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Virtual Legal Assistant-Delegating to Freelancers

You can’t do it all alone, even if that’s how you started and initially grew your law firm. Over time, your commitment to trying to do everything on your own is actually holding you back! You can’t successfully be the VP of every department in your firm, grow revenue, and take the time off that you need. With over 57 million freelancers in the U.S. alone, there’s a good chance you can find a virtual legal assistant or other expert to help in your firm.

That’s where freelancers like virtual legal assistants comes in. More affordable and with fewer strings attached than employees, independent contractors can power important parts of your law firm, like your marketing and your administrative and intake process. You can even outsource legal work to other freelance attorneys. If you’re concerned about cost, you determine what the working relationship with freelancers looks like. Outsourcing to freelancers successfully relies on a systematized process for deciding what to hand off, who to hire, and how to onboard them the right way. 

How to Know It’s Time to Outsource

Are you burning the midnight oil? Constantly trying to cross things off your to-do list only to discover that emails added three more to that list? You’re not alone. Many solo lawyers or small firm lawyers start off keeping things bootstrapped but ultimately discover that once their practice grows, there are too many things to keep track of to keep the business growing.

Getting lost in the weeds with admin tasks is a sure sign that you at least need to talk to a virtual legal assistant about your options. Administrative work, cleaning out your email inbox, posting your blogs, or sharing on social media might seem important but don’t need to be handled by someone billing $100+ per hour. You’re far better off leveraging the time and mental energy you do have by passing those on to a dedicated legal assistant or virtual assistant.

If you find yourself leaving the office Friday afternoon with a feeling of “Wow, I barely made it!”, it’s time to consider outsourcing to a legal admin assistant.

The first place to start is determining all of the tasks you’re already completing on an ongoing basis. Keep note of all the time you devote to each aspect of your business during a given week either on paper or using a tool like Toggl. If your day-to-day schedule is relatively similar, track all your tasks over the course of one day. 

Once you’ve completed this list, look for the tasks that: 

  • Don’t make you money 
  • Pull you from your “zone of genius” in talking to clients and practicing law 
  • You don’t do well or find frustrating 
  • Tasks that you don’t enjoy 
  • Tasks that take you a very long time to complete 

There might be several tasks that make sense to outsource together. For example, the same person who builds your intake process might also be appropriate to manage your calendar. Resist the urge to give all the tasks on your list to one person as your virtual legal assistant. It is better to delegate to freelancers who have specific areas of expertise in the areas where you need the most help. 

Many tasks can be outsourced by a law firm or attorney that give you that time to work on your business instead of in it while also leveraging your budget. Hiring freelancers means that you only pay for the work completed and don’t have to take on some of the overhead that would be required with an employee. Partnering with a virtual legal assistant is a great first step for someone who hasn’t outsourced before. 

Examples of tasks that you can outsource include social media, blogging, website management, email support, Chatbot management, email newsletter support, and your calendar and scheduling. 

How to Hire the Right Freelancer

Hiring a great virtual legal assistant or freelancer relies on excellent job descriptions and instructions. You can only attract quality help when you have a clear system in place for hiring. When outsourcing, it’s critical to be clear about expectations, communication methods, and payment guidelines before working together. 

Once you know what you want to outsource, it’s time to formalize that in a clear job description. Your job description should explain the role and specifics that the virtual legal assistant should know before working with you, including:

  • What software they should already be familiar with 
  • Whether they need to be located in a specific time zone
  • How you communicate most effectively to those on your team 
  • The hours or commitment expected on a weekly or monthly basis 
  • Both “must haves” and “nice to have” personality traits or working style habits 

A system for collecting applications will make it much easier for you to manage than being flooded with emails. It’s also the first opportunity to see how your potential freelancers follow directions. Consider using a tool like Google Forms to capture their details so you can review the results. For a role where you’ll be working with the person in a client-facing or long-term capacity, interview your top few candidates.

Interviewing your prospective freelancer is your first chance to see how well you communicate with one another. Interview the candidate over the phone or a tool like Zoom to get a better sense of who they are and to allow them to ask you questions. Consider interview questions such as: 

  • What type of clients do you prefer working with?
  • What is your background in the legal industry, if any?
  • Tell me about how you set up your work schedule to meet deadlines.
  • Tell me about a time when you made a mistake and how you handled that situation. 

For long-term projects or roles where the freelancer will be picking up more than five hours per week with you, use a test job to see how well they communicate, meet deadlines, and follow directions. An ideal test job is a small slice of something they’d be working on in the role, if hired. When creating a test job, make sure that it: 

  • Provides clear instructions and examples of the output expected
  • Provides a clear and firm deadline (3-5 business days from the point you assign it.) 
  • Is relevant to the skillset the freelancer will need the most in the ongoing position

This “screen test” will tell you a lot about what you can expect on an ongoing basis if you hire the freelancer. Using this test job with at least two freelancers will give you the opportunity to compare and to determine who might be the better fit. 

How to Onboard and Train Your New Freelancer

Determine how you’ll share important access to your systems with your new freelancer. Tools like Dashlane and Lastpass provide a layer of security and can easily be revoked if the freelancer no longer works with you. 

Set aside time to train the freelancer on your systems. Written instructions or screencapture videos both work effectively for an independent contractor. As you work together, involve the freelancer in building out the processes and systems for future reference. Having processes in place prevents confusion and surprises while also letting the freelancer takes things off your plate. For ongoing support, set up long-term goals to work effectively with a freelancer; the more they come to know you, your clients, and your firm, the better they’ll be able to perform in this role or even be scaled up to support in new ways. 

Make sure you set realistic expectations with virtual legal assistants up front- you should be clear about workflow, communication, and turnaround time.

Paying Your Freelancer 

There are three general models to use when setting up payment terms: hourly, project-based, and retainer. Hourly is the easiest to start with if you’re not sure how much support you’ll need or if the tasks will vary from week to week. Project-based work outlines specific milestones that build up to the bigger project, such as building your website. On a retainer basis, you pay a freelancer for ongoing work like social media or blogging. 

Be sure to establish an invoicing system, weekly limits, and collect tax information to send a 1099 to your freelancer at the conclusion of the calendar year. 

If you’re doing too much, now is the time to use virtual legal assistants to get some of your time back and to scale your firm. 

Learn More About Outsourcing with Lawyerist

Leveraging your time and outsourcing to virtual legal assistants and other freelancers enables you to scale. If you’re interested in working in a supportive environment with other small law firms scaling through delegation, think about becoming a Lawyerist Insider. Once you join, you’ll get immediate access to information, tools, and other lawyers who can network with.

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