Law firms: Why you need more staff, and why a freelancer is the solution

After 15 years at law firms, I’ve seen every type of work cycle, from the busy-slowdown-busy, to always busy, to busy-CRAZY BUSY-busy. And everyone knows it’s not just the attorneys that go flat out on all of that work, it’s the supporting legal staff of secretaries, assistants and paralegals, too.

Staffing is Expensive

You’re just getting busier. While the National Center for State Courts shows a 16% drop in cases filed in court from 2008–2016, there has been an increase in cases resolved in confidential venues, in particular via arbitration, and Major, Lindsay & Africa’s 2018 Industry Outlook Report indicated the legal industry is getting more complex and that firms and clients are going in house more often. Moreover, Robert Half’s 2018 Legal Staffing Guide indicates that attrition rates for staff continue to rise. That means your firm is constantly trying to do more with less relative resources, and you must do so in heavy competition with other firms under highly unpredictable circumstances with firms and clients under pressure to keep costs and staffing down

Staffing is expensive, there’s no way around it. You want to tap into a pool of the best legal staff, competing with all the other firms, and in house teams, in the region, and you need to watch your bottom line. The 2017 national average starting salary for a highly-qualified legal assistant was $74,000 — $85,000, while a hybrid paralegal/legal assistant with the same experience will run you slightly higher, from $74,500 — $89,750, and that doesn’t include cost of full time benefits. If you’re near a major metropolitan area, such as Washington, DC or New York City, you can add as much as 40% to that starting point. Go into corporate and those salaries can get even higher.

Maybe you’re lucky enough to be at a firm that can push up support salaries and benefits and win the bidding war for talent, but likely you are making do with current staffing levels and hoping against the trends that billable hours cover staff overtime. To compound the problem, Clio’s 2017 Legal Trends Report on average of 30% of attorney time is not billable and 48% of those non-billable hours consists of administrative tasks. An additional 33% is practice development.

30% of attorney time is not billable and 48% of those non-billable hours consists of administrative tasks.

That’s where freelancers come in. Smart use of freelance talent is not only a cost-effective solution for the busy periods, large-scale cases, and for clearing out administrative overhead while you focus on your practice, but it is also the future; Major Lindsay’s report shows that hybrid staffing utilizing contract attorneys and freelance staff is increasingly the solution to industry challenges. Freelance talent is also the solution to find the niche skills, flexible high quality talent for specific projects, and availability to respond to those potential clients (67% according to Clio) who want a fast response to the very first email or phone call they send you.

Virtual professional legal services are the smart, cost-effective answer

There’s a growing pool of freelance talent to achieve these goals. Between 2014 and 2017 the use of freelance professionals grew by 8.1% versus a 2.5% growth in the overall employment market. Much of this is in small-scale virtual jobs, such as selling crafts and products, or as generalized virtual assistants, but there is a solid professional services segment with focused niches, one of which is general and specialized legal work.

Virtual professional legal services are the smart, cost-effective answer to your workload challenges, allowing you to focus on your practice, recapture those non-billable hours and reduce your distractions. Contact me to know more about the professional services available to you.

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Alison Pacuska is the President of Pacuska Professional Services, a boutique consulting firm focused on top-tier administrative and legal assistant services with a focus in Intellectual Property. Ask her how she can help you make order from chaos.