Although most paralegals work in law firms, government agencies, or on corporate legal teams, some paralegals work on a freelance/independent contractor basis.
Paralegal jobs are projected to experience faster than average growth over the next ten years according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics , with much of the job growth projected for large metropolitan areas .
Some paralegals desire more flexibility for their hours, to spend more time with family, or to have more freedom or control over their career.
Freelance/Contract Paralegals (“Freelance Paralegals”) work for themselves under their own business entity and, through their business, offer their services to attorneys on a contract basis. This business-to-business contract arrangement with attorneys/law firms allow Freelance Paralegals to choose to work with large or small organizations, or to choose the law firms or legal departments they want to work with.
What is a Freelance Paralegal?
A Freelance Paralegal is any paralegal who works on a contract basis for attorneys, law firms, or businesses with a legal department that have a need for paralegal services. However, regardless of the business arrangement, a Freelance Paralegal must always work under the supervision of an attorney.
Essentially, a Freelance Paralegal is an independent contractor rather than a payroll employee. This means the Freelance Paralegal works on an “as-needed” basis and may have increased flexibility in the legal firms for whom they do work.
As a Freelance Paralegal, it will be important to correctly log hours, and bill time appropriately. Law firms may use such i Freelance Paralegals when they are overloaded on work for several months in a row. Freelancing as a paralegal also means that long-term job stability is always something to keep an eye on. Marketing and advertising as a Freelance Paralegal become essential tasks.
You still need to be certified as a paralegal according to your state’s regulations to be a Freelance Paralegal.
Here are some steps to becoming a Freelance Paralegal.
1. Get Your Education and Certification
To become a certified paralegal, you must satisfy the requirements for your state. In California, to become a certified paralegal, you must satisfy one of the three educational requirements:
- Complete a minimum of 24 credits in paralegal studies at an accredited college or university.
- Complete a bachelor’s degree program in any field and have one-year of experience working under the supervision of a California attorney who has been licensed for at least three years, or who works in the federal court system in California.
- Complete a paralegal certificate program approved by the American Bar Association (ABA).
Check your state regulations for local requirements to work as a paralegal.
2. Gain Relevant Paralegal Experience
Working as a Freelance Paralegal is something that most people choose to do after gaining several years of experience working in a law office, for a litigation attorney, or for government or corporate attorneys. Getting at least three to seven years of experience will help you gain practical experience and develop structure. Working in one or more legal specialties before going freelance will also give you the relevant practice you will need to succeed as a Freelance Paralegal. Your future clients will be more confident in your abilities, and your professional colleagues can vouch for your skills.
3. Establish and Setup Your Freelance Business
Freelance Paralegals are not uncommon. A 2016 NALA survey found that nearly 3 percent of all paralegals identified as being self-employed or business owners. Research what l business licenses might be required to operate as a Freelance Paralegal. In California, there are specific requirements (such as creating your own business entity) that must be complied with to allow you to offer contract paralegal services to attorneys and/or law firms.
You will also need to market yourself in order to gain contracts. Having a web presence to show your relevant skills and specializations will allow contracting attorneys to research your freelance paralegal business.
4. Network and Find Paralegal Contracts
Most commonly, Freelance Paralegals are hired by attorneys that do not have an in-house paralegal team or require additional help for a period of time to handle their workload. By working professionally for attorneys as a Freelance Paralegal, you will establish long-lasting working relationships, gaining additional work or referrals. Some attorneys you may only work with for one occasion, but they may refer you to other attorneys who require a Freelance Paralegal.
5. Figure Out Your Pricing Structure
Pricing is always a tricky process when negotiating contract paralegal services. Be sure to compensate for the difference between hourly payroll work and contract work. Depending on what state you are in, you may also need to pay self-employment tax, so adjust your pricing accordingly. Contacting other freelance paralegals in your area for advice will help you find out a reasonable price structure for your services and anticipating what the market range for Freelance Paralegals looks like. Also, only an attorney can decide a paralegal billing rate with their client so be sure your price structure is reasonable in relation to the billing rate that the attorney has established with the client. Additionally, you may want to contact your State Bar to determine whether there are any limitations to pricing structures for paralegals.
Pros of Choosing to Freelance as a Paralegal
Becoming a Freelance Paralegal allows you the freedom to decide how you want to work. Some of the advantages include:
- Flexibility. Instead of working for a single law firm for years on end, you can work for a variety of attorneys, and focus on the area of law that interests you the most. You can also choose when to take time off or schedule a vacation, since you are not bound to one employer indefinitely.
