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A paperless law practice means you can use virtual assistants

March 12, 2015

Svenson, Ernie “A paperless law practice means you can use virtual assistants” http://www.paperlesschase.com, http://www.paperlesschase.com/paperless-law-practice-virtual-assistants/, posted September 17, 2013 retrieved March 12, 2015

Would you like help with those small office tasks that have to be done, the ones you’re doing yourself because you can’t find someone to help you on a part-time basis?

 Consider hiring a Virtual Assistant.

Having the right virtual assistant can help you save time, and money. It can help you appear more professional. But, for solo and small firm lawyers, a key benefit is reducing the insidious stress of managing lots of small tasks. But without having to hire a full-time employee that you now have to find extra time to supervise and manage.

Obviously, you have to go about it in the right way.

What’s needed to take advantage of virtual assistance?

Whether you’re ready for virtual assistance depends on various factors, such as:

  • Tech-proficiency: How comfortable with are you with mobile technology? Do you use web-based services like gmail or Dropbox already? The more tech-proficient you are, the easier it’ll be to start using virtual assistants.
  • Control: How comfortable are you working with people that aren’t your employees? If you’re a micro-manager, then virtual assistants aren’t for you. If you expect employees to read your mind, then you won’t succeed with virtual assistants.
  • Trust: This issue mostly relates to hiring tech people to work on your systems remotely. Are you comfortable letting a stranger do work for you when that means that they have access to some of your computers or data? No? Then cross this opportunity off your list.
  • Need: what kind of virtual assistance do you really need? Probably more than you realize. You just don’t know what’s available. Also, if you start small and get used to working with VAs, you’ll probably discover your need is greater than you might have imagined.
  • Bleeding-edge: how experimental are you willing to be? Some virtual assistants are easy for a novice to work with; others involve more “trial and error” to get things working well. Attorneys who aren’t fairly tech-proficient steer should clear of any kind of virtual assistance that’s “bleeding edge.”
  • Cost: some virtual assistance is dirt cheap (e.g. FancyHands), and some can be expensive (e.g. EA Help). Actually, “expensive” is relative. If having a virtual assistant frees you up to do more work, or experience less stress then you’ll probably say it’s worth it. Most virtual assistance seems expensive at first, usually because we’re not used to pricing things on an “as-needed basis.”

What kinds of virtual assistance is there?

Here are the best options that are most useful to intrepid attorneys who want to start leveraging remote assistance.:

Phone Receptionist: Lawyers in bigger firms have full-time receptionists that sit at the entrance desk (usually playing solitaire on their computer). Lawyers in smaller firms tend to use answering services. A few years after I started my solo practice I found Ruby Receptionist, which is the best possible phone receptionist a lawyer could ever hope to have. Their prices seemed expensive to me at first, but after my free trial period ran out I kept them because they solved so many problems. And did so elegantly.

Typist: Big firms have a “word processing departments” which is supposed to be for overflow work. But most lawyers fight to use the typists there as their own secretaries.Why? Because the word processing specialists get really good at using the software, and know how to do things fast. If you want a word-processing department that you can access from anywhere, anytime, try SpeakWrite. You only pay when you use it. Is it too expensive? Not if you need work done on the weekend, and you don’t have a word-processing department at your disposal.

Administrative Assistant: Secretaries these days don’t type as much as they used to. In a paperless law firm, they don’t pull files or copy paper. So what do they do? Mostly, administrative tasks: i.e. book travel, calendar deadlines, call clients back to remind them of appointments. In other words, things that can be done from anywhere by someone with a phone and a computer connected to the Internet.

If you’re willing to spend significant money and want a really top-notch part-time Executive Assistant, then check out EA Help. Many attorneys would appreciate this service, and it costs nothing to inquire.

The best way to find an inexpensive virtual administrative assistant is through oDesk. But, the reality is many lawyers aren’t ready for oDesk. Those attorneys would be better served by starting out with a basic service like FancyHands, which Ernie blogged about here. Once you get used to using email to quickly delegate small tasks, and maybe sharing your calendar (via Google, if you have a Google email/calendar account), you’ll be ready to step up to more robust virtual assistance services like oDesk.

Paralegal: This is a tough one, because we want this one to work but it’s not quite ready for prime time. Lawyers use paralegals in different ways, and most lawyers aren’t paperless. If you’re paperless litigator and tech-proficient then you can use a program like Casemap and you don’t need a paralegal. Sure you can google the words “virtual paralegal” and find folks who do it. But, to me, this is a bleeding-edge thing. Most lawyers aren’t ready to take on a virtual paralegal; they wan’t live interaction, and probably need it. Again, you need to start with a simpler virtual assistance experience and work your way up (which is why I recommend FancyHands as a low-cost, but high-benefit service).

Website set up & maintenance: Finding people to help you with tech-problems via the Internet is easy. After all, they’re “tech-proficient” so they’re pretty adept at working remotely. For example, you can hire a freelancer to set up your website on oDesk.com and have the whole job done for under $500. I know because I used oDesk.com to set up this site that way. I also recommended the guy I used to the local chapter of the Federal Bar Association, and they got a really good site for $500. If you want a solid website for little money get my 5 Keys to Create A Website for $500 or Less.

Conclusion

Lawyers who learn to harness the power of virtual assistants will become exponentially more efficient. But, the reality is that many attorneys aren’t ready for virtual assistants. But, I believe most attorneys can learn to take advantage of virtual assistants if they experiment with low-cost services like FancyHands.

Granted, FancyHands is more for personal tasks, but if you learn to shed the time you spend doing menial personal tasks, then you’ll free up more time to do your law work. And learning to delegate small personal tasks via the cloud (or by email), will help you understand how to hire business-level virtual assistants on services like oDesk.

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