Paralegal Teacher Jackie Van Dyke Explains Why and How to Pay Attention to the Market

June 13, 2022
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In today’s episode, we have Jackie Van Dyke with us and she is going to talk about how paying attention to the market turned her paralegal writing business into a major success.

You will also get to hear how she created a simple email course that completely took off, why you should hone in on a specific need for your audience, and why you should focus on the customer first before anything else.

Facebook: theparalegalwriter
Twitter: dcParalegal2013
Instagram: theparalegalwriter
LinkedIn: jackie-van-dyke


In this episode, you will hear...

… Jackie’s story on how she became a successful paralegal writer and how she used her expertise to help others do the same.

… how paying attention to the market turned her paralegal writing business into a major success.

… how Jackie created a simple email course that completely took off.

… why you should hone in on a specific need for your audience.

… why you should focus on the customer first before anything else.

… how course creators can use student feedback to refine their course material.

… the downside of focusing too much on the production of your online courses. 

… Jackie advises new course creators to consider the commitment your business will require from them.

… applicable tips on determining and adjusting your course price points.



Jeremy Deighan
Hey, everyone, thanks for checking out the podcast today. I have our guest with us, Jackie Van Dyke, from The Paralegal Writer. And I'm excited to hear all about your story, and how you've been able to take it online and just help people with their paralegal writing needs.

Jackie Van Dyke
Hello, and thank you for having me on your show today, Jeremy.

Jeremy Deighan
Yeah, definitely. Thank you for being here, Jackie. Great to have you here.

If you could just maybe take a moment and let us know a little bit about you and what you were doing before you got into online business. And then how did you get to doing online business and creating courses?

Jackie Van Dyke
Yes. So thanks again. I have been a paralegal for about 28 years, actually. And I also have a second career of teaching. Once I got my master's degree in Paralegal Studies, I was able to teach at the university level, which I also absolutely love as a way of engaging with paralegal students.

And so I've been doing both or I was doing both of these paths for a number of years, and then decided, "Okay, maybe I could just go out on my own and try this," really not knowing what to expect.

But I did know that I had invested a lot of time in the industry. I had networked a lot. I knew a lot of people and had recognized that paralegals were at all levels were struggling with their writing, whether they were brand new to the field or seasoned paralegals.

Everyone had some issues with legal writing. It's sort of a beast of its own. So about two years ago, that's when I decided to go out on my own and start some online courses to see what would happen.

Jeremy Deighan
Awesome. Yeah. And I'm excited to dive into that story and hear how it brought you to that. So when you talk about paralegal writing, can you explain that a little bit for me and for the listeners? What all does that entail?

Jackie Van Dyke
When I say paralegal writing, I mean writing that you're doing in a law firm. You're preparing documents for your supervising attorney, you're preparing documents to present to the court, you may be interviewing a client, and then writing a summary of those details, to hand off to your attorney.

So it's very precise. We have what we call citations. So if you're referring to a case that has previously occurred, you've got to know how to cite that, how to write that specifically within the context of your document. So it's concise, exact and very precise. And I think that's what sort of causes the anxiety a lot of the time.

Jeremy Deighan
Yeah, it seems like a skill that you would definitely have to be good and passionate about. I've read legal documents before and I struggle with it. So, kudos to you to be able to teach people how to write these documents. That's a very unique skill to have.

Now, you said you started doing this paralegal studies yourself. And then you begin teaching at the university level. Were you teaching the same concepts when you were at university?

Jackie Van Dyke
Yes, I actually still teach part time at both George Washington University on the East Coast and University of San Diego on the West Coast. Very fortunate to have remote positions. And at both places I teach legal writing.

Jeremy Deighan
Okay, cool. I want to ask you a couple questions about that. Because on this podcast, I get to interview people who come from many different places in life and different directions.

And you know, everyone who has created an online course or is some type in the online course space. And some people I get to interview like yourself actually had the opportunity to teach at universities, other people teach online courses and they've never taught in a classroom or university setting.

So would you say that there are some things that have helped you out teaching at university that you were able to use when you started teaching in these online courses?

Jackie Van Dyke
Yes, I think for one thing, I believe that teaching at the university gave me a level of credibility. So that when I went out into the online market, for those who may not know me, that's a part of my bio, that's who I am.

So you have a proven track record. You're comfortable with students, you help them through their issues before you go into this totally remote online presence. So I think it's definitely been a help.

