Virtual Assistants Can Provide Valuable Legal Support Services to Law Firms

Every business should be interested in lowering costs and increasing productivity and revenue. Right? Right. A virtual assistant is your answer.

Over the last two years law firms cut costs by laying off support staff. The firms did so to reduce costs as a result of an economic downturn or slow and declining business that resulted in decreased revenue.

Earlier this month an article in The American Lawyer reported that the law firm Mayer Brown cut 135 employees – lawyers and staff, and, some time later, an article in the New York Law Journal reported that the firm laid off 75 employees, including 28 lawyers. (source of articles: Mayer Brown has seen a reduction in staff due to cuts and layoffs of 210 employees this month. tracks law firm layoffs and indicates on its website that as of April 8, 2010, 14,696 jobs were eliminated at major law firms (5,772 lawyers / 8,924 staff) since January 2008. This data shows a higher percentage of staff layoffs (~61%) compared to that of attorney layoffs – 39%. further indicates that there have been 485 layoffs this year (186 attorneys/299 staff); this number also represents a higher percentage of staff layoffs (62%) compared to attorney layoffs of 38%. A decline in revenue and a slow recovery have prompted law firms to eliminate attorney and staff/support services positions.

Law firms can get the support services they need by engaging the services of a virtual assistant. A virtual assistant (also referred to as a VA) is a highly skilled entrepreneur that typically works from his/her home-based business providing business and/or legal support services through the effective use of technology.

The advent of the Internet and the endless progression and availability of technology enable VAs to collaborate remotely with clients from virtually anywhere in the world. VAs have been providing support services to businesses for many years. The phrase virtual assistant came into being in the ’90s, and the VA industry has seen increased growth. Support and networking organizations such as The International Virtual Assistants Association provide assistance and support to VAs worldwide. VAs provide valuable services worldwide to businesses of all types.

Services Offered by a VA

Traditionally, VAs provided secretarial and administrative services; however, today VAs provide a wealth of services that include, but are not limited to, the following types of services:

  • legal secretarial;
  • word processing/document management;
  • paralegal support;
  • tape transcription;
  • research and writing;
  • travel / conference arrangements;
  • marketing communications support;
  • desktop publishing;
  • website design;
  • content management – website, blog, wiki;
  • database management;
  • computer/technical support;
  • event management; and
  • human resource management.

In this economic downtown, a VA can be a vital part of any business. With law firms cutting costs and eliminating support services personnel, it makes good sense for a law firm (or an attorney) to hire a qualified VA for its support needs or as an extension of its business. Any legal entity or legal professional considering using the services of a VA will likely want to consider one with a legal background.

The services that a VA can perform and provide are endless. Lawyers looking to start their own practices will find the services of a VA indispensable.

Advantages of Utilizing a VA

Wondering what you gain by utilizing a VA? The benefits are plenty. Imagine eliminating:

  • costs associated with hiring a permanent employee (recruiting expenses, salary, taxes, benefits/vacations, pensions, insurance, space rental, and equipment (computer, software, furniture, telephone, etc.));
  • downtime associated with an employee not showing up for work – lost productivity;
  • costs associated with employee turnover;
  • costs associated with training; and
  • any number of other associated costs with hiring and maintaining a permanent employee.

With a VA you pay only for the services performed – a very cost-effective solution. Whether you need 2 hours, 4 hours or a full day, you’re not saddled with paying unnecessary expenses. Most professional VAs will have years of experience in their particular field or area of expertise.

You can’t do it all so what better time than now to hire a VA to assist you with meeting your business goals. As a business owner you have specialized skills that enable you to generate income for your business, but if you spend time handling tasks that a VA could perform you lose income and decrease productivity. That doesn’t have to be the case. Collaborate with a VA to get the business support services you need, keep costs down, increase productivity and ultimately increase revenue.

When Considering Hiring a VA

When looking to hire a VA check out the VA’s website to get a sense of the type of person she/he is. The website should list at a minimum:

  • the services offered;
  • professional and educational background of the VA;
  • a method of contact; and
  • rates charged – highly skilled VAs may charge anywhere from $40 to $100 per hour depending on the service (rates vary and in some instances can be higher).

You should also e-mail or call the VA to see how responsive the VA is. You might also be able to contact the VA via a form on their website. The website should provide you with enough information to determine if the VA is someone you would like to do business with. Once you have reviewed the website and like what you have seen, make contact with the VA. The conversation(s) you experience with the VA will further determine if a business relationship is viable.

A VA may require:

  • a minimum number of hour(s) to get started working with you,
  • that you sign a contract for services, and
  • a down payment before beginning any work.

Don’t let this deter you since the VA is in business also. Just as you’re checking out the VA, he/she is also checking you out. For a VA, having these mechanisms in place usually weed out unsavory potential clients. In the end you need to be as diligent in your search for a highly skilled and competent VA as you would for a permanent employee. You and your VA can enjoy a lasting long productive relationship.

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