Please ensure Javascript is enabled for purposes of website accessibility


How Outsourcing and Automation Can Benefit Your Firm and Improve Your Work/Life Balance


By: Christine Bilbrey
Senior Practice Management Advisor at The Practice Resource Center of The Florida Bar

Most lawyers hire a CPA to do their taxes, but cannot imagine handing other routine tasks over to a professional outside of their office. Trying to do it all, especially if you are a solo practitioner, is a recipe for burnout and can result in costly mistakes.

The main objection to hiring staff members or adding a virtual assistant is expense, but it is important to remember that every hour you spend handling an administrative task yourself is lost revenue equal to your hourly billable rate. Attorneys who have a virtual office are avoiding overhead costs, but what is the actual cost to their businesses if clients are put off by this bare bones approach to managing the business side of their law practices?

If you are busy meeting with clients, appearing in court, and drafting documents, who is setting new appointments, getting bills out in a timely fashion, and answering client phone calls? You may be an excellent lawyer, but client perception is reality. You will not instill confidence in a client who, hoping for an update on their case, has been reduced to leaving multiple voicemail messages and wondering how much of their retainer remains because they have never received an itemized bill from you. Neglected clients become disgruntled clients, and disgruntled clients can turn into major sources of stress, especially if any of them file a Bar complaint against you. Outsourcing and automation can alleviate the burden that administrative tasks place on an attorney trying to do it all without support staff.

Outsourcing was previously a dirty word. We have all had the experience of being trapped in a maze of automated multiple-choice menus that seem to only lead to the impersonal and frustrating greetings of “answering service” or “tech support.” Today, through the wonders of technology, outsourcing just means that your support staff can be at a desk in a room that may not be directly across the hall from you. If you are utilizing friendly, reliable professionals, your clients will likely not know or care where that room is located. There are paralegals and lawyers available for hire who work remotely for firms by the hour or project on an as-needed basis. FindLaw has an article that offers specific guidance if you are considering hiring a virtual paralegal and states, “Making the most of a virtual paralegal requires clearly understanding your needs and being able to capitalize on their skills.” It is important to note that an attorney has the same responsibility of supervision of the work produced by a freelance virtual paralegal that they would if the paralegal was employed at their firm. This arrangement is addressed in Rule 4-5.3(c) Ultimate Responsibility of Lawyer, “Although paralegals or legal assistants may perform the duties delegated to them by the lawyer without the presence or active involvement of the lawyer, the lawyer must review and be responsible for the work product of the paralegals or legal assistants.” The arrangement has become common enough that The Florida Bar Ethics Department has prepared an informational packet entitled Outsourcing Paralegal Work. You can also use The Florida Bar website to check the credentials of a Florida Registered Paralegal.

There are good options for handling basic office tasks which also do not require the same level of expense or commitment as hiring an employee. Businesses like Ruby Receptionists and Back Office Betties are more elegant solutions for client interaction than the voicemail on your cellphone. These are high-quality reception services that will, for a monthly fee, cheerfully answer your phone with a customized greeting, gather intake information, consult your calendar to schedule appointments, and live transfer the call to any phone of your choosing; all of which will make a better impression on your clients.

Everyone’s time is wasted when scheduling an appointment involves numerous back and forth emails or calls. Implementing technology that shares your calendar in real time, either through an online client portal or with a service such as Acuity Scheduling, automates this task without the assistance of a support staff member.

At this point, all solo and small to medium firm attorneys should be taking advantage of the numerous features that are bundled into modern practice management software. Many of these programs include a secure portal where your clients can view or upload documents, access and pay their bills, and communicate with you through encrypted email or messages. If you are not currently using one of these programs, you are making your work life much harder than it needs to be. Getting control of the business side of your law practice should be something you make a priority to do now instead of when you finally find the time to do it because, realistically, that day may never come. Going home at a reasonable hour, or in the case of virtual attorneys, closing their laptops, has a direct impact on quality of life. The best thing you can do to improve your firm and your work/life balance is to implement at least one of these outsourcing or automation solutions.