Contacting Dawn M. Draper Owner of The Virtual Paralegal

If you are an attorney or other business entity interested in more information about how Dawn M. Draper “The Virtual Paralegal” can help you with your overflow work in a cost effective, efficient and professional manner, please send an email to thevirtualparalegal@gmail.com.

 

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What is a Virtual Contract Freelance Paralegal?

A Virtual Contract Freelance Paralegal is a highly-trained independent entrepreneur who provides a myriad of business support services virtually via phone, fax and internet based technology to support and meet the growing needs of businesses worldwide.

Partnering with a virtual contract freelance paralegal reduces stress, protects cash flow, eliminates administrative hassles, and enables business people to find the success they originally set out to achieve.

A virtual contract freelance paralegal is your right hand person helping you to succeed in your business. The irony is you may never meet your virtual contract freelance paralegal as odds are they live nowhere near you!

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What are the benefits of hiring a Virtual Contract Freelance Paralegal?

  • No overhead costs
  • No need to pay for an employees dental/health or other benefits
  • No overtime costs
  • No need to train
  • A virtual assistant is not an employee but contracted to perform specific work
  • Virtual assistants are time efficient
  • You won’t have to pay vacation or sick pay
  • No need to purchase office equipment, supplies, or office space
  • If you are a law office you can still benefit from billing hourly or our services

Hire your virtual contract freelance paralegal today and start saving your business thousands of dollars.  Contact The Virtual Paralegal at thevirtualparalegal@gmail.com today to start saving money!

Going Green – Running a Paperless Law Office

Are you considering running a paperless office, or transitioning from a semi-paperless office to a full-blown virtual paperless office?  I will share with you how to start, and what you will need in order to convert the cabinet upon cabinet of folders full of paper I know law offices store,, into a virtual, organized and paperless file system.

First, it may not be as easy of a task as you may think, and you most likely will not be able to go completely paperless, and…it is possible you may need to purchase various equipment you may not have in the office to accomplish the task.  Let’s break down what you will need to do to convert your office into a paperless office.

paperless_smEquipment

The first task will be making sure that you have the proper equipment.  You will need a good scanner, and the type of scanner you purchase, whether it be a stand alone scanner or an all in one printer scanner, will depend on the amount of paper each day you tend to scan.  If you generally have large volumes of paper going through your office in one day, you will be better off purchasing a stand alone scanner that can process large amounts of scanned pages in a short amount of time.  Otherwise, you may get by with an all in one printer, but make sure you purchase one that will scan at least 25 pages or more at a time through the feeder.

An online fax machine is a necessity as well when going paperless.  It is best to encourage clients and others you communicate with to fax correspondence, pleadings, and all other communications to your online fax number, which will then be sent to you via email as an attachment, most likely in a pdf format.  So, then half your work is done; you don’t have to scan it.

Here are some suggested online fax companies that I have used in the past with other attorneys, and would recommend any of these for your paperless law office.

  • Pam Fax –  Pam Fax has no monthly costs or ads, you receive a free fax number, and if you have the following online collaboration programs (which we will get into in more detail later), Dropbox, Box, Google Drive or SkyDrive, you can send and receive your faxes directly to and from them.  They offer a three-tier plan, one is sure to meet your needs.
  • MetroFax – Metrofax offers a 30 day Free trial and a plan that starts at $7.95 per month.  You can receive a dedicated local or toll-free fax number.
  • Ring Central – Ring Central offers a variety of other online services other than faxing.  It is also a dedicated online VOIP system, so you can send and receive telephone calls via the internet.  They are a bit pricier, but you will have a full online communication system, including fax, phone, auto receptionist, conferencing capabilities and more.  They do offer a free trial.

Software Needed For a Seamless Transition

Ok, now that we have run through the equipment, you will need to run a paperless law office, we will now need to talk a bit about the importance of the proper software needed to seamlessly convert your paper law office into a paperless law office.

