In rural Wisconsin, attorneys face distinctive obstacles including inadequate access to resources and overburdened calendars (often due to travel).

For attorneys with offices in secluded or rural locations, covering extensive territories to serve their clients and managing multiple duties is essential to maintain their legal practice. Skillfully managing business costs is crucial. Client appointments and court dates necessitate appearances. Leveraging the skills of competent legal assistants can significantly mitigate these hurdles.

Paralegals as trained professionals can perform tasks that otherwise fall on these lawyers, thus reducing the need for lawyers to engage in many nonbillable activities.

Technology Needed

Creating strategic relationships with remote paralegals is not just beneficial – it is essential for managing the unique challenges these attorneys face and can still fit within the budget.

Admittedly, even basic technology can be daunting, especially if it does not increase productivity or improve the quality of work and life quickly. The details of needed tech services, equipment, and tools is beyond the scope of this post, but the expense of technology needed for this solution, including a video conferencing product, a secure method of transmitting documents, a data protection service or tool, and a shared case management system, can outweigh the costs.

Cloud services are the mainstay to modern law office technology basics. A consultation with those colleagues who are adept at working with legal technology or a technology professional can provide invaluable advice about tech that may be needed to engage with remote assistants.

A few pieces of legal tech are quite necessary to maintain almost any law practice, so many offices are already capable of getting relief from a congested schedule or tasking legal support personnel to use their skills for case work. This is of value for attorneys without other colleagues in the office or who have limited options due to location and the distance from other resources.

Duties can be transferred to a paralegal to free up time needed for distant court appearances, marketing, billing, and professional development, not to mention personal and family responsibilities.

Jody L. Cooper headshot

Jody L. Cooper
Marquette 1995, teaches legal studies in the paralegal program at Madison College. She is owner of
Cooper Law Office Milton, where she focuses on estate planning, real estate, and law office technology. ​​

Skilled, Effective Support

The use of skilled and well-trained remote paralegals can significantly enhance the breadth and quality of practice and client services, which increase the bottom line, especially for attorneys with rural practices.

Professional paralegal services enable offices to prune some of the demands on attorneys’ time, allowing a shift of focus to practicing law. Larger providers are available across the country.1 The flexibility of remote work creates opportunities to connect with these services for the most distant law offices.

Professional services can offer project-based paralegal assistance and on-demand options, some with no hourly minimums, for optimal cost-efficiency. In addition, there are significant advantages to contracting with those who do not become firm employees, including forgoing the costs and time of recruiting, evaluating, and hiring.

Independent contractors or individual “contract paralegals” are also a source of experienced remote assistants. Consider searching for competent talent from other trusted sources. Because of the flexibility of remote work, these paralegals, from all over the U.S., can be a great selection. Attorneys and law firms in Wisconsin do employ legal assistants part time. Check with colleagues or professional organizations to find a part-time paralegal looking for added opportunities. Consulting with those who already use remote paralegals is an effective approach.

Cost Savings

When contracting with paralegals located in areas of Wisconsin with a low cost of living, and who can work remotely, there are dramatic cost-savings in reducing travel. By eliminating the need to commute, travel costs do not impact their budgets – expenses like gas, vehicle maintenance, parking, and tolls will not chew into their budget. This keeps their (and
your) overhead low, allowing them to offer more competitive fees.

The advantages also include working with paralegals who may already serve other attorneys, allowing them to gain a full-time income by working with offices that do not have enough work to support a full-time employee.

Another option to consider for legal support that reduces budgetary concerns is engaging an intern or a part-time paralegal in an ABA-approved paralegal program.2 While students cultivate their skills and knowledge, they can provide services at a cost that fits every budget or in the case of interns, in exchange for vital, on-the-job experience. As a bonus, these students are trained in legal technology, with cutting-edge know-how and support that provides unique and invaluable perspective and introduction to the latest legal tools.

Sowing Diligence

Avoid plowing through these decisions. As always, you, the licensed attorney, will be directly responsible for the legal professionals worthy of your work partnership and trust.

Be sure you review personnel and expectations in ways consistent with applicable Professional Rules of Conduct relating to lawyers and their work with nonlawyer assistants. While the rules noted here do not provide an exhaustive list applicable to these arrangements, some of the most pertinent are outlined:

SCR 20:5.3 provides the list of responsibilities regarding nonlawyer assistants. Included is the requirement to give reasonable assurance that a paralegal’s conduct is not incompatible with the obligations of the lawyer. This will require due diligence in examining the potential assistant’s skills, training, and experience. For remote legal support, being able to work competently in the jurisdiction is a significant factor to evaluate. Working with someone who can perform skillfully and efficiently within the relevant legal framework needed to ensure selections of remote legal support are fruitful.

Significantly, and often overlooked, fully review SCR 20:5.4, which prohibits fee ‘splitting’ with paralegals and forming a partnership with a nonlawyer for activities. Read carefully, noting that compensating nonlawyer assistants based on the quantity and quality of their work complies. Another requirement to carefully consider is appropriate conflict of interest checks if working with legal assistants under the supervision of attorneys at other offices.

Conclusion: A Boost to Your Practice

Remote paralegals can contribute to easing the workload without a significant impact on expenses while expanding the time available to practice law for rural attorneys and firms.

The addition of this legal support provides long-term strategic benefits. It allows offices to expand their client base by increasing the number of cases they can manage without compromising the quality of legal services or personal life.3

This article was originally published on the State Bar of Wisconsin’s
Solo/Small Firm & General Practice Blog of the Solo/Small Firm & General Practice Section. Visit the State Bar
sections or the
Solo/Small Firm & General Practice Section web pages to learn more about the benefits of section membership.

Endnotes


1
Resources like
Beyond Paralegals, LLC, an Austin-based company, and
Virtual Paralegal Services, with numerous office locations and several businesses in Wisconsin, provide a range of legal support services.


2
A directory of ABA-approved paralegal programs and contact information
can be found on the ABA website.


3 
For additional insight, read
Economic Benefits of Paralegal Utilization Study by Thomas E. McClure, chair of the ABA Standing Committee on Paralegals and professor and director of legal studies at Illinois State University. Professor McClure continues the discussion related to the many skills and efficiencies of paralegals.