Most law firms spend the majority of their time on administrative tasks, many of which are not included in billable hours. On top of that, they need to follow up with clients, negotiate settlements, manage the office and staff, and more. An assistant is a helpful addition to minimize the workload, but that can be expensive for small firms or ones just starting out. Virtual legal assistants are a viable alternative that can help a law firm increase efficiencies, provide a more client-centered experience, and free the lawyers’ time to practice law.
What Is a Virtual Legal Assistant?
A legal virtual assistant is a skilled professional who works for a law firm from just about anywhere in the world. Legal virtual assistants may provide services like:
Legal research and writing
Legal data entry
All of these tasks can add up, leaving legal professionals with no time to focus on running or managing their own firm.
What Are the Pros and Cons of a Virtual Legal Assistant?
Working with virtual legal assistants instead of in-office staff can dramatically increase the firm’s efficiency.
Here are some pros of a virtual assistant:
Customizable to the firm’s needs
Less expensive than hiring a full-time or part-time in-office assistant
Relief of administrative burdens like setting up and confirming appointments, sending out reminders, answering phones, managing social media, or transcription
Lawyers and law firms are relying more and more on virtual assistants, but there are some cons law firms should consider. There are a lot of virtual assistant companies available, and it’s important for firms to research the options thoroughly to find the right fit.
Working with a virtual assistant is a new experience as well, so it may take some time for everyone to get the routine down. This is especially true of firms that hire a variety of virtual assistants to take on different roles.
Like an in-office assistant, a virtual assistant needs clear communication and expectations to succeed. Just because they aren’t in the office doesn’t mean they shouldn’t be treated like the rest of the staff.
When Should My Firm Hire a Virtual Legal Assistant?
The decision to hire a virtual assistant is up to the law firm. There are some instances in which the workload is getting to be too much for the firm to handle, and that’s a sign that it may be time to consider options for virtual assistants.
The Law Firm Spends Too Much Time on Administrative Tasks
Working on administrative tasks is a necessary part of running a law firm, but a lot of time may be wasted on email correspondence, appointment scheduling, billing, and more. If this is the case, it may be time for a law firm to hire a virtual assistant
The Current Staff Has Skills Gaps
Small firms or firms that are just starting out may not have the full staff they need to excel (yet). If a firm has significant skills gaps, a legal virtual assistant can offer expert help. Legal virtual assistants may provide services like accounting and bookkeeping, tax preparation, marketing, and more, all tailored to a law firm’s processes,
The Staff Has No Work-Life Balance
A law firm with a team working around the clock, missing out on valuable personal time or family time is a fast track to burnout. A virtual assistant can take on a lot of administrative burdens, freeing staff members to enjoy more balance – and less conflict – in their lives.
Before hiring a virtual assistant, here are some things law firms should consider:
Is the workload enough for an assistant?
Does a virtual assistant’s pay fit into the current budget?
Can the firm’s current staff delegate effectively?
How Can My Firm Hire a Virtual Legal Assistant?
Law firms have the option of hiring a virtual legal assistant through a dedicated company or through individuals. Just like in-person office staff, it’s important for law firms to set up a thorough hiring process to find the right fit.
Law firms should:
Consider the important qualities of a virtual assistant, including adaptability, availability, personality, communication skills, project management skills, legal research skills, and experience in a particular practice area.
Determine the services the firm needs, including document management, billing, reporting, accounting, or marketing.
There are many avenues to find legal virtual assistants, such as:
Virtual Assistant Agencies
Virtual assistant agencies are an excellent start for a law firm with no previous experience working with an assistant. Hiring an assistant from an agency ensures the assistants are experienced and tested. If the fit isn’t right, the assistant can be replaced with a different in-agency staff member. These agencies also offer customer support if any issues arise, and many offer options to bill by the hour or on a project-by-project basis.
Individual Virtual Assistants
Individual virtual assistants may be the better choice for law firms with experience using legal assistance services in the past because they know what they’re looking for. Law firms should keep in mind that freelancers don’t offer replacements. If the fit isn’t right, it’s the law firm’s responsibility to find and hire a new virtual assistant.
Software to Support a Virtual Legal Assistant
A virtual legal assistant is only as good as their tools. Legal practice management software can help both the law firm and the assistant with managing tasks, collaborating effectively, and more. With tools like legal calendaring, virtual legal assistants can set up and track appointments, meetings, and events, as well as send alerts and reminders to both lawyers and clients. These calendars integrate with current software solutions, such as Google and Outlook.
Virtual legal assistants also benefit from automated workflows, which standardize tasks like onboarding new clients. With these tools, virtual assistants can adjust to the law firm’s processes quickly while reducing human error.
Another must-have for virtual assistants is document management, which allows remote access to important information from anywhere using Google Drive, OneDrive, and Dropbox. All software is secure and HIPAA compliant, ensuring the most valuable and confidential files stay that way.
With the right research, communication, and software tools, a virtual legal assistant can be a big advantage for a law firm. Legal virtual assistants are professionals, just like in-office assistants, and can provide support that helps law firms offset mundane administrative tasks.