First, I suggest that you either set up a server for your office, but better yet, I suggest you get into the Cloud online and use either Dropbox, Box, Google Drive or SkyDrive to store your client files and all that paper you are about to convert into a pdf.  Now, the biggest question I get when speaking with attorneys about collaboration and file sharing software, such as those I just mentioned, is “Are these programs secure?”  We all know it is essential that client files are kept secure and out of the hands of individuals not privy to the information contained in client files.  Security on all of these programs have come a long way in the past several years.  I use all four of the above-mentioned programs with attorneys that I provide contract / freelance paralegal work for, and I would recommend any of these programs for file sharing and file storage.  My favorite though is DropboxDropbox is the most seamless, and most secure of the four, as far as I am concerned, and most of the attorneys I provide paralegal services for use Dropbox.  All four of the options I have mentioned can be accessed online, or you can download a small program so that the documents are accessible right from your desktop explorer function.  They all have apps for Ipads and Iphones as well.  You can virtually access all your files from anywhere you are.

The next essential piece of software you will need is Adobe Acrobat (not the reader).  You will need the full professional version of Adobe Acrobat.  The reader will only allow you to read documents.  With the full professional version, you can do so much more like create comments on your pdfs, exhibits, convert pdfs to OCR for searching, and copy & past functions and more.  If you are looking to simply convert Microsoft Word or WordPerfect files to a .pdf format, there is a neat little program that is free for download and use, and I use this program all the time.  It is PrimoPDF.

Considering How Much Current Paper You Want to Convert

Ok, this is a big question for most attorneys.  The majority tend to keep their closed files for up to seven years.  That’s a lot of paper.  So, first question should be how far back you want to go when converting your paper files to a paperless file system.  If you consider the amount of paper that accumulated over the seven years, you may be looking at a very costly expense to convert to paperless.  You may want to consider only converting the last year of closed files and all of your current client files to paperless to cut costs.  It’s up to you.

Getting Started…

You have your equipment and the necessary software, now what?  First, get your entire staff on board, and make a plan on how you will be tackling the initial task of converting the paper you have, but also a plan on how you will keep the paperless trend going when you receive day-to-day paper documents.

My suggestion for the later would be that your law office have a designated person who will open the daily mail, immediately scan it, file it in the appropriate client folders and email a copy of the scanned pdf to your inbox or an email address specifically set up for incoming daily mail.

Using dictation to advise your staff of tasks you request of them, or drafting your documents, is also a good idea to utilize in a paperless office.  This way you will use less paper to jot down these requests to give to your staff to perform.  If your staff does not have a physical pedal style transcription equipment, free software can be downloaded from NCH Software called Express Scribe, and your staff’s computer keyboard is used for all the functions, i.e. stop, start, rewind, ect.  I use this on almost a daily basis with numerous attorneys I provide contract / freelance paralegal services to and it is very easy to use.

Other Office Solutions to Consider

When you go paperless, you also run the risk of losing your important information if your computer or server breaks down.  One solution to this problem is using one of the four Cloud programs mentioned earlier.  Each one of these programs automatically back up your documents by a syncing feature.  When you update a document on your computer in one of the Cloud folders, it will sync to your online account.  But, I recommend you  do not stop there.  I believe it is important to also use an online backup service such as Carbonite.  I can tell you that backing up my files to Carbonite has saved me from losing my files at least four times in the past three years that I have used Carbonite.  Another option for online backup is Mozy.  I would recommend either of the two of these backup solutions.

Consider how much paper we consume each day.  By going paperless, we are contributing to the ongoing beauty of our planet by cutting down on wasted paper products.

Photograph brought to you by: anpac.com

The Big Misconceptions of Contract – Freelance Paralegals As A Staffing Alternative

A question I often get from attorneys looking for a virtual paralegal, contract or freelance paralegal, is whether or not my providing paralegal services via the “virtual world” is a temporary service, or am I in this for the long haul.  Rest assured, I, as many other paralegals working from virtual offices, are most definitely in this business for the long haul.

Back in 2008, when I first launched “The Virtual Paralegal” my mindset was two-fold.  1) To provide the best paralegal, legal assistant service to attorneys / lawyers from my home office virtually, as they would expect I would do if I were working in-house for them, if not better, and 2) to continue to provide these services as a business professional for the entirety of my career, which will be a long time from now.

The biggest misconception, I believe, stems from the fact that I am not an employee for any of the attorneys I provide contract / freelance paralegal work for.  I am a contractor, not an employee.  Working as a virtual paralegal, contracting out my work to attorneys / lawyers, instead of working in the brick and mortar setting, to many legal professionals is still a hard concept to grasp.  But, there is light through the tunnel.  Since 2008, I have spoken with nearly 150 different attorneys and paralegals about the subject, informing them of the services a contract / freelance paralegal can provide to them, from answering their client telephone calls to drafting an appeal brief.  I feel they are starting to get the gist of what services we can provide to them, without the high cost of hiring a part-time or full-time employee.