- Rate negotiation. You can set your own rates based upon your experience, skills, and market demand. Also, having the ability to set the time frame for how long you work with an attorney or legal team gives you more control. You can decide whether to work for a law office for a few months, a year, or whatever the situation demands.
- Stretching your responsibilities. As a Freelancer Paralegal, you will be responsible for managing your own time, finding clients, marketing your services, and networking with attorneys. For many paralegals, this is an empowering position.
- Profitability. You are not obligated to work for an employer that you do not wish to, and you can guide your career in the way that you best see fit. You have the freedom to choose the contracts that you believe are profitable and worth your efforts.
Cons of Being a Freelance Paralegal
Working as a Freelance Paralegal can have some downsides as well. Most paralegals do not consider making the transition until they have several years of experience and a solid network of contacts in the legal industry. Finding a steady stream of clients is one of the biggest obstacles to successful freelance paralegal work.
- Potential for sporadic work. The biggest strength of being a Freelance Paralegal can also be the greatest weakness. There may be times when work is not abundant, and you might have to wait for a law firm to request your services. Freelancing is always a calculated risk. You must decide whether that risk is worth the reward.
- Business expenses. One of the advantages of being a payroll employee is not having to worry about the costs associated with operating a business. As a Freelance Paralegal, you must pay for your own health and dental benefits, pay any self-employment taxes that may be due, market and advertise in your spare time, and pay for any office supplies and equipment. Basically, anything that the business needs to maintain itself, will come out of your earnings. This adds a bit of pressure to being a Freelance Paralegal.
- Unpredictable income. W-2 employees can count on a paycheck on a regular basis, while Freelance Paralegals must continually be hustling to line up contracts. Preparing for times when work may be lean and saving money to get through those times is an essential skill.
- Extra responsibility and preparation. Every paralegal must uphold their professionalism and code of ethics, but as a self-employed individual/business owner, there are extra burdens of responsibility. Filling out time sheets accurately, making scheduled payments to the IRS for estimated quarterly tax, hiring people to help with professional services like bookkeeping, and communicating efficiently with clients and vendors adds extra administrative work to your list of responsibilities. Having excellent organizational and time management skills will help you navigate these challenges.
Becoming a Freelance Paralegal is not for everyone. It requires extra responsibility and dedication to successfully manage the additional admin work. It is not recommended that you attempt to go freelance immediately after completing a Paralegal Studies program. However, it is an achievable goal if you have a clear vision of becoming a Freelance Paralegal as a career destination.
Take the First Step to Becoming a Certified Paralegal
For students in California, MTI College has two Paralegal Studies programs that offer flexibility.
The A.A. Online Paralegal Studies program at MTI College is open to students residing in California who have already completed 54 quarter units (36 semester units) in general studies and business from an accredited institution and have an Associate’s degree or higher. This fully online program will let you fast track your education to becoming a paralegal in California.
If you reside in the Sacramento area, you can also attend our Paralegal Studies Associates Degree program, in our OnlinePlus format. This format allows student to complete most coursework online, with minimal in-classroom required days. Our Admissions team can give you details on our paralegal programs.
For more details, or to talk directly to our friendly Admissions department, call (916) 339-1500 or fill our contact form today. A representative from MTI College will be in contact with you shortly afterwards.
 Although working as a freelance/independent contractor paralegal is an option for graduates of MTI College’s Paralegal Studies program, MTI College strongly encourages paralegals interested in working as a freelance paralegal or contract paralegal to consult an attorney regarding California labor laws pertaining to independent contractors.
Note: The data provided above are from a source unaffiliated with MTI College, are for informational purposes only and represent the employment field as a whole. They are not solely specific to MTI graduates and, by providing the above information, MTI makes no representation, direct or implied, or opinion regarding employability. https://www.bls.gov/oes/current/oes232011.htm#st , retrieved February 23, 2022.
 Since Freelance Paralegals are still paralegals, they may not provide legal advice. As such, it is important for Freelance Paralegals to expressly state on all marketing and advertising mediums that they are not an attorney, they cannot provide legal advice, and to recommend consulting an attorney for those seeking legal advice.
 However, please see footnote 3 infra.
 Remember, only an attorney can decide a paralegal billing rate with their client so be sure your price structure is reasonable in relation to the billing rate that the attorney has established with the client. Please also contact your State Bar to determine whether there are any limitations to pricing structures for paralegals.
 Again, please see footnote 3 infra.