The legal industry is entering a period of change driven by growth in technologies, coronavirus and the current economic conditions are putting pressure on law firms to reduce the price of legal services; one clear way of cutting costs is by allocating the work to cheaper providers such as virtual paralegals.
This is of interest to in-house attorneys and general counsels who are working hard to reduce their expenditure on external law firms while streamlining their own legal departments. Solo practices and small law firms are also looking for ways to lower their over-head costs.
In a research report, it is predicted that by 2021, online workers including virtual paralegals will be worth $5 billion as the demand for online virtual work continues to grow. The coronavirus has forced courts, attorneys and law firms reluctant to convert their legal practice to virtual to immediately implement remote practices.
Our list below sets out the major trends that will impact virtual paralegals in the coming years.
The Coronavirus has changed how all industries operate their businesses including legal services. During the pandemic most paralegals were forced to work remotely, giving law firms and legal departments crash courses on how to implement virtual paralegal services into their legal practices. The results are, some firms have decided not to renew their brick & mortar leases and others offered their paralegals the option to work from home on a full-time or part-time basis.
The Coronavirus has also resulted in unprecedented furlough and lay-offs which has forced some paralegals to launch virtual & freelance businesses.
New Market Opportunities
The source of demand for legal services is changing, and the legal industry is being forced to transform itself to embrace these new demands. General practice type activities will be given over to technology and progressive law firms in the next year will be looking towards class actions, cybersecurity and health care industries as major sources of growth and new work.
Ever since electronically stored information such as emails, messages and calendars have been made discoverable for litigation in 2006, law firms have been seeking out paralegals and support staff that can manage technology and e-discovery systems.
Social Media Networking
Social media has changed the way that law firms and legal professionals recruit, find work, connect with clients and build their professional profiles. Technology-savvy virtual paralegals will find it easier to connect with clients.
Budget Conscious Law Firms
Rather than hire full-time or part-time paralegals cost-conscious firms can seek the services of virtual or freelance paralegals when necessary.
Changing Nature of The Legal Market
As general legal services are outsourced or automated, the demand for expertise in niche fields of law will increase. Law firms in the future will be looking to employ paralegals that can add value to their firms through their experience and specialized knowledge of the firms’ area of expertise.
New Billing Models
In-house legal departments are putting pressure on their law firms concerning their dissatisfaction with the traditional billable hours structure of charging clients.
This is forcing law firms to adopt new models for billing their time, including making the price for tasks more predictable such as utilizing the skills of virtual paralegals and using Customer Relationship Management software to manage the expectations of their clients. These changes in client-lawyer relationship could lead to some law firms hiring virtual paralegals instead of full-time staff.
Virtual Law Firms
The increase in web-development technology, payment systems and mobile platforms have made it possible for some lawyers to leave the traditional law practice structure and work remotely.
Most new lawyers are starting small firms and solo practices out of law school.
In the interest of cutting costs and increasing efficiency, many law firms are looking to domestic or overseas contractors to complete legal work. More law firms and corporations are outsourcing paralegal and secretarial functions.
There is a growing market for virtual/freelance and contract paralegals. Per Forbes.com there are 53 million freelancers in America today. By 2021, 80% of the U.S. workforce will be freelancers including virtual paralegals.