Virtual support for lawyers has been available here and there for some time now, but is only beginning to get the attention it deserves. For an update on the niche, we chatted recently by email with Virtual Assistant / Virtual Legal Assistant Laurie Mapp (also a mom of three young boys), who runs Halo Secretarial Services (http://halosecretarialservices.com/) from her home office in Alberta, Canada.
Laurie got her honors diploma in paralegal studies in 1993, worked for a solo lawyer, larger firm, and governmental legal department, then began the launch of Halo while on maternity leave with her third child.
RRR: Tell us a bit about your typical working day.
LAURIE MAPP: I work pretty part-time right now, mostly because I'm fairly new to the business. I spend a couple of hours in the morning working on my marketing and doing a little client work. I then spend several hours with my children and managing the household. In the afternoon I spend another hour or two on my work then break for supper and bedtime. Most evenings I find another hour or so for work or networking.
It can be hard juggling the children's needs and still find time for business. My husband works long hours and I have three fairly young boys to manage. They get to watch a little TV in the morning while I work and then they keep busy playing in the yard, doing projects at the table or just playing together. I use a laptop so I can work wherever in the house it is convenient. I keep a portable filebox nearby with my notes and use my "main" office only for major projects or when I need the quiet and I have help for the kids.
RRR: What led you to become an independent professional as opposed to an employee? Did you have any entrepreneurial role models to inspire you?
LAURIE MAPP: My children were the inspiration for sure! I was an employee for many years first and didn't really have good entrepreneurial role models. Then I read a couple of books about being a Virtual Assistant (including the “Two Second Commute”!) and I knew that was what I wanted to do.
RRR: Tell us a bit about clients. How did you land your first virtual assignments, and what kind of work do you do now?
LAURIE MAPP: I found my first client through a combination of LinkedIn and Twitter, and I work mostly on social networking for that first client, and I'm learning to help him manage some of his website updating. My goal is to work mostly in the legal niche or doing social networking, as those are my two passions. I normally charge a fee of $30 per hour, but will also work on a project or flat fee basis upon request.
RRR: Give us your three favorite tips for success as a Virtual Legal Assistant or VA.
LAURIE MAPP: Top tip is to treat your business as a true business, not a hobby or a few quick bucks, or a way to be an employee from home. A VA is a business owner.
Number 2 would be to remember that if it will take time to grow your business. You need to be prepared to network for a few months and really hang in there -- the clients will come.
Number 3 would be to work hard on staying up-to-date in your chosen area -- network right away and stay in the loop. You never know what opportunities will come if you are making contacts in your field.
RRR: When I was practicing law in New York City in the 1980s, there was a clear distinction between "legal secretaries" and paralegals. Has that distinction blurred in recent years?
LAURIE MAPP: I'd say those lines are still there -- they are just confusing because different companies use the terminology interchangeably. Legal secretaries generally have much less education -- they know some terminology but don't have a diploma or degree. Paralegals have a lot of schooling plus a lot of experience. Where I live you need a 2-yr. diploma to be a paralegal, but you still won't be hired in-house normally until you get some experience with a title like legal secretary or legal assistant. Virtually you can work with lawyers without the diploma, but for some types of work (drafting court documents, speaking with clients) you really should have significant experience.
RRR: What range of income can one expect to make, and for how many hours a week, as a Virtual Legal Assistant in Canada and the US?
LAURIE MAPP: It all depends on how well you market yourself and how much time you have to devote to your business. You can charge from C$25 to well over C$100 per hour as a Virtual Legal Assistant / Virtual Paralegal and you can eventually expand to a multi-VA practice if you choose. The sky is the limit I think!
RRR: How do you see the Virtual Legal Assistant profession evolving over the next five years?
LAURIE MAPP: I think Virtual Assistance will become a little more mainstream over the next five years, which will create many opportunities for Virtual Legal Assistants. Just be professional, work hard and always deliver what you promise and you can have an amazing career.
-- For more on Laurie Mapp, see her blog at http://halosecretarialservices.com/blog/.
-- For a home-office attorney who uses blogs, Twitter, and virtual support to grow his practice, see Grant Griffiths’ website and links at http://gdgrifflaw.typepad.com/about.html.
-- For more on what paralegals do, how to become one, and the profession’s employment outlook, see the US Dept. of Labor’s (DOL) site at http://www.bls.gov/oco/ocos114.htm. According to DOL,
“Employment of paralegals and legal assistants is projected to grow 22 percent between 2006 and 2016, much faster than the average for all occupations. Employers are trying to reduce costs and increase the availability and efficiency of legal services by hiring paralegals to perform tasks once done by lawyers. Paralegals are performing a wider variety of duties, making them more useful to businesses.”
-- Wikipedia also has a useful entry on paralegals here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Paralegal.
-- For more on Twitter (which I’ve just begun to use, and will report on when I’ve had more experience; blogging guru Darren Rowse and veteran entrepreneur Guy Kawasaki use it a lot, though some users warn it can be a time-hole), see http://twitter.com.