I have hired two virtual law clerks and one virtual paralegal. These folks work as independent contractors on a project and task basis. There was much interest in this concept at LexThink so I thought I would create a separate category for the topic and provide an update.
So far, the program is going very well in the following areas:
Task Based Projects & Budgets: Every assignment to a virtual employee is narrowly defined, documented and budgeted. Unlike traditional firms which assign tasks to paralegal and clerks which are open ended and designed to create billable work, these tasks are designed to accomplish the opposite. We reduce billable work by posing narrow questions and asking for narrow answers and solutions to narrow problems. Each task allots so many hours of work to completion. If the worker needs more hours, they must be approved. All incentives push hard towards efficiency and answers.
Overflow Capacity: These virtual workers provide much needed overflow capacity for my practice. I still have not sent out announcements for my new firm since I can barely handle the current workload. The virtual program will create the capacity for me to deal with the inevitable increase in work that those announcements will generate.
Alternative Billing: By pushing easier tasks down to lower billing workers, I am in a position to deliver much more bang for the buck. On my flat fee cases, I increase my margins by not doing the work myself (and assuming I am working on another case while the virtual employees performs a task I would have otherwise performed). On my value billing (hourly) cases, I push tasks down to the appropriate billing level which saves the client fees.
Profit Center: As every non-solo knows, profits are tough when there is only one set of hands doing the lifting. Each project or task assigned to a virtual worker results in profits for the firm. Working properly, everyone wins. The client pays lower fees. The firm profits by assigning tasks to the lowest appropriate billing level. The virtual employee wins by having flex hours and self-managed projects. I am able to pay the virtual worker more since I don't have to provide office space, etc.