I have also been told by some of my local past paralegal professionals that I worked with, that they feel what I am doing as a contract / freelance paralegal is taking jobs away from paralegals who work in-house at law firms.  As I had explained to them, the concept that an attorney is using a contract / freelance paralegal instead of hiring one, for the most part, is also in addition to staff that attorney already has, and I perform much of the overflow work.  Thus allowing the paralegal who is staffed at the law office to stay up to speed with her work and not feel overwhelmed.  This isn’t the case with all the attorneys, but for many, it is.

Many of the attorneys that I first speak with are a bit taken back with what I charge versus what they would pay a staffed employee.  But, when I explain to them that they are only paying me for the exact time I work on a project, and on project to project basis versus hiring someone who is paid hourly, they see the financial benefits.  I am there only when they need me, not all day, or a half a day.

I do hope this helps both paralegals and attorneys with answers to some of the questions I most frequently receive when speaking with them.

Virtual Paralegal Ebook On Sale $11.95 Regularly Priced at $14.95

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The Virtual Paralegal featured in N. & S. Carolina’s Lawyers Weekly

The Virtual Paralegal, me, was interviewed for an article on Virtual Paralegals for N. & S. Caroline Lawyer’s Weekly Magazine. Click here to download the actual article that features contract, freelance and virtual paralegals.  http://www.thevirtualparalegal.com/pdfdownloads/NCLAWYERSWEEKLY.pdf

Different Jurisdictions – Different Names for Levels of Court

The one thing I have learned along the way, and took some getting used to, was how the states named the branches of their courts. In Michigan, I was used to the following branches of courts.

  •  Michigan Supreme Court – Matters filed in this court after the Court of Appeals heard the matter
  •  Michigan Court of Appeals – Matters filed in this court after Circuit Court heard the matter
  •  Circuit Court – Where most civil matters, matters involving cases over a certain monetary amount, marriages without children, and felony criminal cases are heard
  •  District Court – Where misdemeanor criminal matters, matters involving cases that are under a certain monetary amount and small claims are generally heard
  •  Probate Court – Family matters involving children, guardianship, estate matters and Juvenile matters are heard

When I first ventured to the East Coast in the State of Washington, that was when I came to learn that not all courts in the United States were named such as those noted above for the State of Michigan, nor did that court hear the same types of matters in the same jurisdictions as the branches stated above. In the State of Washington, as well as a few other states I have now worked with, generally utilize the following branches:

  •  Supreme Court – Matters filed in this court after the Court of Appeals heard the matter
  •  Court of Appeals – Matters filed in this court after Circuit Court heard the matter
  •  Superior Court – Matters involving felony matters, domestic relations, estate, juvenile and civil cases over a certain monetary amount (There is no probate court per say)
  •  District Court – Matters involving misdemeanor violations and civil cases under a certain monetary amount.

To take the differences even further, the court system branches involved in commonwealth jurisdictions (which we will get into more in depth later) are different yet than those mentioned above.

  •  Supreme Judicial Court – Matters filed in this court after the Court of Appeals heard the matter
  •  Appeals Court – Matters filed in the Court after Circuit Court has heard the matter
  •  Superior Court – Matters involving civil actions over a certain monetary amount, labor disputes, medical malpractice, and felony matters
  •  Chancery Court – is another name for Superior Court in some of the commonwealth states and generally involves matters much as those heard in Superior or Circuit Courts.
  •  District Court – Matters involving criminal, civil matters under a certain monetary amount, felony matters then bound over to Chancery or Superior Court and juvenile matters.
  •  Juvenile Court – Matters involving juvenile delinquency, children in need, protection petitions, adoption, guardianship and termination of parental rights
  •  Probate and Family Court – Matters involving wills, trusts, estates, divorce

These are general branches and jurisdictional matters. States may differ slightly as to what matters their branch of court’s jurisdiction hears.

There are also different names used to address a judge depending on the type of law of that state and jurisdiction.

  • • Judge
    • Justice
    • Your Honor
    • Judges of the Peace
    • Chancellor

As you can see, court jurisdictions, names and even what you would honorably call the Judge in a courtroom vary from state to state.  Thanks goodness with the age of internet and information, you can find most state and local statutes and rules, and even the appropriate court forms online for free.