The gig economy is one of the fastest growing sectors of the U.S. economy, and outsourcing by hiring freelance lawyers is a great way to expand your firm’s business. In the ABA webinar, “Everything You Wanted to Know About Outsourcing but Were Afraid to Ask,” lawyer Dan Lear of Right Brain Law in Seattle and Kristin Tyler, a partner at Garman Turner Gordon in Las Vegas and co-founder of LAWCLERK (a marketplace for freelance legal help), explain how growth-driven attorneys can use freelance legal help to achieve their law firm business goals.
Start with small tasks. Lear says it’s understandable for lawyers to be wary of hiring anyone they don’t already know. He said it’s best to start by hiring someone to handle small, repetitive tasks that you’d be comfortable with someone else doing for you, ideally anything that doesn’t require a high level of analysis. “Start with something within your area of competence … so you can monitor the quality of the work,” he said.
Only outsource work that’s in your wheelhouse. There’s a list of things you shouldn’t outsource, such as work that doesn’t requires your specific knowledge or skill. For example, if you are a criminal defense attorney and a client wants you to file articles of incorporation, you’d be better off making a referral. “Don’t outsource work that you don’t understand yourself,” Tyler said. Outsourcing isn’t the only way to gain expertise; you can also co-counsel, refer work out or hire an associate with that expertise. You should look at outsourcing as one of the many arrows in your quiver for improving and expanding your practice.
Use your network to find someone. Once you decide to outsource work, the question becomes who should you hire? You can find someone through your own professional network, or maybe a law school classmate or someone you’ve met at an ABA event. There are also agencies that match legal freelancers with lawyers or you can advertise in bar association or legal publications. Check reviews from other lawyers to ensure you’re getting the right person for the work you need done.
Build relationships slowly. Consider dipping your toes in the outsourcing world by hiring someone to handle reception services or another piece of your practice that’s important but maybe not as integral as legal work. “Don’t try to hire a freelancer if it’s an emergency or you’re in a rush,” Tyler said. Build your relationship with freelancers slowly and limit their role to that of a paraprofessional. Focus on the project at hand, such as a specific research project or drafting responses to discovery requests, for example.
Once you know and trust them you can ask for quick turn-arounds, which come with a higher price tag. “The right freelancer can be a diamond in the rough that you never expected to find,” Lear said. “We’ve heard stories from people from big firms on the coast connecting with small-town lawyers in Alabama or Texas or Wisconsin,” Tyler added. “It’s pretty exciting.”
Estimating the fee. Tyler said most lawyers worry about the cost of outsourcing, but they should think about it as an investment. “Anything you do that’s going to improve or enhance your practice will take an investment, either of money or time — or frustration — as you learn something new,” Lear said. When deciding what to pay for certain tasks, set a reasonable hourly rate. Estimate how many hours the task should take, then come up with a flat fee. Tyler advises estimating the billable value of the work and paying 30-40 percent of the value as a flat fee. For example, four hours of work at $250 an hour comes to $1,000, so a reasonable flat fee would be in the $350 to $400 range. “If you’re outsourcing something complex, you’ll need to pay more,” Lear said, but it’s up to you to set the pay rate.
Set clear expectations. Lear said communicating your expectations is very important. “You can’t say enough times, ‘Here’s what I want, here’s how I want it done and here’s when I want it done by.”
“Everything You Wanted to Know About Outsourcing but Were Afraid to Ask” is available on demand, available at no cost to ABA members. The program is sponsored by the ABA Law Practice Division and ABACLE.