Today’s guest post was written by Melissa Brown. You can learn more about her at the end of the post.
When a busy law practice begins to demand more than the available hours in a day or week, lawyers have a few options at their disposal. Try as we might, however, even the most efficient among us will never eke out one additional hour over the 168 available in any week.
That leaves us with four options: 1) Reduce the number of clients; 2) Hire an associate or additional support staff; 3) Bring in a colleague as of-counsel or a new partner; 4) Outsource.
Reduce the number of clients
Most solo and small firm lawyers are interested in growing their practices, not shrinking them. If this is true for you, then this option is easily discarded.
Hire an associate or additional support staff
Hiring additional staff – whether another attorney or more support personnel – is a viable but costly proposition. Besides a competitive salary, a new position will also require additional expenditures for worker’s compensation insurance, Social Security contributions, bar dues, CLE costs and other training, as well as benefits. Additionally, new associates require significant investments of time and money for training and supervision.
Bring in a colleague as of-counsel or a new partner
Similarly, when you add a partner or an “of-counsel” attorney to your team, the costs and risks can also increase substantially. The added costs include the required expansions of your office systems, the normal payroll and benefits costs, and malpractice insurance costs. There is also frequently a reduction in personal profits as you have to share profits in some manner with your experienced new addition.
In many cases, the fourth option – outsourcing – will give the busy lawyer the “best of both worlds:” qualified help, on an as-needed basis, at a much lower cost.
Financially speaking, an ongoing relationship with a competent contract provider makes good sense for a solo or small firm. By passing the contract attorney’s hourly rate to the client, the lawyer achieves two goals simultaneously: reducing the drain on firm resources and saving the client significant funds because most contract attorneys charge rates significantly lower than the lead attorney’s hourly rate.
How I outsource
In my Charleston, South Carolina law practice that focuses exclusively on complex – and usually hotly contested – divorce actions, time is always at a premium. Although I am fortunate to employ several smart and hard-working staff members, sometimes a busy solo lawyer needs more. A few years ago, I found myself in need of either a few more hours in each day, or another experienced litigator in my office. When I couldn’t figure out how to add more hours and realized I didn’t want to add the expense and trouble of hiring another associate, I started to look for “outside the box” solutions.
Enter my “secret weapon”: Alexia Pittas, of Lawyer Rescue. Alexia is an inactive lawyer who formerly practiced in Charleston, but then opened her own business providing legal research/drafting and litigation strategy consulting services on a contract basis to solo and small firm attorneys.
Once I began outsourcing specific tasks to Alexia, I quickly realized that the working relationship we were developing had the potential to solve a major problem for my practice: the need for experienced substantive help on a periodic basis without huge investments of cash and my time to train and supervise.
My team now has the benefit of a highly experienced and skilled legal professional but without the considerable expense and risk inherent in hiring a full-time associate or partnering with someone of similar experience.
In the three years she and I have been working together, she has become nothing short of essential to my busy practice’s ability to run smoothly and effectively. And the secret of that successful working relationship is our collaborative use of technology.
MyCase makes outsourcing easy
Alexia, who lives in Savannah, works with me and my team predominantly through digital means, with an occasional conference call for assignments, reviews and case planning. We use MyCase for a seamless group working experience. Via MyCase, we share file materials, documentary evidence, and draft documents, thus saving my clients the time it used to take to scan, email, upload, download, and process each file individually.
Thanks to MyCase, we have also been able to do away with the inefficiencies of constant check-ins regarding the status of each case. Any team member can simply log on to MyCase to see what has been done and what still needs to be done. We can also leave each other notes in the case files and ask each other questions without having to interrupt each other with a steady stream of disruptive emails and phone calls.
The net result of this working arrangement is that my team is able to achieve the same level of collaborative teamwork in far less time, at far less cost to me, and at far less cost to my clients.
Melissa Brown is a Charleston, South Carolina attorney whose law practice focuses on matrimonial and family law. She is also a Fellow in the American and International Academies of Matrimonial Law.