Professional growth          Court news           Productivity           Technology          Wellness          Just for fun

The nuts and bolts of starting a successful independent paralegal business

If you are a paralegal with a passion for entrepreneurship, there’s never been a better time to start your own business. Not only can you start and maintain a successful freelance paralegal practice, but four states are currently allowing paralegals to practice substantive law in limited practice areas.

In either case, independent paralegals are in high demand as they provide cost-effective and personalized legal services to clients who desperately need the help.

Starting any new business can be challenging, and independent paralegal businesses are no exception.

Educating yourself on the ins and outs of this potential venture is a good move. In this post, we will provide a how-to guide on starting a successful independent paralegal business in today’s climate.

Education and certification

Nine-tenths of running your own legal business is being able to retain clients.

Generally speaking, clients look for a combination of education, experience, certification, and value when choosing legal professionals. Consequently, paralegals with a bachelor’s degree and at least a few years’ experience under their belts will be best suited for independent practice.

When it comes to certification, there currently is no mandatory certification examination anywhere in the U.S. Nonetheless, organizations such as the National Association of Legal Assistants (NALA) and the National Federation of Paralegal Associations (NFPA) both offer certification programs.

Much like education and experience, these certifications can improve your chances of securing clients and earning a higher income.

Also, those states that allow paralegals to practice substantive law do have specific admission requirements. If you plan on opening a practice in Oregon, Arizona, Minnesota, or California, you’ll want to check for each state’s particular requirements.

Business licenses

Before you open your doors for business (even if those doors lead to your living room), you’ll want to obtain all of the appropriate business licenses for your area.

Laws differ wildly from place to place, so you’d be wise to check out a state-by-state guide to obtaining your license.

Take this opportunity to research tax requirements, too. Filing taxes when you’re self-employed can be trickier than you expect, and the way you structure your business can impact how you’re required to file taxes.

To learn more about business structure and licensing, consider talking with an attorney in your state.

Market Research

Conducting market research is a crucial step in starting any business. This research will help you identify potential clients, understand their needs and preferences, and assess your competition.

If possible, you’ll want to start your business in an area with great need and low competition. That might mean focusing on a particular practice area, building a rare skill, or focusing on a different underserved need.

In order to sort this all out, start by identifying your target customers.

Potential clients may include individuals, small businesses, or other organizations like non-profits. You’re not limited to law firms, though that’s probably a good place to start your research.

Once you know who you want to serve, gather information on the types of legal services they need, being mindful that not every potential client has the budget for extensive legal services.

Finally, you also want to understand who your competition is and how many of them are serving your area. Remember that a lack of competition might not be a good sign — it might signal a lack of opportunity.

Take a look at your credentials as opposed to your competitors, and ask yourself who you’d hire if you were looking to retain a paralegal. If that analysis tells you that another business is likely to get hired first, you might consider serving a different geographic region or specialty.

Business Plan

A business plan is a critical step that far too many entrepreneurs skip.

There’s no reason for that, as there are plenty of great resources available to help you put your plan in place, including this great guide provided by the Small Business Administration (SBA).

If you’re not familiar with business plans, they are simply outlines of the goals, strategies, and financial projections for your business. They’re not fun to put together, but they are generally necessary if you need to secure funding before opening your doors.

Business plans intended to satisfy lenders should include an executive summary, a company overview, a market analysis, a description of your services, a marketing strategy, and financial projections. If you plan to seek a loan or some other form of funding to launch your independent paralegal business, you’ll need to complete this thoroughly.

Branding and Marketing

You know what’s worse than throwing a party that nobody comes to?

Starting a business that nobody hires.

If you want to get your business seen and considered by potential clients, branding and marketing are essential.

Fortunately, branding and marketing your paralegal business is going to look a lot like branding and marketing a law firm. Feel free to consult our free Masterclass on law firm marketing eBook if you want to learn the ins and outs of that side of the business.

These days, much of your branding and marketing work can be done online.

Here are just a few of the tasks you can handle quickly and easily (and without having to hire a marketing consultant):

  • Brand strategy: you can find free brand strategy templates all over the internet. Take a look at several and then pick the one that works best for you.
  • Aesthetics: even if you have very limited art and design skills, you can create your own logo, business cards, and stationary using one of several online tools.
  • Social media: venues like Facebook, Instagram, and LinkedIn are all wonderful and cost-effective places to get your business in front of the masses.

Operations and Administration

Once you have established your business plan, branding, and marketing strategy, you’ll want to give some thought to operations and administration.

Even if you decide to start from a home office, for example, you’ll need to consider things like computer equipment and software, accounting and bookkeeping systems, vendor relationships with eFiling services, and the like.

You’ll also need to develop client intake methods, communication channels, filing systems, and file sharing capabilities that will allow you to provide excellent customer service.

Keep in mind that operations and administration issues are ongoing. In fact, there are several operational functions that you’ll want to give attention to on a weekly basis.

Starting an independent paralegal business can be a rewarding and lucrative career path. Nonetheless, it requires careful planning, research, and execution. Remember to stay adaptable and agile as you build your business. Don’t hesitate to seek out mentors or ask former colleagues for support as needed. With hard work and dedication, you’ll quickly build a thriving business that meets the legal needs of your clients while freeing you from the constraints of law firm life. Good luck!


  • Jennifer Anderson

    Jennifer Anderson is the founder of Attorney To Author, where she helps legal professionals bring their book projects to life. She was a California attorney for nearly two decades before becoming a freelance writer, marketing/branding consultant, ghostwriter, and writing coach. Her upcoming book, Breaking Out of Writer's Block, Exercises and inspirations for getting the words out of your head and onto the page, is due out in September 2023.

    View all posts

Our recommendations

Follow InfoTrack