Lawyers: How to Utilize a Virtual Assistant in Your Practice

In my last post, I talked about how important freelance talent is for firms in this changing legal and business market. The logical question everyone asks next is “Great, but HOW do I find a virtual assistant?” When you are accustomed to having a legal secretary or legal assistant outside your door, or, perhaps a case managing secretary in another office, how do you even begin to decide how to approach a freelancer? And what about confidentiality?

Let’s get that last question resolved off the top. If you have contracted your freelancer, they are covered by the same confidentiality rules as the assistant outside your door. Think of them like your offsite document production and deposition vendors. Additionally, confidentiality clauses are an easy addition to freelance contracts, if they are not already present. A qualified and effective virtual professional will maintain firewalls, establish and maintain security protocols, and have an established procedure for handling confidential and sensitive information. They will discuss these protocols with you.

A reputable freelancer can save your practice over 60% of the cost of an employee

If you have not contracted one, the American Bar Association recommends that a practice use the same standards you would use to hire an employee when you hire a freelancer. A reputable freelancer can save your practice over 60% of the cost of an employee — you only pay for the hours they use, and there is no overhead for benefits, taxes or even office space — but they have the same skill sets and bring the same, or greater, talent and experience that an employee does.

The most important thing to remember is to be honest and forthright about your needs and expectations. If you demand a freelancer be on call 40 hours a week — you are getting, and paying for, a telecommuting employee whether you use all 40 hours or not. What you may really need is someone to manage your invoicing a couple days a month, or someone available for a large, time sensitive project.

A word of caution: This is not the place to micro manage. A virtual professional is first and foremost a professional; they get things done and they do so with integrity and transparency. If you do not trust your assistants readily, or want to govern their hours and availability — you are losing all the benefits of a virtual assistant. A good freelancer will be open and honest about their billing practices, hours, availability, and capabilities.

Be willing to discuss your needs

Above all your virtual assistant is your partner, they may be freelance, but they are a part of your team. Communication and teamwork is key. Be willing to discuss your needs with a virtual professional if you are not entirely sure what you might want. A quality professional is a teammate to help you succeed. They will work with you to find solutions, and bring order to your chaos. Flexibility and agility is the theme here.

A freelancer provides you the opportunity to save money and create time in your day while reducing time spent on your non-billable hours. Finding the right virtual professional is as simple as asking around and turning on your computer. Ask your attorney coach or legal staffing recruiter first — just as you would when hiring for a permanent staff position; a personal referral from someone who knows you and your preferences is a great way to get the best assistant for your practice.

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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. http://www.pacuska.com/