Should You Be a Contract Paralegal?

You’ve heard the buzz. “Become a contract paralegal and work for yourself.” The internet is practically daring you to use its technology so you can decide when to work, where to work, and for whom to work.

Sounds good, right?

And it is good for many paralegals but becoming a successful contract paralegal requires more than just a laptop and broadband connection. If the idea of becoming a contract paralegal appeals to you, this article can help you figure out whether you’ve got the skills and aptitude for it, and provide valuable tips to help get you started.

What is a contract paralegal?

Let’s clarify the difference between a contract paralegal and a similar sounding but distinctly different role: independent paralegal. Here’s what defines each:


Contract Paralegal

An individual who performs substantive legal work for law firms or corporations, or other entities but is self-employed. (Also known as a freelance paralegal.)

Source: California Alliance of Paralegal Associations

Independent Paralegal

A non-attorney who provides legal document preparation services to the public and may be referred to as a legal document preparer or forms practitioner.

Source: Paralegal Alliance

As the definitions above note, the contract paralegal contracts with law firms. Their work is reviewed by the contracting attorney, who is likewise responsible for whatever work the contract paralegal has done.

An independent paralegal does not work under the supervision of an attorney.

Why become a contract paralegal?

Why become a contract paralegal?

Some opt for contract work because they want control over whether they work full-time, part-time, or just enough hours for the work to be a side hustle. For others, controlling whether they can work a flexible schedule in a home office is what draws them to this role.

Still others may like the idea of becoming a contract paralegal because they feel fed up with the stress of the law firm grind and want to protect their personal wellness. Doing contract work can also give them an opportunity to walk away from traditional employment and explore other areas of specialization, or routinely change work environments.

While becoming a contract paralegal can open the door to a more worker-friendly setting, perhaps the greatest benefit is that it offers those with an entrepreneurial bent a platform for becoming their own boss and a business owner.

(Almost) everyone is doing it

(Almost) everyone is doing it.

Many experienced legal professionals have—at some point—felt tempted to leave the conventional workforce and strike out on their own. In fact, according to a recent survey, nearly one-third of employees polled indicated they left their jobs specifically to start a business.

Online technology makes it easier than ever for talented paralegals to do this because it equips them with resources only the deep pockets of established companies could once afford, such as:

  • Free professional websites from providers such as WordPress and Wix.
  • Free marketing on LinkedIn, Facebook, and other platforms.
  • Fast paperless payment via online payment platforms that handle business payables and receivables digitally.
  • Billable work that can be performed online through a litigation support service provider’s portal including, eFiling, service of process, document retrieval, and more. The portal allows paralegals to access the tools and data they need to perform these tasks from anywhere Internet access is available.
You’re a good deal for law firms

You’re a good deal for law firms

It’s fair to say that in some cases contract paralegals may help a law firm run leaner. The firm simply pays the contract paralegal an agreed upon wage and doesn’t have to bother with the additional cost of a benefits package, payroll taxes, or equipment and workspace.

In contrast, the expense of recruiting and onboarding a traditional hire can amount to a costly game of roulette, averaging about $4,700 in 2022.

That’s $4,700 paid for each new hire, regardless of whether the employee flops after two days or stays until retirement.

The expense of employer-paid taxes and employee benefits also inflates the cost of hiring a traditional, office-based paralegal. Those “hidden” payroll expenses can increase the all-in price tag to 1.25 to 1.4 times the employee’s salary.

Through the eyes of a law firm’s CFO here’s how that looks:

Hiring a paralegal as a full-time employee at an annual salary of $70,000
will actually cost a firm a benefitted salary of $87,500 to $98,000

Speaking of money

Speaking of money

California has more paralegal jobs than any other state. The salary range can vary widely depending on factors that include practice specialty, firm size, and professional experience.

According to, the average hourly wage for a contract paralegal in California is $34.15 per hour. Narrowing the focus to specific metropolitan areas, we see the average hourly wage in San Francisco is $38.50; in Los Angeles $34.56; in San Diego $33.75; and in San Bernardino $31.64.

