Most law offices are set up quite traditionally. Plenty of lawyers still use fax machines and many law offices still contain that ancient beast known as a stenograph. So it’s no surprise that lawyers tend to hire people traditionally as well. But there’s an alternative route to traditional hires that may benefit your practice: the virtual assistant.
What is a Virtual Assistant?
A virtual assistant — also known as a VA — is someone who performs work for you or your firm virtually, using their own office and their own equipment. VAs are responsible for their own taxes and do not get paid vacation or sick days. Most bill by the minute (just like lawyers do) and some have flexible payment options such as retainer, pay-as-you-go or pay-per-project.
VAs have a wide range of skills (though not every VA will be well-versed in all skill sets). In addition to virtual assistants who specialize in law-specific support, VAs can handle general administrative tasks, basic web design and graphic design, social media items, internet marketing and more.
Now that you know what a VA is, let us discuss how you can benefit from hiring one.
- You only pay for what you need. Employing someone in-house means that you will pay for downtime, sick days, vacation days and you will be responsible for holding back taxes and filing extra paperwork. You may also be responsible for providing medical benefits. With a VA, you don’t have to worry about any of that. The virtual assistant will charge you only for the time spent working on their project — when they aren’t working on your project, they aren’t billing you.
- No extra office space or equipment needed. Hiring a virtual assistant means that they will not require space in your office. If you spend most of your time working from home or on the road, having a VA means you never have to worry about accommodating someone else. You can come and go as you please and know that work is getting done. Your assistant will have his or her own software and equipment, too. If something breaks, you are not responsible for the maintenance or replacement of that equipment.
- For solo lawyers, much-needed support. Whether for cash flow or space reasons, solo lawyers often feel they have to do it all themselves. A virtual assistant can take some of that load off you without the usual risk and burden of an employee. And if you’re a solo you know it is often difficult to find time to spend on marketing your services. A VA can both lighten your workload so you have more time for marketing and help you with marketing tasks.
- You can tap into current marketing for your firm. A lot of lawyers tend to stick to the more traditional marketing route, possibly because they don’t have the time to explore new online marketing options. A virtual assistant can help you tap into social media such as Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn, create or maintain a website or blog, and help you build an email list to market your services to. Without these things, you end up missing out on huge opportunities to engage with clients and referral sources.
- You get strategy, too. The No. 1 benefit of using a virtual assistant is that you get more than just support with your to-do list. You also get someone who understands the business world, the online world and the administrative world. You get to tap into their experience and expertise. Most virtual assistants will be able to guide you through the world of the online collaboration tools, for example, and make sure that you are taking advantage of any new opportunities. Getting timely, up-to-date insight on what is working and what isn’t can give you the edge over other firms.
Can I Feel Safe Working with a VA?
One of the biggest concerns lawyers have when considering a VA is the issue of confidentiality. You may not meet the VA in “real life,” and you may not know if his or her setup is secure, so should you trust your client’s information with someone outside of your space? Most virtual assistants take great pride in ensuring that their client files and the information shared between them client and them is 100 percent secure. They use project management tools that incorporate SSL security and back up their information regularly, and most VAs are also willing to sign confidentiality and nondisclosure agreements.
In addition to checking references, the best thing you can do is ask the VA questions about their setup and get specifics about how they will protect your information. If they don’t have a good answers, continue your search to find a virtual assistant who does take security seriously.
Erin Blaskie is the brainpower behind Entrepreneur DIY, a site that offers tutorials and resources for business start-ups, and BSETC, a professional outsourcing firm. Erin has been an online video host and has been involved in large-scale social media activations. She has been featured in five print books and received two business awards at the 2010 Bootstrap Awards.
Illustration © ImageZoo.