Work at Home Opportunities in the Legal Industry

The widespread availability of fast internet connections combined with a rising need for legal services has opened a wide range of flexible, home-based employment opportunities. Two of the most lucrative are legal transcription services and legal videographer positions.

Legal Transcription Services

Attorneys interview witnesses before they appear in court, a process called a deposition. They need these interviews recorded by a qualified and certified individual. Court reporters provide legal transcription services for depositions, documenting the deposition in a manner designed to hold up in a court of law.

Legal transcription services can be offered out of the transcriptionist’s home. Some attorneys require the transcriptionist to take the deposition in person, generally in the attorney’s office. With the increase in web video technology, some depositions can be taken remotely so the transcriptionist can work from a home office.

Other legal transcription services include making a transcription of video depositions or working as a scopist, a person who helps a court reporter create a final transcript.

Legal Videography

Video depositions or other video evidence for a court of law must be recorded under careful conditions so the opposing attorney cannot challenge it. Legal videography used to require expensive equipment well out of reach of the average home business, but inexpensive video technology is available today, which has put it in the reach of nearly everyone who wishes to be a legal videographer.

Unlike transcription services, legal videographers can’t work remotely. They must travel to the site of the deposition, typically the attorney’s office or a video conferencing facility. However the profession carries a lot of flexibility, making it ideal for people with personal commitments that make a typical office job impossible or simply undesirable. Legal videographers are in increasing demand as more attorneys use the technology.

Working Through a Court Reporting Agency

Although both these careers can conceivably be done as one-person businesses, most reporters prefer working through a court reporting agency. They retain the flexibility of home-based employment but have the advantage of professional support, marketing and billing services.

A court reporting agency offers a wider range of clients than a court reporter could find alone. Many large clients prefer dealing with agencies than single-person operations so certain jobs would be unavailable when working alone. Agencies are especially helpful to a legal videographer, offering equipment and video conferencing facilities for their use.

There is a growing revolution in employment allowing more people to work from the convenience of their home offices. It is easier to arrange their work schedules around other commitments and home workers save money and time by not having to commute to an office every day. Telecommuters are no longer oddities but instead are becoming a routine part of the legal profession.

Pathway to the Paralegal Profession: How to Become a Paralegal

The paralegal profession is a classic example of a rewarding occupation that can be achieved without a traditional four year degree. If you would like to learn how to become a paralegal or are just curious to learn more about this profession and the opportunities that exist, you are in the right place.

Most states do not regulate the paralegal profession or mandate that paralegals achieve a certain level of education or training. This affords individuals a tremendous amount of flexibility when it comes to entering this rewarding profession. However, attorneys are legally responsible for the paralegals under them and essentially vouch for them.

Thus, even though there may not be state requirements for paralegals in many states, attorneys self-regulate in order to protect themselves from liability. Consequently, attorneys will have their own minimum education or experience requirements for paralegals they would like to hire.

Individuals from all different walks of life enter the paralegal profession in a variety of manners.

Different Ways to Become a Paralegal

There are five primary ways an individual can become a paralegal.

The first option is to secure employment with a law firm as a legal secretary and then work your way up to a paralegal by demonstrating aptitude, motivation and the requisite skills and talents. While this is not the path we would advise one to take if they are seriously interested in becoming a paralegal, it can and does happen regularly. Never underestimate the power of being in the right place at the right time. Many careers were boosted by the simple fact that they were the only person immediately available to step up when a person who previously occupied the position left for another opportunity.

Another option for prospective paralegals is to enroll in a comprehensive online or real-world paralegal studies course. These programs can be completed in a year or less and offer individuals tremendous flexibility, especially those who are seeking to make a career change and must maintain their current working status to pay the bills. Once a student has successfully completed the program and earned a certificate in paralegal studies, they would then seek out an entry-level position or an internship. It is imperative that an individual pursuing these first two paths simply work to get their foot in the door so that they may acquire the requisite experience for their resume.

The third and likely most efficient and effective way to become a paralegal is to complete a two-year program at a local community college and acquire your Associate of Arts in Paralegal Studies degree. Although it will require an additional year of study it should provide you with a better foundation of knowledge and also make it easier to find your first entry-level position. The fact of the matter is that we are still in a very competitive job market as our nation rebounds from this terrible economy and you need to consider your marketability in comparison to other applicants.

The fourth option for those wishing to be a paralegal consists of acquiring a traditional four year degree or even a master’s degree in paralegal studies. Those possessing a college degree in another field also have the option of acquiring a certificate in paralegal studies. Frankly, we view bachelor and graduate degree programs in paralegal studies to be excessive and a low return on investment. While there will always be exceptions, we believe an individual who demonstrates a strong work ethic and exhibits exemplary qualities and skills will be better positioned to advance and earn higher salaries.

Finally, college graduates without any paralegal experience but possessing certain technical, field or industry specific knowledge are sometimes hired by a law firm to fill an expertise void. If you are a college graduate and feel that you possess a degree of competency that may be beneficial to a certain law firm then this may be an option for those seeking to make a career change.