Jeremy Deighan
Yeah, that's pretty awesome. I feel like there are some things that you would pick up teaching in person in a classroom or even remotely, you know, with students and having that direct feedback that you would be able to translate into your course.

Not everyone gets that opportunity. And like you said, that's pretty cool that you do have a level of credibility that you're a university teacher, and that just kind of amplifies your position right away. So that's really neat.

Okay, so you are teaching at the university, you're doing this work. And then two years ago, you decide, "Okay, I'm going to go out on my own. And I'm going to start teaching the writing," which was a knee that you saw people had.

So what did that look like in the early stages? How did you transition from doing this work, and to going out on your own and doing this work?

Jackie Van Dyke
I'm very active online, in a number of platforms. And there are a couple of very large paralegal Facebook groups that I had participated in for a long time.

And I watched a trend of comments and paralegals of all levels, saying, you know, they were frustrated, they didn't feel they either got much help in the classroom with their writing, or the professor was unavailable, or they were preparing for a writing certification exam and they were scared.

Others were posting that they had failed the writing exam a few times and just didn't know where to go. So I have watched that for several years. And I decided, "Okay, I think it's time that I leave my day job," keep the teaching, because that I really enjoy and start teaching the classes myself.

And having no idea, you know, if it was going to catch on, other than seeing a real niche, right? Seeing these repetitive comments for several years made me think, "kay, I can do this, I know what they want. I know what they're asking for. Let's just put these lessons together and throw them out there."

Jeremy Deighan
Awesome. Yes, it's really great that you say that, that you were doing essentially market research, whether you were aware of it at the time or not.

That's something that people need to take away from this interview is to make sure that you're paying attention to the market. If you don't know what to talk about, or what to teach in your course, maybe know the subject.

But as you can see, Jackie here was paying attention to what was happening in the market and saw a need, and was able to fulfill that need. And so that's really great that you are doing that.

I recommend anyone to get in Facebook groups, forums, anywhere where people are conversating, and try to see what they're asking for and then fulfill on that. And I think that's really cool that you did that.

So you are like, "I know this information. I know I can help these people. I know what they're asking. And I have the answers." So what did you do? Did you start putting together an outline or curriculum? Or did you just start recording videos? Or what did that process look like?

Jackie Van Dyke
So I felt that the personalization, the one on one, is what is what my students like, I found this in the classroom as well. If I would have live office hours, they would come where they could ask questions, see my face, I could see their face, we could develop, you know, a rapport.

I would provide detailed feedback. And so I wanted to transition those same things to my course. So I basically started out simply using email. I opened a Facebook group and invited everyone that I knew to come into the Facebook group and started polling them asking them.

You know, what do you want to talk about? What courses would you like to see? And they gave me suggestions. You know, they wanted everything from vocabulary to how to write a case brief to how to write a memo was the biggest request or the largest requests that I got.

And so I simply put together some fictional scenarios and got all of my textbooks out, kind of looked at previous lesson plans I had done and put some together and created a price point that I thought would work and simply offered everything via email, which was quite labor intensive at the beginning.

Jeremy Deighan
So when you say that you are providing everything through email, does that mean that the course itself is through email?

Jackie Van Dyke
Yes, I would. I set up a website, obviously, then had to get, you know, the pay funnel in there. So you got to pick Stripe or PayPal, whatever you're going to use. And then I could lead everyone to the website, have a summary of the class, and then they can pay for the course.

And then I would get notified in my email inbox. And then I would send out the weekly lessons, I created live zoom q&a's each week. And it just took off. So now two years into this, I'm just now in the process of beginning to record the lessons and move them onto a platform.

So students can take it anytime they want, instead of the designated times that I'm available. So it's really exciting.

Jeremy Deighan
This is amazing. I have a couple of things I want to ask you. But I feel like you're doing a lot of the right steps. You didn't focus on production. And, you know, what camera and how you were going to film these and how you're going to pick a platform.

You said, you know, "Look, I can teach us an email." Email is easy, it's simple, for the most part to get set up. And "you're gonna set up a simple website with a summary, a payment gateway, and off to the races you go." And you were able to start helping people and making money.

And I think that that's so brilliant and so much needed in this industry, because so many people get hung up on production, lighting, cameras, recording, editing, and it really hinders them over time.

