Solo/Small Firm December 2022

Work Smarter Not Harder

How virtual assistants can help change your firm

Written by Ruby L. Powers

Attorneys have dramatically changed the way they manage their firms in the past few years. With technological advances and the pandemic forcing the legal profession to reimagine the practice of law, subsequent paradigm shifts are leading to more efficient and profitable business operations. One such change is the increase in hiring virtual assistants.

A virtual assistant, or VA, is an individual who provides professional administrative, technical, or creative assistance to clients remotely from a home office. Depending on the arrangement, a virtual assistant can be a contractor or employee and can work from the U.S. or from another country. Often in my experience, virtual assistants are employees of a staffing company that recruits, screens, and trains in addition to facilitating the onboarding and payroll process. You can also find them directly and meet payroll and employment requirements with companies that provide this limited service to alleviate the burden of learning how to comply with the state or country laws.

Virtual assistants can provide any administrative function in the firm that doesn’t require in-person duties. Re-read that sentence because that is where the paradigm shift occurs. A virtual assistant can include almost any role at a firm including receptionist/intake specialist, executive assistant, legal assistant, marketing, billing, and more.

Where to start? Write out your daily tasks or those of some of your team members. Then analyze what can be automated, delegated, or eliminated. Once you have eliminated and automated, you then can delegate as much as possible.1

Common Uses for VAs

1. Receptionist and intake services
2. Executive assistant
3. Billing and invoicing
4. General administrative duties and/or large-scale organization projects
5. Legal assistant or related duties
6. Marketing, including content creation and social media management

The list is endless—VAs can act as primary receptionists, intake specialists, or could be back-up support to an admin member. They can answer phones, collect key information from potential clients, and process mail, helping your firm deliver personalized customer service. With a background in customer service, a VA can dedicate time to serving clients and potential clients, saving time on attorney-client communication. Organization and taking on large one-time or ongoing projects gives back time to work on other projects and duties, helping you focus on where you should best put your time.

From collecting data from clients, admin projects, and large organization projects to preparing necessary documents for legal matters such as affidavits and formal statements, VAs can help lawyers prepare for meetings and consultations, thereby saving attorney time. VAs can draft attorney-client agreements, collect payments, issue invoices, and follow up with transactions. Marketing duties can include creating content for speeches, presentations, and social media posts; writing blog posts and articles; editing videos; and facilitating live video recordings. Much of this work can be done remotely with the right candidate, technology, and procedures.

Pros of VAs

• Cost savings
• Less space used in office
• Save time by delegating
• Benefit from time arbitration depending on location of VA and time zone arrangement
• Often the staffing company assists with recruitment, training, onboarding, and payroll

Cons of VAs

• Adjustments necessary to adapt role or way of working
• Possible knowledge gaps due to geography and cultural background
• Technology required or available
• Time zones (if the VA is far away from your time zone and working around your schedule)

In my experience, most cons can be overcome by the pros. Adjustments may be necessary such as changes in mentality and procedures.

Tips Before Starting
After creating the job description and POWERSlist of duties for the role you are hiring for, confirm that it can be conducted remotely, even prior to modifying duties from a traditionally in-office position. If you are hiring for a VA who will perform legal assistant duties, consider the knowledge they must have about various legal matters to perform the job when assessing the training required. With all VAs, training and onboarding will be virtual so proper organization, healthy patience, and strong communication are key. Then set clear expectations of what the VA’s position will entail. Make sure they have the skills and tools required for the position and don’t overlook the essentials just to accommodate a VA hire. Have protocols in place to safeguard sensitive data including requiring secure internet connections, a private and dedicated workspace away from others, and a non-disclosure and confidentiality agreement in place. Conduct a background check.

Conclusion
I have been experimenting with VAs in various duties for the past year. In my firm, I have added four virtual assistants to my team—a marketing assistant, an executive assistant, a legal assistant, and a receptionist—that I have hired from Stafi, and they have helped me get organized. They have provided support to my staff and helped my firm by being a good investment. Among all the ways virtual assistants have helped me, the most important is the ability to focus on the best use of my time. TBJ

NOTES
1.Ruby L. Powers, Build and Manage Your Successful Immigration Law Practice (Without Losing Your Mind, (American Immigration Lawyers Association, 2019).

 


Headshot of Ruby PowersRUBY L. POWERS is the founder and managing attorney of Houston-based Powers Law Group, which focuses solely on immigration law. Powers is certified in immigration and nationality law by the Texas Board of Legal Specialization. She is an alumna of the Goldman Sachs 10,000 Small Businesses, Leadership Houston, and American Leadership Forum. Powers authored the American Immigration Lawyers Association’s book Build and Manage Your Successful Immigration Law Practice (Without Losing Your Mind). She is a law practice management consultant and coach with Powers Strategy Group (www.rubypowers.com).

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