It used the be that the pinnacle of being a paralegal was getting your own office, and if you were lucky, it had a window. In today’s cloud-based world, the new pinnacle is working from home or from any place you can get an internet connection. No longer are paralegals having to work from their desks at a law firm. Enter the mobile paralegals! Now they can work from just about anywhere.
As I write this article, I find myself in my future father-in-law’s vehicle, passing a group of bison as we head from Montana to North Dakota. I’ve spent the week working from a makeshift office in his finished basement. When I am not visiting Montana, I tend to work from an office I built in the loft space of my home in southwest Washington. Or you might find me working from an office created for me in my fiancé’s home – five hours away in eastern Washington. You will not find me in my old office located in a high-rise building in downtown Dallas, Texas. I have not been in that office since February of 2020. And, other than the free snacks and in-person banter, I do not really miss my old office space.
If you are lucky enough to find yourself working remotely as a mobile paralegal, that is awesome! Welcome to the world of remote paralegal work. If, however, you are not yet able to work remotely and want to explore the options, you might be wondering how to do so successfully.
Here are some things you will need to transition to a mobile paralegal.
1. Supportive Employer
Having an employer that is supportive of your working remotely is paramount. The firm or attorneys you work with may not be totally on board with a change in work location but being open to discussions is a great starting point.
In my case, it started with a discussion with the partners that I was considering relocating to Washington State. I was pleasantly surprised when the partners replied with something similar to, “Let’s explore the possibilities of you working remotely,” instead of the much anticipated, “Let me know if you want me to be a reference.”
2. Adequate Workspace
Location, location, location. Remember that you are leaving behind your desk at the office, so it is important to consider where you will be working on a daily basis in order to get all of your tasks accomplished. A card table set up in a finished basement might work for the short term but could take a toll on your back over the long haul. Finding a comfortable place to set up the computer equipment and spread out any documents you might need will make working remotely more effective. Here are some tips for setting up your home workspace.
Working in our field, we have ethics rules we must follow. Our clients are still afforded the attorney-client privilege. Privilege does not go out the door just because you are no longer working at the office. The ability to maintain privacy must be considered when choosing your work environment. If that attorney-client privilege could be compromised, you will need to reconsider that workspace. If other family members will be in your home, your firm might want to consider a non-disclosure agreement for those individuals.
Along with privacy comes security. If you are working away from the office, you will need to consider how you will keep your client files and data secure. This could mean making sure you are using a secure VPN to encrypt data. It could also mean locking up any paper files you have at your location or have printed. Our office is paperless, but the occasional document is printed, so consider getting a shredder for those documents. This could also mean moving Alexa out of the workspace.
5. Internet Connection
This is an important one. Nowadays we are a slave to technology. Unless you are using a manual typewriter and a carrier pigeon, you will need a way to access the internet. Having a strong connection is vital for moving data and documents. Of course, there is always the possibility for the occasional internet outage, but having a consistently slow connection will make meeting filing deadlines difficult. The idea of working from a remote campground is very enticing, but without a signal, you might as well use the computer as a paperweight. You will have to make sure you are working from a location with reliable internet.
Communication is key. You may be working remotely, but how will you communicate with those still working in the office or clients? Since we work in the cloud, my desk phone plugs into my router through the use of an ethernet cord. Clients are no wiser that I am working over 2000 miles away when they call my office that has a Dallas, Texas area code.
When I am away from my home office, I can use our phone system to route incoming calls to my cell phone – again without an interruption to the client or coworkers. Leaving the office does not have to mean being out of reach. You’ll just need to look at available resources. If you are using your personal phone, you also need to consider how that phone number appears in the display of clients or other parties you are calling.
When working in the office, it is easy to take for granted available resources, such as a high-speed printer, postage machine, and even tabs and binders. Depending upon the size of your firm, you may be the one who handles printing, mailing, etc. In some firms, there are departments or administrative employees who do those tasks.
In my position, I am fortunate to have a legal assistant in the office who can take care of those types of tasks for the attorneys and me. However, being 2000 miles away from the firm office means that I cannot supervise tasks personally. That being said, I am confident that when I need assistance with resources not readily available to me, our legal assistant can handle or schedule those tasks and resources without my being there. Without such support, you will need to determine ahead of time how mail will get posted and mailed.
How will you handle emergency projects that might typically be completed by running into the office? It is not as much of a problem for the other paralegal in our firm. But, being across the country can be an issue. Having supportive team members is a great resource that cannot be forgotten.
8. Work-Life Balance
When working in the office, I often got to work early and stayed late to avoid traffic. This meant more time away from home and having less time for myself. Now that I work from home, I have more work-life balance and have that time back that I normally would have spent in traffic commuting. The drawback of being a mobile paralegal is that I have less human contact. I can go days without leaving my house. When considering the work-from-home life, make sure you plan ways to get out of your new office and out into the world.
While you may currently be working in a traditional office, our current world is ever-changing. You never know when you might find yourself working from home – or the basement of your father-in-law’s home. Knowing ahead of time what you need to be successful is part of the battle.
Meet the Author – Mary Mendoza
Mary Mendoza is a remote paralegal for the firm of Johnston Clem Gifford PLLC in Dallas, Texas which specializes in representing financial institutions and corporate plaintiff litigation. Mary has worked in the legal field since 1999, with an 11-year break from 2004 – 2015 when she taught for school districts in Texas and Washington.