Call Us : 1.800.531.7527
“There just are not enough hours in the day to do everything myself! I want to improve my work-life balance by delegating tasks, but no one is available. I keep reading and hearing about virtual paralegals and virtual assistants as affordable options, but I wonder: Where can I find virtual support which meets the needs of my law practice?”
Solo and small firm attorneys often share these same thoughts. For both groups, virtual paralegal or virtual assistant support is often the perfect solution provided you find the assistant who matches your needs. The first step is deciding what task(s) you want to delegate. That list will grow quickly if you could find the right person. Your next move will be checking out the following sources to identify the names of virtual paralegals or virtual assistants who have experience in your practice area.
Attorney Referrals. Word-of-mouth referrals from another attorney are often the best way to quickly locate reliable virtual support if you are under a deadline crunch. A referral adds immediate credibility and gives you confidence as you make this paradigm shift. You probably know at least one other attorney who has used a freelance, temp, or virtual paralegal. Don’t forget the contract research attorney you used last year. There is a strong possibility that he has worked with a virtual paralegal who has proven to be trustworthy and reliable.
Social Media. There is no doubt about it. Social media is here to stay. Twitter, LinkedIn and Facebook are great sources for virtual paralegal referrals. Most virtual paralegals or virtual assistants utilize social media to build their businesses. Monitor a virtual paralegal’s tweets and posts for a few weeks to observe the level of professionalism and knowledge. Talk to attorneys and paralegals and let them know what you need. They will be more than happy to make suggestions. Try these search terms: virtual paralegal, paralegal services, virtual assistant, virtual support. You can also search the Twitter hashtag #virtualparalegals.
Internet Search Engines. Google and Bing search engines often bring different names to the top of the search results. Consider the search term “virtual paralegal blog”. Many virtual paralegals maintain their own websites and blogs, particularly those who have chosen the virtual path as their full-time employment. Blogs are particularly helpful in identifying writing skills and analytical thinking abilities.
Paralegal Professional Associations. A truly professional virtual paralegal will maintain a membership in one or more paralegal professional associations to stay abreast of changes in the legal industry. Check with your local or state paralegal association, or contact the following national associations to find a paralegal in your practice area or jurisdiction who has shown an interest in working virtually. Be aware that some paralegals offer services in this manner on a full-time basis, while some paralegals are merely trying to supplement their income. The latter group is likely to be available only for evening and weekend assignments.
Virtual Assistant Organizations. There are several virtual assistant organizations which will be happy to help you in your search. Although these organizations are more general in nature, some of their members focus on legal support services for attorneys.
Virtual Paralegals and Virtual Assistants. Most virtual paralegals and virtual assistants are consummate professionals. They know you are most likely to be happy if you find the right person. If the paralegal or assistant you are interviewing by phone does not seem to be the right fit, ask her if she knows someone who has a stronger skill set in the particular practice area you need. Last week, I readily admitted to an attorney that I had no experience with class action litigations, and I am happy to make referrals under those circumstances.
Attorney Coaches and Legal Staffing Recruiters. As the concept of virtual paralegals and virtual assistants has become more accepted by attorneys, those professionals who coach and mentor attorneys have become quicker to suggest this viable solution. Ask your coach, mentor or local legal staffing professional if they personally know a virtual professional who could help you. Once again, personal referrals go a long way in establishing a firm foundation for a virtual relationship.
A paradigm shift to virtual paralegal or administrative support does not have to be occur “cold turkey”. Test the waters. Identity one project or case. Decide on one candidate. Give it a trial run. Assess the pros and cons. Refine the process. Change the candidate if needed. You’ll never know unless you try it. Many attorneys have a great experience, and they stay with the same virtual paralegal for years. As the trust level grows, the number of cases, tasks and projects you trust to your virtual paralegal will grow. Before you know it, a virtual paralegal has become your right hand, and you will probably have never even met him or her in person.
This article was originally published by Debra Bruce at Raising the Bar Law Practice Management Thoughts and Tips on May 1, 2012. Debra is President of Lawyer-Coach LLC. She draws on her extensive legal experience, as well as a degree in Psychology and well over 500 hours in training as a professional coach, to help lawyers improve their management skills, increase productivity and bring in more business.
