Lawyers can quickly find themselves spending a substantial amount of time on non-billable, administrative tasks. From following up with clients, negotiating settlements, and managing the office and staff — time spent on actually practicing law can get lost. That’s where a legal assistant can step in to minimize workload.

However, in our remote and hybrid working environments and depending on the size of your firm, you may not actually need to add a physical staff member. Virtual legal assistants are a viable alternative that can help a law firm increase efficiencies, provide a more client-centered experience, and allow lawyers time to focus on practicing law.

A virtual legal assistant is a skilled professional who works for a law firm from just about anywhere in the world. Legal virtual assistants may provide services like:

  • Transcription
  • Legal research and writing
  • Legal data entry
  • Client management
  • And more

All of these tasks can add up, leaving legal professionals with no time to focus on running or managing their own firms.

person working on laptop and talking with headset

Virtual legal assistants should be used as an asset to your current staff. If your staff is overwhelmed with the current workload or there’s an area of your practice you want to expand, a virtual legal assistant can drastically offset these tasks.

Here are some pros of a virtual assistant:

  • Customizable to the firm’s needs
  • Less expensive than hiring a full-time or part-time in-office assistant
  • Relief of administrative burdens like setting up and confirming appointments, sending out reminders, answering phones, managing social media, or transcription

Whether you’re hiring for an in-office position or a virtual one, you want to properly vet the person. This includes having a clear understanding of your firm’s needs. You’ll want to lay out items like communication processes and what resources your firm will provide to manage the virtual assistant. If your firm is already using cloud-based software for its operations, that will greatly reduce any downtime by onboarding a virtual legal assistant while keeping work consistent across the firm.

More times than not, your firm will the pressure (or stress) to hire a virtual legal assistant. The tell-tell signs are burnout out staff, consistent tasks falling through the cracks, or worse, feedback from clients about the quality of services.

Here are a few other signs it’s time to hire a virtual legal assistant:

Spending More Time on Admin Than Practicing Law

Working on administrative tasks is a necessary part of running a law firm, but a lot of time may be wasted on email correspondence, appointment scheduling, billing, and more. If this is the case, it may be time for a law firm to hire a virtual assistant.

Fill Crucial Skill Gaps

Small firms or firms that are just starting out may not yet have the full staff they need to address their needs. If your firm has significant skills gaps, a legal virtual assistant can offer expert help for services like accounting and bookkeeping, law firm finances, tax preparation, law firm marketing, and more, all tailored to a law firm’s processes,

Lack of Work-Life Balance

If your law firm is working around the clock, you’re likely missing out on valuable personal time or family time. This type of working environment is unsustainable and can contribute to staff and lawyer stress.

A virtual assistant can take on a lot of administrative burdens, freeing staff members to enjoy more balance – and less stress – in their lives.

Before hiring a virtual assistant, here are some questions to ask yourself:

  • Is the workload enough for an assistant?
  • Does a virtual assistant’s pay fit into the current budget?
  • Can the firm’s current staff delegate effectively?

Law firms have the option of hiring a virtual legal assistant through a dedicated company or through referrals. Just like in-person office staff, it’s important for law firms to set up a thorough hiring process to find the right fit.

Law firms should:

  • Consider the important qualities of a virtual assistant, including adaptability, availability, personality, communication skills, project management skills, legal research skills, and experience in a particular practice area.
  • Determine the services the firm needs, including document management, billing, reporting, accounting, or marketing.

There are many avenues to find legal virtual assistants, such as:

Virtual Assistant Agencies

Virtual assistant agencies are an excellent start for a law firm with no previous experience working with an assistant. Hiring an assistant from an agency ensures the assistants are experienced and tested. If the fit isn’t right, the assistant can be replaced with a different in-agency staff member. These agencies also offer customer support if any issues arise, and many offer options to bill by the hour or on a project-by-project basis.

Individual Virtual Assistants

Individual virtual assistants may be the better choice for law firms with experience using legal assistance services in the past because they know what they’re looking for. Law firms should keep in mind that freelancers don’t offer replacements. If the fit isn’t right, it’s the law firm’s responsibility to find and hire a new virtual assistant.

person working with PracticePanther law firm software

A virtual legal assistant is only as good as their tools. Law practice management software can help both law firms and their legal assistant with managing tasks, collaborating effectively, and more. With tools like legal calendaring, virtual legal assistants can set up and track appointments, meetings, and events, as well as send alerts and reminders to both lawyers and clients. These calendars integrate with current software solutions, such as Google and Outlook.

Virtual legal assistants also benefit from automated workflows, which standardize tasks like client intake or legal billing. Automated workflows are great resources that allow firms to easily track the status of work progression for remote or hybrid staff.

Another must-have for virtual assistants is document management, which allows remote access to important information from anywhere using Google Drive, OneDrive, and Dropbox. All software is secure and HIPAA compliant, ensuring the most valuable and confidential files stay that way.

Key Takeaways

With the right research, communication, and software tools, a virtual legal assistant can be a big advantage for a law firm. Legal virtual assistants are professionals, just like in-office assistants, and can provide the support that helps law firms offset mundane administrative tasks.

Editor’s Note: This blog was originally published in May 2022. Last update: January 2023.

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