And I feel like you just took a lot of the right steps. The first question I have for you is, was anyone helping you with this? Or were you just kind of figuring this out as you went along?

Jackie Van Dyke
I totally did it myself, just trial and error. I think the key was that, you know, I had thought about this for a while, right? I had followed it intensely for a couple of years at least.

So I I knew a lot of people. I know a lot of people in the industry. That's probably my biggest success, or reason for success is networking, helping others, you know, for years in the industry. Being recognized as an expert in what I do.

And then honing in on a specific need. And I just, yeah, everyday got up and created those email chains. And I did hire someone to help me with my website, because I'm not a tech person. I can write legal content all day long. But when it comes to troubleshooting the tech part, that is not me.

Jeremy Deighan
Yeah, I want to ask you about that website in just a moment, too. Before I do, though, you mentioned that, you know, the email did take a little bit of setup, obviously, you have to write the emails and you have to make sure everything's working correctly.

Is there an amount of emails that this course entails? Like if you went and looked at your email automation right now, do you know how many emails that your course goes through?

Jackie Van Dyke
Oh, gosh, I'm embarrassed to say that I don't really know. But I guess at the beginning, my goal was to help paralegals succeed. Whether it was to get a promotion, so they needed to be a better writer, or they wanted to pass a certification exam, and they needed to know how to write a memo and maybe in their everyday job, that's not what they do.

So my focus was on helping my customer rather than all kinds of these other things, which are important. And now two years in, I'm overwhelmed with, you know, 600 emails a day. Maybe that's the answer, actually, to your question.

You know, now it's gotten so big that I have to somewhat quickly get those, you know, other pieces in place. There's something to say for focusing on the customer first, for me, it wasn't about the money. It was about helping other paralegals become as successful as I had been.

Jeremy Deighan
I'm very customer centric. Anyone who listens to the podcast or any of my trainings know that I always say, "It starts with the customer." And everything else will follow if you just focus on getting that customer results. So I love that you feel the same way.

This is a really great way of going about this that I feel like a lot of people can take a lot of great information from. I know that when you're starting out, some of these things can be a little complicated figuring out how email works, setting up the software, writing the emails, you know, getting the website built, setting up the payment gateway.

But once you have that built, the foundation is there, and you can build on to that. And so it sounds like you kind of went to a more simplified approach that just really got you to a much quicker place of being able to help people and growing this business. Would you agree with that?

Jackie Van Dyke
Yes, for example, the first two or three times I went through, like a memo course may be four weeks long, it's short and intense. And so by the second or third time through, I realized maybe one memo was catching on with everyone more than another.

And so maybe I would edit, right? Or I would throw that one out and try a new scenario. And just trial and error. And feedback I got from my students helped me to sort of then hone in on beginning to save some of the material, which now I it repeats, you know, every four weeks, I repeat the same material, so it becomes less time intensive.

Jeremy Deighan
So you said that when you polled people, you were asking them questions, I think that's brilliant. I think people should be talking more to their audience, surveing them, asking them questions, taking polls and Facebook groups to find out what they're interested in.

And you noticed that through the writing, that writing a memo was actually the main thing that people wanted to learn. So you honed in on that skill. You said, "I'm going to teach this."

And you have this method, the IRAC, would you take a moment just to talk about that when it comes to writing a memo?

Jackie Van Dyke
Yes, we call it IRAC, that's how we refer to it. And that stands for issue, rule, analysis and conclusion.

Jackie Van Dyke
So basically, this concept or this format, can be followed in almost any law office. Most law firms recognize this term, it's a very simple way to break up your material.

You're going to identify your legal issue, then you're going to provide the rule, which is usually case law or you know, legal codes.

And then you're going to do your analysis, and that's where the writing really comes in for appearing a an intense or I should say comprehensive explanation for your supervising attorney. "Here's what the case law says. Here's our clients situation, here's how we should proceed with our case."

And then conclusion, a brief summary of you know what you've just said. And so we repeat this process every week with a different scenario. And soon the students become more confident in their writing, simply by the repetition.

You can take any scenario, it could be a fraud case, an arson case, a criminal case, and follow that same process of putting it on paper. And you're good.

Jeremy Deighan
Yeah, this is really cool. I like the format of using, you know, using a system like this. I think it's easy to remember for people, and I'm just thinking about the listeners out there right now who are listening to this podcast.