A virtual paralegal relationship is not the solution for every solo or small firm attorney. After consulting with many prospective attorney-clients over the last 3 years, I’ve begun to recognize some repeating patterns. You may not be ready for a virtual paralegal relationship if several of these warning signs resonate:
1.) You don’t like email as a primary form of communication. Virtual paralegals are not physically present in your office. They typically work from a home office or other remote location. Because schedules vary, email often becomes the primary form of communication for making assignments, following up on deadlines, and discussing case strategies. Phone calls and text messages are usually reserved for the most pressing matters.
2.) It upsets you to reach a virtual paralegal’s voicemail. Successful virtual paralegals are business owners just like you. They have a number of clients, phone consultations, and business appointments. Most virtual paralegals do not have in-office employees to help answer the phone. I suggest an email to schedule a phone consultation if you find yourself playing the phone tag game. After a service contract has been signed, many virtual paralegals will provide a cell phone number allowing attorney-clients to bypass business answering services.
3.) You object to signing a typical professional service contract. Attorneys are masters at writing and critiquing contracts. Because we are contracting with “the masters,” most virtual paralegal business owners have hired attorneys to prepare service contracts. While some contract terms might be negotiable, the basic terms of the contract form are probably not going to be negotiable. Don’t expect us to ignore the advice of the attorneys we have paid to represent us.
4.) You state that you want to protect yourself against a bogus lawsuit. Everyone wants to protect themselves against bogus lawsuits, but if you actually make this statement to a virtual paralegal, you are communicating that you do not trust him or her…period. There absolutely must be a foundational level of professional trust and respect for the relationship to have a chance at success. If some level of trust and respect is not present, then you are not ready for the relationship or you are talking to the wrong virtual paralegal for you.
5.) You are not willing to disclose the oursourced relationship to your clients. ABA Form Opinion 08-451, Lawyer’s Obligations When Outsourcing Legal and Nonlegal Support Services, August 5, 2008, provides: “appropriate disclosures should be made to the client regarding the use of lawyers or nonlawyers outside of the lawyer’s firm, and client consent should be obtained if those lawyers or nonlawyers will be receiving information protected by Rule 1.6.” Lawyers may want to add specific language to engagement letters or fee contracts concerning the client’s payments for outsourced services. (For further reading, check the resources listed below.
6.) You expect to pay a highly specialized professional paralegal the same hourly rate you pay an in-office inexperienced hourly employee. The old adage “you get what you pay for” goes without saying. Professional paralegals have invested time and money to achieve their professional status. Paralegals save attorneys time. Clients benefit from more thorough legal representation at reduced fees. Paralegals often do whatever it takes to get the job done, but you should expect to pay paralegal rates if a paralegal is performing the task.
This article was originally published by Debra Bruce at Raising the Bar Law Practice Management Thoughts and Tips on December 13, 2011. Debra is President of Lawyer-Coach LLC. She draws on her extensive legal experience, as well as a degree in Psychology and well over 500 hours in training as a professional coach, to help lawyers improve their management skills, increase productivity and bring in more business.
The season is upon us! You know — the season of fa-la-la-la-la, holiday decorations, greeting cards, family parties, gift buying, travel plans, winter snow storms, and year-end business. The list goes on, and on, and on, and on, and on, and on….too much to do and not enough time. If you make it to January 1, then your knee deep in a different set of tasks headed into tax season.
So what is a smart attorney or paralegal to do? Organization is key, but who has time – or money — right now to implement complicated practice management software?
SOLUTION: Pick one of these quick, easy and inexpensive online task management solutions. Register for a free user name and pick a password. Then start listing everything congesting your over-crowded mind. Start with just the basics by listing the task and assigning a deadline. That’s it!! You can expand your vision and develop a more-rounded solution when the time crunch has eased.
Before you commit 100% by investing lots of time and energy, it is always wise to test the tool on a couple of projects. If you see that it is making a difference in your perspective and the management of your workload, then go a little deeper. If not, then try a different tool until you find the one that fits you like a glove.
