My Shingle has a great post on obtaining contract work, including some interesting information about what the author believes to be a reasonable billing rate for various services for the Washington D.C. market. Carolyn Elefant has always been on the forefront of innovation when it comes to outsourcing, contract work and the like. You should check out this article found here.
The My Shingle post is interesting because it effectively captures what our virtual, virtual law clerk and virtual legal manager program delivers. Because there are so many good workers out there who don't necessarily work for large law firms, I am a strong advocate of the virtual worker program. Essentially, you hire workers on an independent contractor basis and assign very specific tasks within allocated legal budgets. They are required to provide back to you very detailed deliverables within budget.
Perhaps it is because the work is so well defined on the front end that the work being returned to us is such quality work on the back end. Too often, lawyers walk into an associates office and simply drop a file on the desk telling them to "handle it". With contract workers, you can't do that. The lawyer is forced to provide significant detail in order to give the worker any chance of turning around the work within budget and actually provide value in the work preformed.
I encourage anyone who is interested in a virtual employee program to contact me. Our program has been incredibly successful, and we are able to pay a better than competitive rate for the workers since we do not have any overhead with them. The client cost is approximately half of what they would otherwise have to pay for in-house employees. Work product quality has been way beyond anything I was ever able to replicate within the context of a law firm.