It cannot be emphasized too often that disaster and recovery planning is about people. Staff concerns are especially crucial. Valuable staff members are important during normal times and indispensable in dealing with a calamity.
However, in the period after a disaster, the demands on staff will be greater than ever. If your staff cannot cope with the increased demands, and particularly if salary payments are slow in resuming, they may bolt — vastly complicating the recovery process. It may thus be crucial to your personnel planning to line up additional help as quickly as possible. Options for doing so include virtual assistance, temporary help, or outsourced help.
VAs are paralegals or other administrative specialists who work off-site and online, creating a work product to your specifications and tailored to your practice. Technology allows access to such services without hiring a person to work full-time on your payroll. As independent business owners, Vas are neither employees nor subordinates. They more closely resemble accountants or any other business consultants with whom the lawyer has an ongoing, collaborative relationship. VAs become familiar with your practice and attuned to your business needs as much as any service provider engaged for a substantial length of time.
VAs should be selected like any other professional service provider. Such criteria as a business track record stretching at least three years, an informative and well-constructed website, and adequate professional references should be givens. And, of course, don’t make your final selection without the benefit of an interview, in person or by telephone.
Beyond these business considerations, think through the professional qualifications that you want from the VA. A paralegal should have credentials from an accredited educational institution and knowledge of local rules regarding court and civil procedures, in addition to practical insights pertinent to your practice. Depending on your needs, a VA paralegal can be expected to prepare documents for various proceedings (summons, complaints, and motions), summarize depositions, and conduct research. An administrative VA should demonstrate the ability to organize documents and chronologies and to create and maintain client files.
A VA should be able to conduct all of these activities electronically from a remote location. Effective electronic integration is a must.
Using the VA outsourcing strategy can give a lawyer the best of all solutions to the need for help. You get a professional team member, selected to your criteria, attuned to the business and professional needs of your practice. You are relieved of the cost (and potential inability) that in-house staff can represent, and you also gain more time for client representation and business development activities.
Temps from a temporary employment agency can be a viable solution to a small firm or solo practitioner’s personnel needs. However, if you need anything other than the most basic clerical assistance, it would be wise to consider employing a temporary on a long-term basis, in a strategy known as “temp to perm.” This option accommodates extended projects and protracted litigation; it is best pursued with a temporary agency that specializes in temporary legal personnel.
Service outsourcing is a dramatic and high-profile development in which high-speech Internet technology connects U.S. law firms with the growing pool of educated talent in developing countries where the use of English is widespread, with India being the prime example. Such offshore legal service providers can reduce by up to 80 percent the cost of the following:
- Transcription of voice files from depositions, trials, and hearings;
- Accounting support in the preparation of time sheets and billing materials;
- Paralegal and clerk support for research and file management;
- Data entry for marketing, conflict checks, and contact management;
- Litigation support graphics;
- Legal research, including case citation summaries;
- Review and due diligence of business documents; and
- Patent review and searches
This is not the practice of law. It’s the provision of high-quality, low-cost legal support products under the supervision of licensed attorneys.