successful virtual paralegal? "Patience. Experience. Dedication. Determination. Thick Skin. And more patience."

What does she think makes the difference between a good virtual paralegal and a great virtual paralegal? Ms. Fortier stated:
"A good paralegal is able to do the work her client (the attorney) assigns, and do it well. A great paralegal will think ahead and say to her client, 'Oh, I see that you've started drafting this discovery response, but not everything is answered. Do you want me to contact your client and finish this up for you?' Thinking ahead and anticipating needs separates the good from the great. It will prove your worth to your client in more ways that you know."
What's one of the things that Ms. Fortier finds most challenging about her job? She asserted:
"Right now my biggest frustration is that I know so many solo attorneys that don't have support and they're working themselves too much trying to do it all. They're going to burn out. I wish they would understand that yes, virtual support may be an outlay of money at the start, but when you consider that outlay of money versus the time they'd get back, they'll find it's invaluable. Virtual Paralegals and Virtual Legal Assistants are really very good at doing the 'grunt work' for attorneys so they can go BE attorneys. Virtual Paralegals and Virtual Legal Assistants do what they do because they love it. Attorneys do what they do because they love it. I don't think I've ever met an attorney who has said to me, 'I just LOVE doing all the administrative stuff!' I've had attorneys, on the other hand, tell me, 'I'm not smart enough to do whatever it is that you do that makes my cases move along."
What would she say is the most important thing she learned as a virtual paralegal? "I've learned to appreciate attorneys on a whole other level. Before, when I was employed in a firm, attorneys and the staff were always on 2 different levels and co-mingling was never encouraged. Now that I provide a service to them, and I'm a partner for success in their business, I've found them to be appreciative of what I can do and appreciative of what I do for them. I never had that in a firm."

What is the difference between Ms. Fortier and other virtual paralegals doing the same thing that she does? "I don't know. I've never really studied what other virtual paralegals do and how they run their business. I just know that my nature is to nurture and that's the type of clients I seem to draw - ones that need nurturing in some way."

What is the best part of her job? Ms. Fortier acknowledged:
"I get to make my own hours and I get to work with who I want to work with, rather than who I have to work with. My clients and I have a very open and honest relationship and I don't take one on unless I genuinely LIKE them. Right now, since its summer and I have children at home, I've cut my hours back in order to be able to be there for them for camp, swimming and other summer activities. I'll pick back up in the fall and I'm grateful for a waiting list of clients ready to start with me on September 1st."
What's the favorite part of Ms. Fortier's day as a virtual paralegal? "When I get the email from a client that says, 'Excellent work!' Alternatively, I also love getting phone calls or emails from a client that tells me what needs adjusting in what I've done and why. That's a great learning experience."

What does she have a knack for? Ms. Fortier said:
"I have a knack for taming schedules. I can look at a schedule or a calendar and the tasks and projects to be working on, finished or completed and find a way for it all to get done so that no one loses their mind. I make it a point with my clients that utilize me for managing their schedule to make sure they have 'office time' so they can tend to the stuff that they can't get done if they're in court, or depositions or meetings. I try to schedule at least one half day each week and I encourage them to let the phones roll to me to answer and to leave their email alone. That doesn't always happen, but I try. I also encourage them to take a 'Me Day' once a month, even if it's on a weekend: a day where there's absolutely no thought to business-related stuff. They need that break. The ones that actually accomplish this come back with a renewed energy. I've succeeded in getting one of my workaholic clients to actually take a vacation this year. His wife called me last month and thanked me profusely because he's agreed to 6 days at their family cabin in another state at the end of August. She said it's been over 8 years since he's done more than 24 hours there. I'm keeping my fingers crossed that he doesn't spend more than 1 hour per day while on vacation answering his emails. I've already started encouraging him to let me deal with everything and to just check in with me by email once or twice a day."
If she were not in this profession, what would she most probably be doing? "I'd own a food truck! A grilled cheese sandwich truck called 'Melt.' I love to cook - it's therapeutic for me."

Where does Ms. Fortier see herself in five years' time? "I'd like to move into law office consulting - advising clients, especially solos and small firms on using resources wisely and how to market themselves online and in social media."

What motivates her to be a virtual paralegal every day? "I really love what I do. I find the work interesting and there's something new every day. What I've done and learned in the past can be used on something today or tomorrow. Some skills I've picked up along the way can be used and appreciated again."

Mentoring, Volunteering, People Who Inspire Ms. Fortier and Her Goals

Does Ms. Fortier consider herself a mentor? "Yes."

Is she involved in any volunteer activities? She admitted:
"I regularly volunteer with Michigan Friends of Education: Operation Kid Equip. They supply needy kids with anything and everything for them to succeed in school, from school supplies to books, clothes, hygiene products. You name it, they either provide it or find a way to get it. I have, in the past, done volunteer work for the Buy Michigan Now Festival, which is a 3-day festival celebrating companies and products made and/or manufactured in Michigan. I had to take a break from it this year, but I'll be back with them next year."
Who inspires Ms. Fortier? She stated:
"My daughter, right now. She's had a tough time in high school and failed some classes. We've moved her to a smaller school and she took summer school to make up some of what she failed and she completed 3 semesters of high school Algebra in 6 weeks. She made a plan to finish it so she could move on to Geometry in the fall and she accomplished her goal. She's shy, quiet and reserved and very smart. Because she's shy, quiet and reserved, she was often overlooked in the large high school where she was. I'm very proud of her for doing what she set out to do."
Ms. Fortier has accomplished a lot in her career. What's next for her? "Like I mentioned, I want to transition into consulting work, which will likely involve some coaching activities, too."

What to Expect When Working with Ms. Fortier

Marsha Petrie Sue (MBA), Author and Speaker on Personal Responsibility and Eliminating Entitlement noted:
"Dana has been the added resource to my speaking business that has helped me make more money and succeed. Her expertise in a wide variety of topics (IT, Tele seminars, Editing, Writing, Customer Service, Follow Up - and so much more) has helped do what I'm best at and that is presenting. She enables me to focus on planning and executing. Dana's energetic way and sparkling personality is the perfect addition."
Jim Demers, President/Founder at Sports You Deserve Inc. said, "I have had the opportunity to work with Dana and find her very easy/enjoyable to work with. Dana is focused, has the ability to see the job through and finds appropriate solutions for her customers. She is top notch!"

Steve Bogart, Director of Sales, US West stated, "I've had the opportunity to engage Dana Fortier on several occasions over the past 2 years. I found Dana to be bright, articulate and extremely skilled in organizing complex data into clear and coherent presentations. She has also conducted web research for me, providing clear and concise summaries of the relevant data. I highly recommend Dana and her company."

Lisa Diggs, Founder of the Buy Michigan Now movement and Top igniter at The Catalyst Company acknowledged, "Dana is a dependable, hard-working, self-starter. The very first time I sought out her assistance, she gave me back a product that not only did what I requested, but anticipated my needs and gave me even more to work with. She's incredibly well organized, smart, funny, and a pleasure to work with on any project."

If you're trying to find virtual paralegal jobs, click here.

Dana Fortier, Owner & Virtual Legal Assistant


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