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Solo Practitioners: Do You Need a Paralegal?

Paralegals are the unsung heroes of the law office. They handle the logistical aspects of a case, like scheduling and docketing, as well as research and drafting.

If you're a solo practitioner, there's a fair chance it's just you, toiling away in quiet desperation, without a paralegal or a secretary. Do you need one? Here are some considerations.

Money, of Course

Paralegals aren't cheap. Good paralegals are even less cheap. A paralegal isn't just any old secretary. A paralegal has special training in knowing how legal documents work, and more importantly, has experience with a particular court system. A great paralegal knows off the top of his or her head how many originals and copies go to a particular court and what color the cover of the brief should be.

All of this comes with a price. If your solo firm is just barely breaking even, then you probably don't have money for a good paralegal, and spending time training someone could cost you more time than just doing all the work yourself.

Think Electronically

The future is here, today! Thankfully, I don't have to worry about the sometimes infuriating process of binding, printing, and mailing (was it an original and four copies, or two originals and three copies?). My local court has gone whole hog into electronic filing and it's a snap. The only printing and mailing I have to do involve service copies sent to various non-parties, which don't require fancy binding and fun colors.

If there's any conceivable way you can do things electronically, do it. For everything else, you may or may not want some kind of postage meter so you don't have to wait in line at the post office. (Beware of stamps.com, which sounds great, but you pay a fixed monthly fee whether or not you use that much in postage.)

Does It Make Sense for Your Practice?

Also take a look at the structure of your practice. Mine is mostly reading and writing. But yours might be scheduling-heavy or phone call-heavy. Do you take a lot of depositions? Do you talk to a lot of people? Are things due every week? If so, then a paralegal might benefit you. I grumble when I have to assemble and mail briefs, but that takes about an hour, tops. Plus, I can listen to podcasts while I do it. A paralegal wouldn't make sense for me.

As your practice grows, however, you may find yourself in need of some kind of support. At that point, you've got to make another decision, which is another discussion for another day: paralegal or legal secretary?

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