If you could come up with some kind of framework like this, that's repeatable. And then maybe that could spark some ideas for you to test them with different scenarios, whatever you're teaching, whether it be marketing or graphic design or how to play an instrument or anything like that.

I really like when you have these kinds of frameworks set up like this, because I feel like it's just easier for a student to understand than just a bunch of information, don't you think?

Jackie Van Dyke
Yes, it definitely is. And even though legal writing itself, we talked about how exact it can be. And even though it's intimidating to beginners. And I think if you have a process, right? And all the information is going to fit in one of these boxes.

Even those those that come into my class, totally scared, or totally no confidence at all, you know, "I've tried this a couple times, I can't do it. I've never been a writer." I said, "Yes, you can do it. It just takes practice and commitment."

So that's why I hold the live classes every week. You know, you can't make people come to your live sessions. But I explained to them that that discussion time is truly probably one of the most important parts of learning.

We learn from one another, we learn from each other's questions, you know, you'll have examples on the screen, don't sit in the corner and try to figure it out by yourself. It doesn't work like that.

Jeremy Deighan
Yeah, you have to have the educational part, you know, where you're actually teaching them. And then you have to have application where you're actually getting them to do the assignment or do something that's going to show them how to apply the educational material that you just taught them.

But accountability is such a big thing in education and training. And I feel like the people who have some kind of community or group coaching or one on one coaching are like you said, office hours.

I love the office hours concept taken from schools. I've never thought about applying that. But yeah, having, you know, open door policies or office hour policies, I think is really cool. Because it gives students a way to come, make sure that they're on the right track.

You get to keep up with them to make sure that they understand the information and having those conversations with them as the instructor, you are going to realize where they're getting stuck and what maybe you can improve on in the education going forward. Would you agree with that?

Jackie Van Dyke
Yes, absolutely.

Jeremy Deighan
Very cool. So the past couple years, you set this up. You said it really took off. What were some of the maybe the mistakes or some of the harder parts of setting up this business?

Thinking about the person who's just creating their first online course? Or maybe they haven't started yet. What would be some of the things that you would tell that person to watch out for, or maybe something that you would have liked to have done a little better when you were just beginning?

Jackie Van Dyke
Really be careful of the time that you have to commit. Why are you doing it in the first place? And then if you're going to go ahead with it, make sure that you've planned out your schedule, because if you say you're going to be there, then you have to be there.

I'm available two or three nights a week. And often, that's not really what I want to do in the evening. But that's what I started out doing. And I found that that's what works. My customers are working during the day, they're trying to improve their lives in the evening, taking a course.

And so until I can sort of transition them all into maybe realizing that a video is just as good as me in person. Or maybe me only coming online a couple times a month live, I think I would say it's definitely commitment.

If you're going to put something out there, you've got to stick with it. And you've got to stick with it for a while to see if it's going to work. And then obviously, if you need to make some changes, we all do. But I think the commitment.

And then I think another thing is determining your price point. My price point on my courses is very kind of up and down a little bit. And that's one thing, I guess because I didn't see this out there anywhere else when I started. Maybe I didn't do enough of homework to really gauge how to price it out. Now I'm getting more comfortable at it.

Jeremy Deighan
Okay, yeah. Do you have any tips when it comes to pricing your course? This is a question I get asked a lot is, you know, "How do you price a course?"

So now that you've had a little time to research and reflect on your price, do you have any suggestions on how someone could price their online course?

Jackie Van Dyke
Like you said, you've got to do your market research, right? Go on and see what others are doing. Make sure you're connecting with people that are in the same industry as you. Maybe not doing exactly what you do but have the same level of experience.

LinkedIn is a great place to go for that and see if they're offering a course and what that includes go check them out. Maybe even take one, right? Take a class.

For me, I know what paralegals make because I've worked in the industry. So they don't get paid what the attorneys get paid, you know? A month long course is going to be very helpful. But it can't be their whole paycheck, right? They've got families, they've got school costs and everything.

So I priced mine fairly low. But for me, it was okay, because I got the customer, Sam. And it showed me that this is what they need. Now that I fine tuned it, I can begin to charge more.

Jeremy Deighan
Okay, awesome. Yeah, that makes a lot sense. And, you know, people feel like once they pick a price, or they record their course that it's set in stone, it never is. You can always adjust and change as needed. So I appreciate you saying all of that, that makes a lot of sense.

