As a child, the first time I gave thought to what I wanted to be when I grew up, I immediately knew I wanted to work for myself. Freelance work as a paralegal wasn’t my first thought though. I had envisioned a successful veterinary practice in which I and a couple of other veterinarians and assistants were able to care for and save every animal in the world.
Fast forward to my time in high school as a volunteer at the local animal shelter, where I came to the harsh realization that:
- Every animal cannot be saved.
- Medical care for animals involves pain for the animals.
After these realizations, my dreams of a veterinary practice ceased to exist.
My next passion outside of saving animals became law. Quite the jump in interests, but I had found my passion nonetheless.
Gaining Skills and Experience Before Freelancing
I was fortunate to get accepted for the Executive Internship with the Colorado Attorney General at the time, who was none other than Gale Norton. I was in downtown Denver at the very building where this powerhouse of a woman helped protect state laws and offer legal advice to local legislations and administrations!
As a senior in high school, I was just stepping into my power in this world, and she was the epitome of legal power and assertion in our state. She was very calm and one of the most intelligent people I had ever interacted with!
This was an absolutely life-changing and altering event! I realized that law was designed to protect our civil rights and what a privilege it is to live in a country that is based on the common legal system of English law! To say I was smitten with the law is an understatement!
After high school, my first actual job was as an EMT trainee for the state hospital. Driving an ambulance and helping people became something I knew I wanted to do. At this point, I had considered this would be my chosen career for the time being, then later heading off to law school to become an attorney.
That did not happen.
Instead, I stayed in the medical field for 20 years, having children and living a somewhat status-quo lifestyle. I was comfortable in the medical field because it was what I knew.
Short of becoming a doctor or specialist, I had at this point experienced most of the positions available in the medical field that interested me. I had worked in scheduling, reception, front office, back office, phlebotomy, apheresis, medical assistant, triage, IVS, refills, and insurance authorizations.
My Journey to Become a Freelancer
As fate would have it, my last position was writing insurance appeals. These patients needed major help. They had received prior permission to obtain surgeries or procedures, only to have the insurance companies rescind after the procedure had already been performed by siting incorrect billing codes, incorrect diagnostic codes, or various other excuses not to pay. The last thing anyone wants to hear after an expensive and painful procedure is that the insurance company changed its mind and is not paying its part.
This job required hours of reviewing insurance billing codes, doctors’ office notes, communication with insurance representatives, and communication with terribly upset patients that are in the midst of trying to recover from said procedures and very fearful of being left with the entire hospital bill.
A tireless amount of research and writing went into every denied claim. I wrote professional letters on behalf of doctors that were thoroughly scrutinized by the doctors before they would sign off on them. The writing had to be prominent level verbiage, full of doctor jargon, and citing solid evidence as to why the insurance company was required to pay. As I started putting the evidence together and patients were winning these appeals, it ignited my sense of justice!
After I left the medical field, I later went on to become a Certified Paralegal after firsthand experiences brought me back to navigate the legal system. I went through a difficult and abusive divorce involving my child, and after seeing all the people there to support us, I knew this was my true passion in life. I want to help and support others the way I was supported.
While in school, I was aware my intention upon graduating was self-employment. As a single parent, I wanted to be able to work around my child’s schedule so I could be there every day when he was home from school. And once I graduated, I became a Freelance Paralegal!
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The Benefits of Being a Freelance Paralegal
- I get to work part-time around my child’s schedule. I can be off work on his vacation and school holidays.
- I make good money working part-time.
- I can help many people.
- My freelance work as a paralegal involves a lot of travel, which allows me to write off my mileage.
- I get to do a variety of work.
- I have learned so many new skills!
- I feel fulfilled and know I am helping contribute to my community.
- I have established many networking connections.
- The ability to bid on jobs is great!
- This has led to a couple of other self-employment opportunities!
- There were not many out-of-pocket expenses to start the company. If you decide to do what I did, the startup is anywhere from $2000.00 to $5000.00 and of course, can be more depending on how much you are able to invest. However, there are MANY other ways to start your company for around 200.00! You do not have to do what I did. This is just what worked for me!
Challenges You Can Face
- No set paycheck. So, no guaranteed income.
- Most jobs I do pay me within 30-45 days.
- Sometimes you do not get paid and must correspond with the companies to get paid which can be very time-consuming and frustrating.
- You must keep a detailed journal and track mileage and expenses meticulously.
- You are responsible for paying your own taxes when they are due.
- Getting taxes together at the end of the year can be a lot of work as you are an independent contractor.
- Freelance work as a paralegal requires you to work extremely hard in the beginning until you establish yourself and your company!
- In the beginning, you will have to bid your jobs on the lower end until you prove the value of your work!
- If you make errors, your income may be reduced, or some companies won’t pay you, at all, and you agree to these terms to work for these companies as a vendor.
- If you make errors, you will not have companies request you, therefore there will be a huge decrease in available work.
- Errors can cause legal liability for your company which could affect you personally.
- You must be detailed to the tee! Document anything and everything!
- You will have startup costs.
- You must have reliable transportation.
- You will need space to work in your home or to rent space.
Beginning Freelance Work as a Paralegal
As you can see, there are many positives and some challenges. If you have a magnificent work ethic and the desire to have more control of your time in your life, I highly suggest doing freelance work as a paralegal! I am the most fulfilled and happy I have ever been in my life! It’s challenging at times in good, also sometimes difficult ways. I can definitely say I feel very good about my service to others and my ability to successfully live my life on my terms!
