The good news? Your small firm is thriving and you want to grow its capacity. The bad news? You still cannot afford to hire full-time legal talent.
So what’s the answer?
Legal process outsourcing is an excellent option for small firms in this situation. By using outside legal professionals to take on certain tasks — without hiring them full-time — your firm can get more done while remaining flexible and nimble.
Below we cover some of the main considerations in legal outsourcing for small firms, along with best practices for managing your outsourced work.
Why do law firms outsource?
Law firms have several reasons to consider outsourcing their legal work. Perhaps most importantly, firms use outsourcing to manage their work overflow while keeping costs down.
If your firm has a pool of workers regularly used for outsourcing, you can always have a qualified team on hand when you need them. In addition, outsourcing some legal tasks can allow your full-time employees to focus on higher-value work.
The benefits of legal process outsourcing go beyond even these basics.
By outsourcing to attorneys outside your practice specialties, you can expand your practice area expertise. It enables flexible staffing, since you pay for the legal services only when you need them.
Your firm can also outsource litigation support for tasks such as document review, freeing you from the need to keep a large support staff on your payroll at all times.
What can your firm outsource without unnecessary risk?
The first step is to determine which tasks your firm can outsource without exposing itself to unnecessary risk. This will require evaluating your firm’s outsourcing needs.
You may want to focus on tasks that consume a lot of staff time but don’t necessarily need to be done by your in-house employees.
Another consideration is whether the task needs to be performed while physically in the office as opposed to remotely.
Here are some of the top areas for legal outsourcing.
Document review and e-discovery
Document review is one of the more tedious and time-consuming tasks in the legal field.
Since it can be done by outside workers for competitive rates, this makes it one of the best areas for outsourcing.
This may include such tasks as deposition summaries. Electronic discovery, or e-discovery, is a subset of document review where outsourcing is especially prevalent.
In addition to reviewing the electronic documents, this includes scanning and coding the documents. Many outside vendors provide e-discovery services.
Routine court appearances are very well-suited to outsourcing.
A run-of-the-mill court appearance can be extremely time-consuming, with substantial travel time and waiting in court for your matter to be called, all for appearing in front of the judge for five minutes or less.
Appearance counsel can handle these appearances for relatively low rates, saving you and your in-house team the time for more substantive work.
Legal writing and research
Legal writing and research can also be outsourced effectively, since these tasks are often extremely burdensome on you and your staff.
Since these tasks are more substantive in nature than court appearances or document review, they will require a higher level of quality control, but they can still be worthwhile to outsource for a small firm.
Other legal tasks to outsource
There are a host of other monotonous and time-consuming tasks that are good candidates for outsourcing.
These include discovery and discovery responses, wills and trusts, and corporate documents. Administrative tasks, which might usually be handled by an in-house paralegal or legal secretary, are other outsourcing options.
Where to find virtual assistance for outsourcing needs
If you seek virtual assistance for your outsourcing needs, you need to know where to look.
Fortunately, there are many legal outsourcing services that provide virtual paralegals, secretaries, and assistants, along with contract attorneys.
For virtual receptionists, be sure to review the company’s pricing, packages, and services offered. For virtual paralegal and administrative services, seek out companies that provide staff who are well-versed in your practice area.
Remember to ensure that your virtual paralegals and attorneys have the correct licensing and credentials necessary.
Conduct a conflict-of-interest check, too, just as you would do for in-house staff.
Best practices for managing legal outsourcing
Part of the challenge of legal outsourcing is managing your outside talent.
If the management process is too onerous, it may be more cost effective to perform the task yourself or assign it to in-house staff. Some firms spend more time managing their outsourced talent than they would have just doing it, and that defeats the purpose.
The following are several best practices for outsourcing management.
#1: Set clear expectations and scope of work
Be sure to define the scope of work and clearly set expectations.
This is especially important for freelance attorneys, who may be accustomed to working with more autonomy. You must be clear about what you want accomplished, what you don’t want done, and the end result for which you’re aiming.
#2: Devote adequate time to training
Make your initial training as clear and transparent as possible.
Do not rely on your outsourced talent simply “learning as they go.” That’s setting both you and them up for failure.
While it might feel like a huge time investment to offer training and help, remember that the alternative is spending more time on the back end fixing issues that could have been avoided. Spend the time so that you don’t waste more time and money on a process that doesn’t work.
#3: Track productivity
Use measurement tools to track the productivity of your outsourced worker. This may be accomplished by having the worker log status updates into your productivity management system.
Project management tools are an effective and easy-to-learn way to track productivity.
Get in the habit of using your project management tool for the work you do in-house, too. That way, you’ll know where every job stands, and you can more easily hand off work with the history and relevant information already recorded.
#4: Communicate regularly
Maintain a steady flow of communication, especially with virtual legal assistants, so that both of you know they are not going off track.
Constant phone calls may be overly intrusive, so consider alternatives such as instant messaging, Skype, and email. Many contractors prefer to work asynchronously, providing updates digitally instead of in meetings.
If you do want to meet regularly, discuss that with your outsourced talent up front. Expect to pay for that time.
#5: Keep files in the cloud
Keep your files in a cloud-based system such as Dropbox or Google Drive so you still have access to them if the remote legal assistant or other legal professional leaves before the project is finished.
Before you start sharing folders and documents, take some time to learn about access levels and other built-in security features.
Follow these best practices to ensure your small firm gets all the benefits possible from legal outsourcing. This will provide your firm with the flexibility and growth potential it truly needs.