What about getting people into your course? So you've had a little bit of time now, you said, you know, when you first started, you were a professional in the field, and you already knew some people.

And now that time has gone on? Have you found any strategies for marketing or for getting traffic to your course to be more beneficial than others?

Jackie Van Dyke
Truly, for me, word of mouth has been key. I get almost all of my customers from referrals, I will see online, they'll say, "II took Jackie's course, it's awesome. You've got to sign up." I'm like, "Oh, thank you!"

And I always try to go in and respond and thank those who are promoting what I'm offering, it's truly important. And I do run ads in a couple of paralegal publications. But most of my I would say 95% of my customers come from word of mouth or referral.

Jeremy Deighan
What do you think is it about your course that makes people want to talk about it, or to spread it to other people?

Jackie Van Dyke
A couple of things. One, I think, is the personalization. So if they want to turn their memo into me, if they want to email it to me and ask me to sort of mark it up for them, I will do that. And, you know, some weeks I've had 50 of those to do, it's very time consuming.

But that was my goal is to help them be better writers. So I think that personal time that I take with somebody, I think also those weekly sessions, when I show up, and, you know, they see that I'm interested in their success, I think that makes a difference.

I listen to them, you know, it's actually a hands on process. And that's what I have to make sure that I can maintain in some sense when I moved these courses online.

Jeremy Deighan
Well, it sounds like the big takeaway here is that if you are there for the student, you're helping the student, you're getting them results, you're doing the most that you can to make sure that they are seeing their success, then they will be more than happy to refer to you.

And that just builds like a wildfire. And I think it's really amazing what you've done so far, I think that you've made some really great decisions to not having, you know, anyone teach you along the way for you to figure out some of these things.

As far as you know, paying attention to the market, just getting the course out there. Helping people out, I feel like you've done a tremendous job.

Thinking about the the beginner, the first time course creator out there. What would be your biggest piece of advice for them going forward?

Jackie Van Dyke
Do what you're passionate about, do what you know, and commit. Let's try it. Maybe set a short term goal, maybe it's, "I'm gonna do this for six months," and see what happens. Or "I'm gonna commit to a year."

And you're gonna have ups and downs, I still do myself, but I also have some very rewarding days. You know, when a student comes back to me for a third class, I'm like, thrilled, right? So I think it's, you know, following your passion once you know what it is you're going to do and give it time to succeed.

Jeremy Deighan
I love that. That's some great information there, Jackie. I really appreciate it. And just thinking about your business, it's always great to ask questions and hear how you can help other people listening to the podcast.

But I want to ask you a personal question. Where do you see your business in the next couple years or five years or 10 years from now? What would you like to have done?

Jackie Van Dyke
I would like to see my courses all on a platform where students can access them at any time, perhaps doing some live videos still, but pretty much evergreen and just running themselves.

Jeremy Deighan
Yeah, that sounds like a main part of your business. And I think it's such a great add on for people. And a neat thing about that is when you're giving a little more of your time, you can also provide more value for people, you can help people much more in return.

They can compensate you more, which is a side benefit of that too. But like you said, just the fact that you're out there and you're focusing on helping people, helping the students getting them results is just absolutely fantastic.

And I just hope you have a lot of success in the future going forward. If anyone wanted to find out more about you and your business and was interested in any kind of paralegal writing or anything that you had going on, where can they go and find you online?

Jackie Van Dyke
So I have a website called Paralegals Write. It's I'm on LinkedIn as Jackie Van Dyke. I have a Facebook group called "Paralegals Write." Any of those places.

My email is So you can email me and I can direct you to where the courses are described. And I'd love to help you if you have something in the legal realm that you need help with, or a law firm that wants to maybe have a group of their paralegals, get some training. I'm here for you. So we'd love to hear from you.

Jeremy Deighan
Awesome. Well, we will make sure that we link up all of those in the show notes of this episode. So if anyone wants to check out Jackie, you can go to the show notes, and click on all those links and go see what she's got going on.

Thank you so much for being on the interview today. Giving us your time and your knowledge. I feel like you have taken a lot of great steps. And I hope that the listeners who are paying attention to this podcast today, take away a lot of these great golden nuggets that you've given us and just all the value you have provided.

Thank you for being on the show. It's been a pleasure having you.

Jackie Van Dyke
Thank you very much, Jeremy, it was my pleasure to talk with you.

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