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The advantages of virtual office services

By: dmc-admin//November 9, 2009//

The advantages of virtual office services

By: dmc-admin//November 9, 2009//

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ImageFredricksburg, Va. attorney Andrew Flusche never met his former office assistant. She lives in Akron, Ohio, and did all his work remotely. Flusche also never met his virtual receptionist, who lives in Portland, Ore.

As a 2007 law graduate looking to save money while launching his practice, Flusche saw virtual office services, coupled with working out of his home, as a perfect solution. They gave him a professional edge and helped him get quality work product out the door at a low cost.

Flusche hired Ruby Receptionist because he heard it had a “stellar reputation” and had spoken with other attorneys who were pleased with the service. Ruby Receptionist answers calls, screens them and/or identifies who’s on the line before transferring, connects calls, and provide callers with information such as the type of legal services offered and directions to the office, etc.

The company offers a free 30-day trial. After that, the cost ranges from $199 to $669 per month.

Flusche believes Ruby Receptionist has helped him turn callers who are prospective clients into clients. Before he began using the service, sometimes callers would hang up without leaving a message if he was unavailable.

For other, more complex administrative help, Flusche hired Always Assistant, a/k/a Darlene Migras. Her work was “spectacular,” he said, and the cost was very reasonable, $18 per hour (the Web site now says $20 per hour).

“I liked the cost and flexibility of both services,” said Flusche. “When you’re first starting out, staff can be one of the biggest expenses, and this was one way I found to keep my overhead as narrow as possible.

“I’ve since moved my practice into a traditional office and hired a traditional assistant. As my practice has grown, my needs have changed,” he explained. “But virtual office services helped me save money and grow my practice, to get to that point.”

ImageMarsha Kopan, owner of MKEParalegal in Milwaukee, holds both a paralegal certificate and a bachelor’s degree. She works independently and most often, virtually.

Even in a down economy — or maybe because of it — Kopan says she’s been very busy working for lawyers and other professionals who can’t afford onsite staff.

“People are outsourcing to save money. Especially new attorneys, or someone going out on his own,” said Kopan. “Or, sometimes in a smaller practice the lawyers decide they want to share a paralegal, but realize there’s no place to put her and they’ll have to buy her a computer. When you hire someone, it goes beyond the cost of just payroll.”

In Kopan’s opinion, virtual workers can be more efficient because they don’t have the typical office distractions; nor does the lawyer pay for coffee or lunch breaks, paid vacations and benefits.

Kopan offers transcription services, legal research and writing, and other paralegal services; attorneys share their files via her secure Web site.

She bills hourly, at rates that vary depending upon the difficulty of the task, starting at $25 per hour. Sometimes she uses retainers, where clients essentially gets a discounted hourly rate the more of her time that they use.

Other virtual office options

Ross Kodner, an attorney and legal technology specialist with Microlaw Inc. in Milwaukee, said he’s had positive experiences with and heard positive things about Regus and their virtual office approaches.

Another option, according to Kodner, is LegalTypist.com, a virtual secretarial/transcription service.

You also might consider 8×8 Inc., said Flusche. It provides VoIP phones with a big-business-style auto attendant, voicemail and conferencing. “It’s very affordable. I have two phone lines with unlimited U.S. calling for about $50 per month.”

Flusche advised discussing confidentiality and ethical concerns with whatever service you choose. When he hired Migras, for example, he had her sign a non-disclosure agreement before they started working together.

And, don’t focus solely on products and services marketed toward attorneys.

“Some people artificially narrow their options by looking at solutions that are allegedly created for attorneys. Look at all the options. Pick the best option for your needs,” said Flusche.

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