One common issue that small firm lawyers often face is deciding when – and how – to delegate. Should you hire new employees or outsource certain tasks? This is a difficult decision since the work of small firm lawyers often ebbs and flows, and hiring staff on a whim may prove to be problematic down the road if business slows down.
Compounding the issue is the fact that many lawyers are reluctant to delegate, and instead prefer to handle everything themselves. The problem with that approach is that it tends to leave the lawyer overburdened, overworked, and overstressed
Determine whether to outsource or hire
So how do you know when to seek help, and whether to hire staff or outsource the work? As explained in “Effectively Staffing Your Law Firm,” a book edited by Jennifer J. Rose, the trick is to assess your needs and then make a careful, well thought out hiring decision:
You need to recognize when and how to get help. This is not a rallying cry to ramp up your staff to four secretaries, three bookkeepers, two law clerks, and a partridge in a pear tree. Rather, many tasks can be subcontracted to an outside service or handled by a part-time employee.
The key to knowing when it is time to set the ego aside and allow someone into your cloister is when the non-billable tasks are taking up more of your time than the billable tasks. If you find that you are doing more paralegal or clerical work on your files and you do not have time to draft the motions or documents your clients have requested, you need help. If you find you are answering too many unsolicited phone calls from people who want free legal advice and it is distracting you from your work, you need help.
Identify tasks ripe for outsourcing
One of the primary difficulties that lawyers encounter when seeking outside help is determining which tasks to outsource. The first step to take is to step back and examine your day-to-day practice. Identify the activities that bring you joy, and then note which ones take up lots of time and aren’t very fulfilling. The latter are the tasks to consider outsourcing.
As explained in this post, there are certain tasks that are more easily outsourced by small firm lawyers:
- Court coverage
- Brief writing
- Lead follow-up
- Litigation graphics
- Legal research
- Social media management
Are any of the least fulfilling tasks that you identified on this list? If so, then you already know exactly what you should outsource!
Mind your ethics when outsourcing legal work
Of course, it’s important to keep your ethical obligations in mind whenever you outsource law firm work to a third party. Ethical issues that may be triggered by outsourcing relationships include attorney competence (Model Rule 1.1), the allocation of authority (Model Rule 1.2 [a]), client communication (Model Rule 1.4), and fee-sharing (ModelRule 1.5).
As explained in this article, mind your ethics Ps and Qs by taking the following steps whenever you delegate work to a third party located outside of your firm:
- Inform your client when you outsource work at the very beginning, in writing, and get their informed consent.
- Be sure that anyone responsible for conflicts checks understands the ethical responsibilities involved.
- Protect client confidences by training outsourced workers and having them sign confidentiality agreements.
- Avoid fee-splitting rule violations and structure the outsourcing relationship to maximize the benefit to the client.
- Know your own abilities and fill in your weak spots with others who have the required expertise and experience.
Those are just a few things to think about when delegating your firm’s work. For even more guidance on effective outsourcing, make sure to download this free ebook: How to Delegate Efficiently and Effectively. In it you’ll learn the 5 steps of effective delegation and will be well on your way to offloading the cumbersome tasks that bog down your practice.