How to Become a Freelance Paralegal

There are countless opportunities within the paralegal profession, with an estimated job growth of 4 percent from 2022-2032, per the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Most paralegals are employed by the Federal Government, corporations, or law firms, but another surprising option is to become a freelance paralegal.

Serious pensive thoughtful focused young casual businessman or entrepreneur in office looking at and working with laptop making and typing serious important business email

There has never been a better time to become a freelance paralegal due to the growing demand in the field.

Freelancers gain experience across multiple fields of law by working with different clients.

These professionals also learn how to run a business and have complete control over their career path.

If this sounds like an interesting career option for you, keep reading to learn more!

What Is a Freelance Paralegal?

Attorneys and corporations hire freelance paralegals, or contract paralegals, to work under a contract, which details their exact responsibilities and length of employment.

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Freelance paralegals can focus on small organizations or large firms and select the legal departments, law firms, and attorneys they want to work with.

Freelance paralegals differ from independent paralegals in that freelancers collaborate with attorneys and firms, while independent paralegals offer services directly to clients.

Steps to Become a Freelance Paralegal

There are three primary steps to becoming a freelance paralegal, including:

Step One: Earn an Education

Paralegal educational requirements vary based on the state, but most require certification or a diploma.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics found that most paralegals have a certificate or associate degree in paralegal studies.

However, may choose to take their education one step further and earn a bachelor’s degree.

Beginning your career as a paralegal requires extensive knowledge of legal services, including legal research and client preparation.

This information is gained through a legal studies educational program.

Step Two: Gain Experience

Having paralegal experience in one or several legal specialties before starting a freelance career is always advisable.

Although the type and length of experience varies based on the individual, approximately three to five years of work as a paralegal is the best scenario before becoming a freelancer.

Also, working in the legal field presents countless networking opportunities to begin advancing your career and building connections.

Clients can also better gauge your reliability and paralegal skills when other professionals can provide references.

Step Three: Setup as a Freelancer

The final step is to set up as a freelancer.

Since freelance paralegals set an hourly wage, having previous experience helps gauge your fees.

It’s also helpful to reach out to previous work contacts and employers to find additional clients.

Some freelancers begin part-time to create a client list, which is critical for establishing your services in this field.

Freelancers must also have an online presence that makes you easy to find, a draft of their services contract, and a portfolio of legal specialties and past cases (this is also where experience is important).

In some instances, freelance paralegals collaborate with other freelancers to ease marketing efforts and reach a larger demographic due to various legal backgrounds.

To start your career as a freelance paralegal, follow these tips:

  • Feel confident about your rates – new freelancers struggle to decide the proper rates to charge. Since there is no one-size-fits-all answer, you must determine your experience level, job complexities, specialization, and location. Most freelancers bill between $22 and $45 per hour.
  • Find the right clients – being proactive and finding the right clients will set you up for success. Make a daily habit of connecting with potential prospects using online resources like LinkedIn by dropping them a note explaining how you can help their firm.
  • Get all contracts in writing – getting clients to sign engagement letters is paramount to building a business. Before working with a client, send them a legally binding, detailed letter of engagement that outlines the scope of work, points of contact, compensation, details, and timelines.
  • Invest in your workspace – most freelance paralegals work from home, so it’s important to set up an appropriate office. This means buying an ergonomic office chair, monitor, desk, and office supplies. Try to place your home office in a location that’s free from distraction to maximize productivity.
  • Know the type of work you want – like all employees, you have strengths, weaknesses, and inclinations. When starting, it’s important to try a bit of everything to see where you shine. Once you’ve tried the various tasks, focus your business around 20% of the tasks that provide 80% of the revenue.
  • Prioritize networking – if firms and clients don’t know you exist, then you won’t be able to sustain a career as a freelancer. This means you must network by joining industry organizations, having an online presence, and contributing to online discussions.

Licensing Requirements to Become a Freelance Paralegal

Most states don’t have legal or educational requirements to practice.

However, to build credibility as a freelance paralegal, it’s important to complete a formal education program in the field and gain some experience.

Educational programs can be found at vocational schools, universities, community colleges, and online.

Additionally, paralegals are expected to follow the ethical guidelines and standards set forth by the state or states they are working in.

Furthermore, continuing education in the legal field is critical to remaining updated on the latest laws and developments.

Online Training Programs

Florida Gulf Coast University

Florida Gulf Coast University offers an online associate or bachelor’s degree program in legal studies.

The associate degree takes around two years, while the bachelor’s degree can be completed in four years.

The program prepares students for law school or to enter the paralegal field after graduation.

Attendees learn about legal research, different types of law and litigation, the legal system, torts, and professional writing.

Students can focus on specialty areas of interest like real estate, family law, or criminal law and must complete volunteer service-learning hours.

In-state tuition for this program is $204 per credit while out-of-state tuition is $839 per credit.

Herzing University

Herzing University offers an online associate degree program in Legal Studies, which is accredited by the Higher Learning Commission.

The 62-credit undergraduate program takes around 20 months to complete and covers legal writing and research, civil litigation, law office procedures, family law, torts, ethics, paralegal professionalism, and contract law.

Additionally, students must complete six semester credit hours of open elective courses.

The cost of the program is $515 per credit hour, but the school accepts transfer credits and helps with financial aid.