Those figures offer an incomplete picture of actual earnings for contract paralegals working in the state, however, and don’t account for what experienced, highly-skilled paralegals can earn.

For example, one veteran California paralegal reportedly began her contract with a firm charging $75.00 per hour for probate work. That figure soon rose to $115.00 per hour.

The key to finding such lofty earnings, it seems, is to find a niche where you’ll be paid for your subject matter expertise.

Is your process server fumbling your legal documents?
Is your process server fumbling your legal documents?

Test yourself

By now you may be feeling pretty good about becoming a contract paralegal. However, before you turn in your resignation and hang your shingle, make sure you can check the following boxes.

Can you live without employer-sponsored benefits?

Some of the most affordable non-employer sponsored insurance programs are HMOs or programs with only a limited number of physicians that may not include your primary care provider.

Are you entrepreneurial?

Unless a throng of law firms is already knocking at your door, you’ll most likely need to market yourself to pull in leads and close business. Most successful entrepreneurs are also competent networkers, so if you’re a wallflower or an introvert consider whether those traits may hold you back.

Are you a good administrator?

You’ll have to pay self-employment taxes and track expenses, so good follow-up and follow-through is a must. You can outsource these tasks to a bookkeeper or accountant but doing so will cut into your earnings.

Can you prove your value to an attorney?

You may think you’re being productive, but you’ll need to prove it. Finding that proof may mean you have to examine invoice data and crunch the numbers to determine how your presence has increased the firm’s billing.

Can you build rapport with the law firm staff?

A full spectrum of personalities inhabits the legal profession. A successful contract paralegal must be prepared to work with them all – at the office and from home.

Are you up to speed with the technologies law firms use?

Regardless of whether it’s trial presentation software or office management software, your skills must be sharp, and you must understand the practice’s preferred tech stack. Remember, part of the contract paralegal’s appeal is that they should require minimal training.

Who’s on your litigation support service provider shortlist?

Be sure you have a vendor that can provide customer and court references. Your preferred vendor should also provide eFiling in every California court that offers eFiling in addition to the electronic and physical services you need most from a single customer portal. You’ll also need to know how to interview a vendor for eFiling and service of process.

Find your gig

Find your gig

Once you make the transition to contract work, you’ll want to fill your client book quickly. Niche practice areas can help you do that because they offer some of the best opportunities for skilled contract paralegals. Here are several areas to target:

Litigation: A successful contract paralegal in the litigation setting may be one who can write specific types of pleadings or who excels at drafting motions.

Estate planning: Many estate planning attorneys prefer to outsource probates to contract paralegals because they are time-consuming. And, oftentimes, the attorney’s staff does not have the training to complete probates properly. Therefore, contract paralegals who are particularly good at probate-related work may find opportunities in this specialty.

Small firms or solo practitioners: Smaller law offices simply may not have the resources to hire a full-time paralegal. But, by having you handle overflow or administrative tasks, you free up the attorney’s time to devote to billable hours.

Real Property Law: You’re unlikely to become bored in real property law. This type of practice requires many different tasks associated with due diligence and often demands interaction with multiple parties. It is fast-paced and can demand long hours as well as weekend work to close transactions on schedule.

Weekends and evenings: Being able to work outside of regular office hours may give you a leg up as a contract paralegal. This type of schedule flexibility may make you attractive especially to law firms that work on deadline-driven projects such as mergers and acquisitions, real property law, and government projects.

Get your wings

Get your wings

Still wondering whether becoming a contract paralegal is the right move? There’s only one way to know whether the idea will fly.

But, before you cut the cord as a fully employed paralegal, assess your suitability carefully. If you have lingering questions or difficulty finding answers, approach your peers at association meetings or look to professional organizations that serve paralegals.

California has the largest court system in the country, which means that if you’re determined to find your own success as a contract paralegal, you’ve come to the right place.