This article was originally published by Debra Bruce at Raising the Bar Law Practice Management Thoughts and Tips on March 20, 2012. Debra is President of Lawyer-Coach LLC. She draws on her extensive legal experience, as well as a degree in Psychology and well over 500 hours in training as a professional coach, to help lawyers improve their management skills, increase productivity and bring in more business.
This week I had the privilege of participating in the virtual professionals round table discussion sponsored by The Paralegal Mentor. After hearing each other’s stories as to how we ended up as virtual professionals in the legal services industry, the discussion quickly turned to technology.
The very next day Law Technology News published the article Virtual Paralegals Move Legal Work Online. LTN’s news editor Brendan McKenna covered the bases by gathering information from at least 9 different paralegals, myself included, concerning the definition of virtual paralegal, inspiration for starting a virtual paralegal business, and the technology used. McKenna even registers the preference of several paralegals to be described as freelance rather than virtual.
Participation in both of these discussions with at least 12 other virtual paralegal professionals led me to the following conclusions:
Technology Toolbox: a few of our favorite things
Document and Word Processing
Legal Practice Management (Online)
Legal Brief Tools
Calendars and Deadlines
Deadline and Filing Calculator
This article was originally published by Debra Bruce at Raising the Bar Law Practice Management Thoughts and Tips on February 16, 2012. Debra is President of Lawyer-Coach LLC. She draws on her extensive legal experience, as well as a degree in Psychology and well over 500 hours in training as a professional coach, to help lawyers improve their management skills, increase productivity and bring in more business.
This month I want to discuss the most frequent questions I receive as a virtual paralegal. Questions come from many different directions: attorneys considering a virtual paralegal relationship, paralegals interested in working virtually, and curious lay people. Ironically, for the most part, the same questions come from each group.
1.) How did you get started?
A few months ago, one of my attorney clients called on his way home from a hearing to discuss the briefing schedule the judge had outlined for our case. The judge had also clearly indicated his preference for electronic briefs with hyperlinks to the cited legal authorities. I docketed the briefing deadline and began to research the additional steps required to provide the judge exactly what he wanted.
The first step for any litigation project is checking the applicable rules of civil procedure, county and local court rules. I then downloaded several electronic brief samples and carefully examined the document organization. It was easy to see why any judge would prefer this format.
Litigation support firms offer electronic briefs, but those services can be expensive. You will definitely need to examine the size of your project and the available budget before deciding how you want to tackle your project. A third party contractor would mean closing out the brief early to meet the vendor’s time requirements for the project. This was just a small brief in the grand scheme of things.
After considering my options, I found some guides to help me prepare for my first electronic brief project. The tips outlined below were very helpful. I was happy to discover that my Adobe Acrobat 9 Pro software was the only software I needed to complete the project.
Guide To Creating Electronic Appellate Briefs (Texas Supreme Court)
How Do I Hyperlink Court Briefs? (A2L Consulting)
E-Briefs, eBriefs and Electronic Briefs (A2L Consulting)
Electronic Brief Tip #1: Be sure to set your PDF document properties so that the bookmark panel will be visible when the document is opened by the reader. Modify the Bookmark text to clearly outline the organization of your document. Check accuracy of links between bookmarks and document text.
Electronic Brief Tip #2: Assemble PDF copies of all legal authorities several days before your deadline. Give some thought to the download format. Westlaw and Lexis offer several formats.
Electronic Brief Tip #3: Be strategic in creating link destination points. Your link from the List of Authorities will probably point to the beginning of the case. (Example 1) A link created in the body of the brief could point directly to the quoted text. (Example 2)
List of Authorities Hyperlink – Set Link Destination at Case Intro
Quoted Reference in Brief Body –
Set Link Destination at Quoted Text Within the Case
Creating bookmarks and hyperlinks requires extra preparation time, but the process adds organization and a professional appearance to your finished project. The process can easily be applied to any lengthy document file including medical records, administrative records, document productions, briefs, pleadings with numerous exhibits and settlement brochures. Links to the appropriate place in supporting documents will increase the likelihood that the reader truly understands the legal claims asserted on behalf of your client.