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Finding the right volume and personality mix to support a law practice isn’t easy. Historically, the tactical choice has been to either alter headcount or ask more of existing staff. These days, however, virtual assistants (VAs) like Laurie Mapp of Halo Secretarial Services offer a middle ground of just-in-time support services. Mapp, who was an in-house law firm employee for many years, performs legal assistant and paralegal work from her home office as an independent contractor. She’s just one example of the many experienced individuals who provide such services.
While the concept of VAs can be traced back at least several years, both the usage and number of providers is noticeably on the rise today. For solos or small firms where adding another body can be a big investment, VAs can be a smart alternative. Advantages include reduced administrative HR costs, a direct alignment of expenses to client work (and cost recovery), and the ability to increase or decrease service as work flow dictates.
The use of VAs is also part of a larger shift in subcontracting and piecing together teams of providers virtually. This free-agent nation, as it were, allows for different providers with varying areas of expertise—and service classes—to come together for each specific engagement. The innovative aspect will ultimately reside in who uses this capability to best meet the matter’s needs and how these groups come together. Collaborative spaces that help maintain conflict checks and adequately lock down security at a matter level would seem to be key.
Steve Matthews is principal of Stem Legal Web Enterprises, providing Web expertise for the legal profession. He is a member of Law Practice ’s Editorial Board and blogs at www.stemlegal.com/strategyblog.