Loyola University Chicago

Loyola University has offered online programs since 1992, so they know what they’re doing.

This private Jesuit university offers a 120-credit online bachelor’s in Paralegal Studies program.

Students take eight-week courses covering various legal topics like litigation, torts, different law types, and ethics in an online forum.

As one of the top online paralegal programs in the U.S., Loyola charges $1,240 per credit hour, for in-state and out-of-state tuition.

Roger Williams University

Roger Williams University offers an online associate or bachelor’s degree in paralegal studies.

Approved by the ABA (American Bar Association), both programs cover criminal law or paralegals, emerging technologies in the legal environment, and legal writing and research.

Due to the school’s ABA certification, students must take at least nine credits of legal specialty classes where they must meet with the class virtually on specific days and times.

The cost per credit hour is $433 regardless of in-state or out-of-state residence.

Salary

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median paralegal pay in 2023 was $60,970 per year, with an expected growth of 14,800 jobs between 2022 and 2032.

Salary Information by State

State Employed Avg. Annual Salary Avg. Hourly Pay Top 10% Annual Salary Bottom 10% Annual Salary
Alabama3,770$51,130$24.58$74,640$31,200
Alaska740$63,580$30.57$94,120$43,110
Arizona7,110$61,300$29.47$84,100$35,310
Arkansas2,160- NA -- NA -- NA -- NA -
California37,270$76,080$36.58$109,340$46,730
Colorado5,750$68,920$33.13$99,060$45,510
Connecticut4,860$67,310$32.36$91,590$46,350
Delaware1,760$68,340$32.86$99,100$41,350
District of Columbia5,580$91,880$44.17$124,650$56,780
Florida36,060$56,650$27.24$78,440$37,370
Georgia12,510$57,890$27.83$87,660$29,820
Hawaii1,150$59,690$28.70$82,310$42,270
Idaho1,500$49,930$24.00$66,940$27,100
Illinois12,370$63,590$30.57$97,100$38,060
Indiana5,590$54,080$26.00$81,840$34,820
Iowa2,570$58,310$28.04$79,260$38,260
Kansas2,680$53,440$25.69$79,630$34,710
Kentucky2,800$51,020$24.53$73,780$35,620
Louisiana5,250$52,760$25.36$75,100$35,380
Maine940$56,110$26.97$71,460$46,550
Maryland7,040$62,880$30.23$88,670$39,250
Massachusetts7,490$71,670$34.46$103,000$40,760
Michigan7,440$58,400$28.08$81,560$38,500
Minnesota6,140$63,450$30.51$94,910$39,790
Mississippi1,950$46,060$22.15$63,840$31,990
Missouri5,930$58,040$27.91$79,830$36,920
Montana1,320$58,190$27.98$79,520$41,900
Nebraska1,720$56,510$27.17$79,600$38,880
Nevada3,190$60,860$29.26$89,690$41,600
New Hampshire1,310$56,530$27.18$81,100$37,890
New Jersey9,580$65,570$31.52$96,480$38,650
New Mexico1,850$51,420$24.72$70,010$37,660
New York30,020$69,860$33.59$103,890$45,720
North Carolina12,290$56,120$26.98$81,310$35,920
North Dakota580$54,090$26.00$75,500$39,360
Ohio8,200$55,320$26.60$78,490$36,700
Oklahoma2,840$51,430$24.73$74,590$34,080
Oregon4,790$66,250$31.85$86,420$46,090
Pennsylvania11,390$64,730$31.12$92,560$39,460
Rhode Island1,320- NA -- NA -- NA -- NA -
South Carolina6,150$52,060$25.03$65,960$37,300
South Dakota500$55,290$26.58$68,120$44,300
Tennessee4,740$54,290$26.10$82,600$34,330
Texas24,600$59,970$28.83$94,540$36,300
Utah4,080$56,040$26.94$78,830$35,660
Vermont640$61,210$29.43$74,930$48,020
Virginia10,470$60,570$29.12$83,650$35,530
Washington8,020$72,590$34.90$106,510$47,960
West Virginia1,990$50,380$24.22$77,230$28,760
Wisconsin4,840$54,880$26.39$78,420$37,460
Wyoming400$52,500$25.24$65,150$36,110
Guam80$40,810$19.62$55,930$29,450
Puerto Rico710$45,220$21.74$65,670$30,560
Virgin Islands70$54,500$26.20$70,620$43,880

Annual Average Salary: Top 10 States

The top earning state in the field is District of Columbia, where the average salary is $91,880.

These are the top 10 earning states in the field:

  • District of Columbia - $91,880
  • California - $76,080
  • Washington - $72,590
  • Massachusetts - $71,670
  • New York - $69,860
  • Colorado - $68,920
  • Delaware - $68,340
  • Connecticut - $67,310
  • Oregon - $66,250
  • New Jersey - $65,570
* Salary information based on the May 2022 Occupational Employment Statistics (OES) Survey for Paralegals and Legal Assistants, OCC Code 23-2011, BLS.
* Employment conditions in your area may vary.

Chelsea Wilson

About Chelsea Wilson

Chelsea Wilson is the Community Relations Manager for Washington University School of Law’s distance learning LLM degree program, which provides foreign trained attorneys with the opportunity to earn a Master of Laws degree from a top-tier American university from anywhere in the world.

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