Distance & Online Learning Options for Paralegals

Prospective paralegals may choose to pursue a career by enrolling in a distance education or online paralegal studies program. It is essential that you research the accreditation of the institution you consider, including tuition costs, job placement metrics and general reputation with the employers in your market.

Note that the American Bar Association does not approve online programs. This does not mean that all other schools are inferior or worthless. You need to do your due diligence. This is simply another factor you must weigh in determining your education path.

California has the most stringent requirements for paralegals and permits graduates from schools accredited by the Accrediting Council for Independent Colleges and Schools (ACICS).

American Bar Association Approved Programs

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, there are over 1,000 paralegal studies programs in the United States. Approximately 270 of these are approved by the American Bar Association. It isn’t a requirement that you learn via an ABA approved paralegal studies program. However, it may increase your chances of being hired over other applicants, especially if you are located in a competitive area of the country or reside in a particular state.

Test-Drive a Legal Career

The paralegal job description is remarkably similar to that of an attorney. It is important to remember that a paralegal performs many of the same functions that an attorney would perform. However, this only occurs through the acquisition of knowledge, on-the-job experience and the development of a strong relationship between you and your firm so that they feel confident in giving you greater responsibilities with minimal oversight.

The potential exists for paralegals who prove themselves to be invaluable contributors to a practice or firm to earn substantial compensation.

Putting the movies and television shows aside, individuals have an opportunity to truly test-drive the profession of practicing law when they become a paralegal. Many attorneys spend seven or more years of their life and rack up hundreds of thousands of dollars in student loan debt before finding out that being a lawyer isn’t what they thought it would be. Paralegals can get into the legal profession with a much smaller investment of time and money. And if a paralegal decides they want to be an attorney, they will have a leg up over fellow law school classmates where they can draw from actual job experience and apply it to their studies.

Challenges of the Legal Services Act

The imminent introduction of the Legal Services Act presents new challenges for high street firms as it enables companies other than solicitors to provide legal services under what is known as an Alternative Business Structure (ABS). This means that individuals can visit an ABS for various legal services, such as, wills, probate and conveyancing. Already companies such as Co-op, the AA and Saga have become ABSs in direct competition with the traditional high street solicitors practice.

The problem facing a majority of solicitor’s practices is that large companies will clearly have a commercial advantage over the high street legal practice that used to dot every high street. Going forward a well known ‘brand’ will get custom regardless of the quality of their legal service merely due to their reputation in other areas. They also benefit from economies of scale, so can undercut the prices of smaller high street solicitors and advertise aggressively, knowing that their smaller rivals cannot compete. In addition, they have the benefit of convenience; why visit a solicitor when you can get a will written while doing the weekly shop? A survey by Yougov has shown that 60% of those surveyed would buy legal services from a known retail brand rather than a local solicitor. This makes the future look very gloomy for the average high street solicitors practice. You only have to glance down a high street to see the lack of independent retailers due to being priced out by large corporate brands. By visiting the same brand for legal services, the legal profession will go the same way.

More worryingly, critics argue that it will damage the independence of the profession. Solicitors often work in small partnerships, independent from the clients they serve, striving to provide good quality legal services building client confidence, loyalty and client recommendations. However, bring in a major retailer with interests in several sectors and the outlook changes dramatically. Solicitors are responsible for their own reputation which is earned through the service they provide, making them personally liable for the work they undertake. Larger retailers simply do not have the same degree of liability; if a mistake is made it does not affect the company on a national scale. With large companies there is also the possibility that they will only be interested in the relatively simple tasks in order to make a quick buck, leaving the riskier and more expensive work for their high street competitors.

If an ABS can offer routine legal services without what may appear to be a hefty price tag, why choose a high street firm? Firstly, there is the personal service and client relationship; a solicitor can build up a strong relationship with a client over several years, thus better understanding the needs of each situation. In law, due to the vast diversity of situations, there simply cannot be an effective one size fits all model (the likely approach of the likes of the AA, Co-op etc). Instead of a mass-produced product, a high street solicitor can offer you an approach tailored to meet your needs. Most solicitors firms operate in a team of highly qualified specialists to provide a quality service rather than one solicitor heading a large group of paralegals or unqualified legal assistants. Put simply, high street firms offer quality over quantity. To ensure their future high street law firms have to maintain their professional standards.

It is true that high street firms need to adapt to have a chance of competing with big business. However, the days of the sole practitioner will soon be gone. For the smaller firms to survive they may no alternative but to merge with other professional services, such as, accountants and IFA’s to provide all business and personal services under one roof. No matter what steps they take, high street solicitors need to show that they are just as accessible and approachable as the big brands. Ultimately, receiving legal advice is a service: you pay for the quality you receive. Buying a house or deciding who inherits your worldly possessions is an important decision. Why cut corners to save a few pounds when a quality personal service is around the corner waiting to help?