By: Holly A. Sheriff, MSLS
Edited by: Jackie Van Dyke, MPS, CP – Legal Writing Trainer
Being a paralegal entrepreneur is rewarding, fun, and arduous work. Becoming a paralegal entrepreneur was easy. It’s operating a business; my competition finds to be hard. Some days are better than others. Sometimes you have one or two clients, who believe in what you are accomplishing as an entrepreneur. Other times, a client becomes your biggest fan not because he or she needs to, but because it’s the right thing to do. At the end of every week, there is always one attorney or paralegal who can’t understand that the entrepreneurial journey is the same for every person who takes risks to start his or her own business — this includes paralegal entrepreneurs.
The Struggle is Real for the Paralegal Entrepreneur
The struggles I face as a business owner are the same for the attorneys. There are times, and I am not going to lie, I must explain to prospective clients I have the same goals, needs, and wants for my business as they do for their law practices. Some of the attorneys who call my office don’t understand that I, too, have:
- Clients come and go;
- Clients fail to communicate when a task is in progress or finished;
- Legal costs;
- Clients don’t pay;
- Clients who want the services I provide at such a low rate, which will cause me to NOT break even at the end of the week – let alone to see any profits;
- Clients who are rude to my staff and me;
- Overhead expenses that keep getting higher;
- Prospective clients who either see my company as an overpaid typist service and not as a paralegal extension of their law practices; or
- Attorneys who do not realize the value in forming a team like the collaborative relationship with a vendor.
The copycat struggle is real
The struggles I face as a paralegal entrepreneur are slightly different than my solo attorney colleagues. I must deal with copycat paralegals, freelance or the moonlighting paralegals, who do not understand the first thing about being an independent contractor or a paralegal entrepreneur. And it is always cutting into my profit margin one way or another.
“Copycat paralegals are paralegals that have litererally tried to copy my business model from visiting my website.”
Holly A. Sheriff
The profit margin struggles are affected by a wide array of problems caused by unqualified competition, who believe they would love to work from home. However, most of this competition want all the same benefits as a traditional employee. Believe it or not, this ideology cuts into my profit margin. I lose clients to freelancers and copycats because:
- Unexperienced freelancers or copycats often have “set $20 per hour as their rate, based on nothing more than that’s what they think will get the business in the door.
- My pricing strategy is reliable market research, data, years of ideal target marketing strategies, and negotiating with various vendors to get the best tools of the trade behind us at the best prices for our region. Yes, you heard me, I said, “region.” Most legal vendors have different price points for each jurisdiction or sale territories.
- The copycats don’t like paying for things they should pay for to be classed as independent contractors by the taxing authorities and the IRS.
- I pay for my tools, equipment, office space, and software. Seriously, I do, ask my friend and colleague, William Roach the visionary behind Exhibit View Solutions, LLC. I meet with Bill once or twice a year, to renew products and services that I believe my clients will benefit from our company using.
- I also don’t hold back telling Bill or vendors like him what works and what does not work for attorneys. I’ve been known to have very candid conversations with Bill or any other vendors about how they can genuinely help me serve my attorney-clients better. This is what a paralegal entrepreneur should do for his or her clients.
It’s not always about who has the lowest prices or hourly rates. The decision to hire a virtual, freelance, or entrepreneur paralegal should be a decision built upon which of these individuals or companies can provide:
- the most value as a virtual team member or extension of your practice;
- business knowledge and understanding when it comes to your profits, business goals, and your legal work;
- tech savvy solutions based on practical use, which surprisingly this includes using Microsoft products;
There are thousands of virtual paralegals and freelancers in social media land who do not know how to use Microsoft WORD or other technology, which is essential for working in the virtual office.
Sometimes it takes looking at what you do as a solo attorney entrepreneur to see the value of hiring a virtual paralegal. Therefore, if you are a solo law firm entrepreneur and you genuinely want to make a difference in your practice, try looking for a paralegal solution, which embraces the entrepreneur spirit, despite the struggles that come with owning and operating a business.
Despite the struggles, being a paralegal entrepreneur is the best career for me. It’s satisfying for my marketing brain, it’s great for my work ethic (I work all the time), and it’s an opportunity to help likeminded attorneys build law practices as businesses too. Sure, some days, I feel like I am the captain of the Titanic, but that’s how I know that I am a paralegal entrepreneur.
If you find after reading this blog that you want to know more about how a paralegal entrepreneur can help not only your law practice but your business too, call me. I’m always working.