If you are interested in doing freelance work as a paralegal, please review the checklist below! Again, there are many other ways to start your company other than the way I did mine. Mine came together in a completely unique way than I initially had planned.
The best advice I can give is to set a plan for how you would like it to go, but leave room for opportunities that you may not see at this point in the beginning. You will learn so much along the way!
Checklist to Start A Freelance Paralegal Business
☐ Research the laws in your state regarding Freelance Paralegal work.
☐ Read and research Freelance Paralegal businesses. Check specifically YouTube, Kindle, and then the web.
☐ Follow your local Secretary of State’s instructions on becoming a notary for your state. I suggest going through the N.N.A. (National Notary Association) They are a one-stop shop for everything you will need. They also are state-specific and will direct you to your state’s requirements and web pages. While you are at the Secretary of States site, this is also where you will apply for your business name and formation. (AKA Articles of Incorporation).
☐ I highly suggest taking the “Signing agent” course and exam and getting certified! Again the N.N.A. will walk you through all the steps needed. You will be background checked, must pass a national test online, and obtain error and omission insurance. I recommend getting a membership with them! Through their site, you will receive quite a few job opportunities. This will come fast and allow you to bring in income while establishing contacts with attorneys and building your online presence.
☐ After you have your Articles of incorporation for your new business, apply for an EIN number with the IRS (make sure you double-check that you are on the actual website for the IRS). Many websites will look just like a place to apply for an EIN. They will have a fee, and they are not the IRS; they are simply companies that are set up to do the work of getting your EIN.) After you do that, go to your local bank, and get a business account! Create your social media if you like. I would at the minimum get your website going asap! This will be essential as companies and attorneys love to check out your vibe! They obviously are looking to see a minimal professional site. You can always connect your social media pages later as well as connect a business PayPal to most sites. If you are intending to sell services through your website, make sure you research to make sure you have the correct site set up.
BEFORE THE MONEY COMES ROLLING IN
☐ Set up a quiet office space that just belongs to you. If you are planning to do Signing agent work, you will need a laser printer with cartridges and a cheap regular ink printer with ink cartridges and of course lots of legal-size and letter-size paper. You will need a shredder, your notary materials, and a professional briefcase or bag. Be sure to get a lot of legal-size mailers and free legal-size envelopes from both UPS and FED EX. You will also need lots of pens. Blue is most common, but at times you will also need black. Check your state rules, as some states require black ink. Make sure you get non-smearing pens! You will need sticky signature notes. These will help reduce errors and are one of the most valuable tools you can have!
☐ Set up an account on Snapdocs if you are choosing to do signing agent work! This will account for a large amount of work. I recommend joining the “Notary café” which is a platform where notaries keep each other aware of good companies, bad companies, scams, and good companies to sign up with! They also have some seasoned pros that will offer great advice on making the most money you can while keeping yourself safe and some great overall tricks of the trade!
☐ Be prepared financially, as most companies don’t pay out for 30 to 45 days! Just plan on most likely not seeing a penny of your hard work for 30 days. Once all those checks come in it’s so worth it though, so just hang in there!
☐ Be prepared from day one to meticulously track mileage and receipts and have some type of accounting system set up. After you do a few signings, you will start to lose track of who has paid you and who has not. I kept a note on my phone with the companies I did signings for, how much the job was agreed upon, and the date of the signing. Don’t put any of the clients’ names on the list on your phone to protect privacy. I also had my own physical notebook of the signings, client names, and dates of jobs. This book never left my house and was always in a locked drawer. Quickbooks has an awesome app to help track expenses and mileage. It categorizes all expenses and income and tells notifies you of your taxes for each quarter as well as a yearly breakdown of income, mileage, and expenses and you can send this directly to your tax preparer or accountant! I love this app!
☐ Track all income!
☐ Ask for more money! You are allowed to bid and negotiate your pay! Most of the signing companies will offer an exceptionally low fee. Make sure you do your research and do not be afraid to ask for more! If it is a large print package, later in the evening, weather is bad, far away or for any other reason, make sure you are getting paid what is fair. If you are doing straight paralegal work, make sure you review hourly rates and contract work rates for your area and state.
☐ Be prepared to take some lower-paying jobs when you first start. This does not mean accepting the unacceptable. You are spending your time, wear and tear on your vehicle, print costs, and paper costs. Again, make sure you know the competitive pay for your area!
☐ Do not be afraid to learn. It is okay to make mistakes! Don’t let fear ever stop you from going after your dreams. Mistakes are how we learn. I guarantee after your first mistake you will likely never repeat that same mistake!
☐ Network with other paralegals! Ask if you can cover for them for doctors or other appointments. Let them know you are available! This would help tremendously and allow you to make more contacts to gain more freelance work as a paralegal! Once you get your foot in the door, you can showcase your skills and strong work ethic!
☐ Get set up with the SAM system. This is a government system that allows you to bid for government contract jobs and grants! If you would like to get set up for this, you can search for the procurement center near you. You can also sign up online, however, there are a couple of different tasks you must do to complete the process, and it is a time-consuming process.
You can download your copy of the checklist above to get started on your own freelance paralegal business. I am so excited for you to explore more about this career option!
Meet the Author
Heather Gonzalez is a Certified Paralegal. She owns Pennington and Associates L.L.C. This business is a freelance company offering Paralegal, Notary, Signing Agent and Field Agent services throughout the United States.