Lawyers spend 40% of their time doing tasks that do not require a lawyer, according to this Thomson Reuters report. Using a Legal Virtual Assistant can ease your admin workload and enable you to focus on fee earning work.
- Legal Virtual Assistant? What’s that?
- Getting Started with a Legal Virtual Assistant
- How to find a Legal Virtual Assistant
Legal Virtual Assistant? What’s that?
What is a Legal Virtual Assistant?
A Legal Virtual Assistant is a Virtual Assistant with legal experience. Legal Virtual Assistants have trained as legal executives and/or worked previously in solicitors and barristers practices.
They understand the pressures of practicing law and the paramount need for accuracy, data security and timeliness in relation to legal work.
They are familiar with legal terminology and documentation (including pleadings), legal practice areas, and can draft legal documents and build legal briefs.
They have experience of the principal software packages (accounting, case management) used in legal practices and of the principal online databases (Westlaw, Bloomsbury, Justis, courts.ie, CRO, etc.) used for legal research.
There is no limit to what a Legal Virtual Assistant can do for you with the right tools and instructions. Used correctly he/she can look after everything that does not require your legal expertise – leaving you to focus on fee-earning work.
How flexible is a Legal Virtual Assistant?
Extremely flexible. Legal Virtual Assistants work for you as needed.
When you’re strapped for time and need some help your assistant will be there to help out.
When you’re not busy and don’t need help your assistant will go into standby mode – costing you absolutely nothing.
How much does a Legal Virtual Assistant cost?
Legal Virtual Asistants work on an hourly rate. A full-time employee would be cheaper by the hour, but probably more expensive overall.
A full-time employee has to be provided with a work space (rent, light, heat, electricity), work equipment (computer, desk, chair, etc.), employee benefits (holiday pay, parental leave, etc.), training and support. Legal Virtual Assistants have to provide all of the above for themselves.
A full-time employee has to be paid whether or not there is work for them to do. Legal Virtual Assistants only have to be paid for the work that they have done – they don’t get paid when they don’t work.
Getting Started with a Legal Virtual Assistant
Before sending any work to a Legal Virtual Assistant you should ensure that the correct data protections are in place. Prepare and execute a DPA (Data Processing Agreement) and ensure that the assistant is using encypted e-mail and (if relevant to the work you are outsourcing) storage.
At the outset you should outsource basic tasks – things like dictation typing, document production, and file manipulation. Simply e-mail the task to your assistant and wait for the output to be returned to you.
As you and your Legal Virtual Assistant become more familiar with one another, and as you become aware of further efficiencies that could save you even more time, you might think about shared cloud storage, shared notebooks, and documented processes.
As previously stated, the amount you can outsource depends on how well you are set up and how well your processes are documented.
It is difficult (if not impossible) to outsource paper-based tasks to a virtual assistant, and for this reason I advise anyone considering a Legal Virtual Assistant to look at moving towards a paperless office. Your virtual assistant cannot arrange meetings for you if your diary is on your desk, but can easily do so if your diary is in digital format and shared with your assistant. Your assistantcannot arrange your files if they’re in your office, or manage incoming correspondence if it’s coming through your letterbox, but can easily do so if the files are digitised and the incoming correspondence is arriving by e-mail.
If you want to get the most out of your Legal Virtual Assistant you need to switch to digital (paperless) systems where possible. That’s important enough to say again: If you want to get the most out of your Legal Virtual Assistant you need to switch to digital (paperless) systems where possible.
While all virtual assistants are intelligent self-starters and can act on their own initiative, you will be looking for consistent work output that matches what you would have done yourself. For this reason it is important to document your processes where possible. You can work on this as you develop your relationship with your assistant (and you can ask your assistant to document your processes for you as you define them).
With the right setup and properly documented processes your Legal Virtual Assistant can handle every aspect of your practice that does not require your legal knowledge. Imagine opening a file for the first time to find all the required pages already tagged and the draft documents prepared and ready for approval. It’s within your reach.
Here are some of the tasks that a Legal Virtual Assistant can look after for you:
- Calendar: arranging meetings / scheduling court time / tracking legal diary;
- E-Mail: screening incoming messages / dealing with queries / managing incoming instructions;
- Tasks: create & manage your task list / task prioritisation / setting reminders;
- File Management: managing incoming instructions / brief & booklet building / file consolidation;
- Accounts: fee & income recording / expense tracking / VAT returns;
- Client Care: communications & follow-up / scheduling meetings / obtaining instructions;
- Preparatory Work: draft documents and pleadings / tag & annotate briefs / notebook creation and input;
- Legal Research: textbooks, journals & caselaw / statutes and court rules / CRO & High Court searches;
- Routine Tasks: travel & accommodation / online and offline research / general PA tasks;
How to find a Legal Virtual Assistant
Method 1: LegalVirtualAssistant.ie (quick and easy)
Step 1: Go to www.legalvirtualassistant.ie and sign up.
Step 2: Get down to business.
Legal Virtual Assistant (www.legalvirtualassistant.ie) is a new business that provides first-rate Legal Virtual Assistant services to legal practices in Ireland.
Method 2: Do It Yourself (long and hard)
Step 1: Search. I contacted VAs in Ireland, England, Scotland, South Africa, Australia and the Philippines. Any organisation that had more than one VA operated a ‘cab-rank’ system – when you send work to the organisation they funnel it to whatever VA is available at that moment, meaning you’d be dealing with different VAs at different times. In addition, any organisation outside of Europe is likely to present GDPR challenges when you try to share data with them.
Step 2: Screening. From the GDPR compliant VA options that I found I created a shortlist and sent them a screening questionnaire focusing on their GDPR awareness, their skillsets in relation to different specified tasks and software (word processing, spreadsheets, e-mail, calendar management, cloud storage, PDF, digital notebooks, accounts management), their hourly rates and turnaround times, and their time recording and billing practices.
Step 3: Shortlist. Based on the results of Step 2 I created a shortlist of suitable candidates and invited them to participate in Step 4.
Step 4: Test. I created several tasks to test the VAs skills in the areas specified in the questionnaire and gave them each a set time to get the tasks completed.
Step 5: Review and Select. By now you’ll have a pretty good idea of which VA best suits your needs. Time to start talking hourly rates, Data Processing Agreements, and get down to business.
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The Lawyer’s Guide to Going Paperless
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(Hint: If you like the idea of having more free time, fewer expenses and a clutter-free office, then it probably is.)