In a recent article we talked in depth about proper delegation.
Outsourcing is a subset of delegation, so I recommend you go back and read that article if you didn’t already because this one is going to build on what we covered there.
One of the most joyous things you can do is delegate work that you don’t want to do, or shouldn’t do to someone else. The problem for solo lawyers, and for many small firm lawyers is this.
They don’t have anyone to delegate to because they think they can’t afford to hire someone to help them (emphasis on the word “think”)
First let’s remember the key mantra that should rule all of your workload management: you should only be doing work that requires a law license to perform. And if you have other lawyers to delegate work to, then you should only do the stuff that requires your extensive experience.
First year associates can draft discovery responses and write memos. And they can do legal research. Do you need to hire a full-time associate to help you with these kinds of tasks?
So let’s delve into the various types of work that you can outsource to other people. But first let’s analyze what kinds of non-legal work most readily lends itself to outsourcing.
Key Factors in Outsourcing Decisions
There are several factors to take into consideration in deciding whether to outsource:
- Is the task something that requires specialized skills, or that TO DO WELL? Does it require specialized skills?
- Is the task a frequently recurring task?
- Is the task something that necessitates hiring a full-time employee? That is, do you have enough of this specialized kind of work that it makes financial and practical sense to hire someone full time?
- Can the task be done by someone not physically located in your law office? Increasingly the answer to this question is yes.
- How important is this kind of work? And what aspect of your practice is it important to? Is it something that will help you attract and retain good clients? Is it something that will help you stay organized? Is it something that will help you get work done faster and at higher quality?
- And last….How much of your time will be freed up? And what kind of more valuable work will you be able to do by shedding this kind of work?
Commit to Delegating More
Frankly, in my experience most solo and small firm lawyers spend too much time doing work that they should delegate. And if the excuse is they can’t afford a full-time employee then they should start seriously investigating how they can leverage the power of outsourcing.
There are a couple of kinds of tasks that solo lawyers should not be doing themselves: and number one is answering their own phones. Or letting calls go to voice mail because that sends a bad signal to prospective and current clients.
Virtual Receptionist Services
When I started my solo practice I didn’t think I could afford a receptionist, although I would’ve loved to have one like the one that worked at the big firm I left to start my own firm.
Having seen what a good receptionist brings to the table as far as creating a strong impression with clients and prospective clients made me want to fill that gap in my solo practice.
When I found out about virtual receptionist services I was curious but wary. I was afraid of taking on a significant expense just to answer phones and I thought that sending calls to voicemail was a wiser choice.
But in reality it was a classic example of not realizing what having my phone calls answered in a highly personal way meant to my practice. For one thing, it meant that I created a top-notch first impression. And a second impression, and third and so on.
It also meant that I was not relying on technology to help me communicate. And that was a blind-spot I had. I thought I could automate my phone system, but I failed to realize that automation is not reliable enough to trust for something so important as communicating with people who call my firm.
I decided to try outsourcing to a virtual receptionist service (Ruby Receptionists) because of two main factors: First, I was able to test the service for a couple of weeks for free, and second, I knew I’d be signing on for a monthly service that I was free to cancel at any time.
And that last thing is one of the main benefits of outsourcing: you aren’t locked into a long-term commitment. You’re basically renting the services of people for as long as you need those services. And you don’t have to find the right people, nor train them.
And the more specialized the job is, the harder it will be for you to train them properly. Answering phones is not as easy to do as it seems, especially not if we’re talking about answering them in the most professional manner.
Plus very few small law firms need a full-time receptionist. So realistically the only sensible option is to outsource your phone answering work. And while you can save money and get a really cheap answering service, remember that your reputation is on the line.
So think twice about being penny wise and pound foolish with any aspect of your practice that involves potential clients or judges or who knows who calling your law firm.
Almost certainly, the first thing that every solo and small firm should outsource is the phone answering.
Virtual Bookkeeper Services
The next area that’s ripe for outsourcing is bookkeeping. This is another area that’s a super-specialized, absolutely crucial recurring task. And it’s not one that’s likely to require a full-time employee.
So why not outsource it?
Well some lawyers tell me they have this wonderful person who’s been doing their books for years and so they’re going to stick with that person. And that makes sense, so I can’t argue with that response.
But here’s my question: what happens when that person quits working? Or what happens if they get sick, or die?
Then you have to find a new wonderful bookkeeper. Which is not so easy.
Why not just hire a virtual bookkeeping service like Kahuna Accounting? They have a pool of well-trained financial people who are expert at doing bookkeeping.
They use cloud-based accounting services like Quickbooks Online or Xero to store your records. And they set up automation so that your financial information is automatically pulled from your bank and other financial sources.
They can reconcile all of your accounts, and handle trust accounting. And they can help you improve your business by making recommendations based on your numbers.
And while you’ll be assigned a special account representative who’ll get to know your business, they can easily replace that representative if they quit or get sick.
This ability to seamlessly move from one person who helps you to another is what I call “disruption insurance.” That’s another reason why I recommend that solo and small firm lawyers outsource both receptionist services and bookkeeping.
With the receptionist services you’re not assigned a special person. You’re given access to a pool of talented folks, which has lots of benefits that lawyers don’t consider.
So what else besides receptionists and bookkeepers can you outsource?
Well, remember the key factors: what recurring tasks do you have that don’t require a law license but have to be done and which if done by someone else will make your life easier?
Here you need to start making a list of recurring tasks that your’e doing now, especially ones you think you’ve solved with technology but in reality you’re still being frustrated by.
I can think of one or two right off the bat, because I used to think that I could use technology to solve them but it turned out I was wrong, wrong wrong.
Email. How about email? Are you overwhelmed by email? Of course you are. Everyone is overwhelmed by email.
And yet you can set up filters and rules and systems. But in the end you’ll still have enough crap to deal with that you’ll still be frustrated dealing with email.
A good part-time virtual assistant can help you with email. More than you probably realize. And that same VA can also help you with calendaring issues, most of which are presented to you in email requests.
What if you only had to check email twice a day, just to see what came in? And what if you could ask a virtual assistant to respond to a lot of your email—mostly the routine stuff?
Well that can happen if you set yourself up with the proper expectations.
The kind of VA who would do this kind of work is called an “executive assistant” VA.
Unlike virtual receptionists and bookkeepers you’ll have to train the executive assistant VA who handles your email and calendaring. Why?
Well, obviously there is a lot of variance in how you want your email handled from how other folks handle their email. And same goes with your calendaring.
It will take time, and frequent feedback and guidance from you to help your VA get to the point where they know what to do without any input from you.
So if you remember in a prior article where we talked about the levels of delegation….
You can see how what happens with the virtual receptionist and bookkeeper is you’re hiring someone who’s already at Level 4, and over time the service builds notes about your preferences so that their VA service rises to level 5.
But with the executive assistant VA who you hire to do your email and calendaring, the person is at level 1 or 2 even though they have the skill to quickly rise to level 3 or 4.
But, in the beginning, they require a lot of feedback from you to get them to those higher levels.
I’ve seen many attorneys get frustrated with virtual assistants. There are two main reasons for this:
- They don’t spend enough to get quality assistance.
- They have unrealistic expectations for how quickly the VA can learn and level up.
If you are realistic and if you hire a quality VA then you’ll have an amazing outcome. Which is to say you’ll be able to free up a lot of your valuable time, and offload annoying tasks to someone who’s much happier doing those things.
You can even outsource lawyer tasks like drafting discovery requests and pleadings.