Is Hiring a Virtual Assistant Right for You?

Here is an article that appeared recently in the Progressive Law Practice magazine.

"Virtual assistants are hot whether you are a solo practitioner or work in a major law firm," says Chere Estrin, president and founder of The Organization of Legal Professionals. Moreover, she adds, the more tech-savvy the attorney, the easier it is to work with a virtual assistant, also known as a VA.

All of this new-found convenience is due, of course, to the advent of technology and the internet. Lawyers chained to the notion that their assistant must be seated at a nearby desk, answering phones, transcribing dictation and keeping the attorney’s calendar in order for a law practice to run smoothly might be wise to consider the benefits of working with a virtual assistant before poo-pooing the idea.

The A, B, Cs of Working with a VA

There are numerous benefits of working with a virtual assistant versus an in-office employee. The first is the cost savings a lawyer can enjoy by working with someone virtually. It’s not that experienced, skilled VAs are paid less than secretaries. In fact, according to Trivinia Barber, CEO and founder of Priority VA, prized VAs can command upwards of $50 hourly. Instead, cost savings are realized because:

  • VAs are 1099 independent contractors, meaning the lawyer does not pay Social Security or state, federal or other taxes
  • The VA is responsible for their own computer and other office equipment, another money saver
  • The lawyer does not have to provide employee perks, such as medical insurance, parking, paid sick and vacation days

But that’s not all, says Barber. “There are many VAs who can work for as little as ten hours a week, meaning they are flexible. It would be hard to find a secretary to only work ten hours,” she says. Moreover, Barber contends many VAs are “pretty well versed in the online marketing world so their collaborative ability can be extremely helpful to the attorney.”

Eunice Clarke, the director of marketing for the International Virtual Assistants Association, was herself a legal assistant prior to taking on her full-time role with the organization, so she understands the role an assistant plays whether in a brick-and-mortar situation or virtually. Hiring a VA means “anything a lawyer would pay for if a secretary had to come in the office” is saved by hiring virtually.

"If you are a micro-manager, a Virtual Assistant is not for you."

Still not convinced? Hiring a VA who works in a different time zone than the one where a law practice is located can also translate into more work being completed by those VAs in their respective locations. Not only that, VAs can work any time, day or night, so they are not limited by needing to be in the office to complete their tasks.

And, while the VA isn’t taking up space in a brick-and-mortar office, their contact with the lawyer can still extend beyond emails. For example, VAs can tap into online tools such as GoToMeeting and Skype for communicating face-to-face with the attorneys with whom they work, says Clarke.

Of course there are also cons to hiring a VA. For example, says Estrin, if you need something done but your VA isn’t available at the time, you might need to come up with another option. “You don’t necessarily have a full-time word processing department at your disposal” when working with a VA versus an in-office assistant, she says. Another potential pitfall is determining whether the VA possesses excellent project and time management skills.

“Virtual assistants need to know how to be great time managers to impress attorneys how efficient they can make” a lawyer and their law practice, says Clarke.

Are You Right for a VA?

“If you are a micro-manager, don't use a virtual assistant,” cautions Estrin, because you'll never get control. One of the primary reasons people opt to work as a VA is so they don’t have someone looking over their shoulder.

Another type of attorney who probably would not enjoy working with a VA is someone who likes to have a person greeting clients as they come to the office. Moreover, if face-to-face interaction is critical to your law practice, a VA is probably not a great option. If you rely on your employees to help build trust and credibility with clients, then working with someone virtually is not a good choice.

Also, if trusting others is an issue, then hiring a VA may not be a good idea, says Estrin. “Trust is something that people do not consider when hiring a virtual assistant. This issue relates to hiring tech people to work on your system remotely. Ask yourself if you are truly comfortable letting a stranger do work for you when they have access to some of your computers or data. If the answer is no or you’re not sure, then you may not be compatible with a VA,” she says.

Certainly there is nothing wrong with not feeling comfortable about giving someone remote access to your client’s files, but it is a critical question to answer before venturing in the VA market, she says. If you determine you want to dip your toe in the VA pool, there are at least two ways to find one. Not surprisingly, Barber suggests hiring an agency, such as hers, to help match the right VA for the job.

If the lawyer opts for a direct hire, there are specific questions the attorney should ask to help determine if the VA is right for both the job and the lawyer. Among them are to ask:

  • The candidate’s goals for their VA career to ensure they align with the attorney’s mission and vision of their law practice
  • What the VA knows about the lawyer and their law practice. Barber says the response demonstrates whether the VA researched the lawyer and their practice. If they did not, they might only be looking for a job, rather than a long-term professional involvement
  • Specific questions relating to the types of marketing campaigns they have been a part of, if marketing is one of the duties the lawyer wishes to assign the VA
  • Scenario questions to determine the VA’s temperament and ability to work with the clients served by the law firm.

If employee loyalty is a great concern for you, be aware it may not develop with a virtual employee. However, the same can be said for brick-and-mortar staffers, too. “There are virtual assistants who will give you the dedication and loyalty of a 20-year employee. Find out early on who you are dealing with,” says Estrin.

Tami Kamin Meyer is an Ohio attorney and writer.

Reprinted from Progressive Lawyer.

Paralegal Jobs Are Vanishing According to New AP Analysis

Bad, Bad News for Paralegals

Women abstractParalegal jobs are vanishing according to a recent analysis.  In fact, out of the top disappearing jobs, paralegal is in the top 7 positions.   

For years, the Bureau of Labor Statistics predicted that the paralegal position was one of the fastest growing fields.  In fact, as recently as 2011, the BLS predicted that from 2010 - 2020, paralegals would  have an 18% growth rate (average). No longer. 

The position is being obliterated by technology according to a recent analysis by the Associated Press.   "Year after year," the analysis states, "software that runs computers and an array of other machines and devices becomes more sophisticated and powerful and capable of doing more efficiently tasks that humans have always done. For decades, science fiction warned of a future when we would be architects of our own obsolescence, replaced by our machines."  Here's a great example:  travel agents -  similiar to paralegals in that it is a "helping" position.  Now, gone due to technology.

Unfortunately, paralegals are included in the millions of middle-class paid jobs vanishing, the most vulnerable being those jobs that are "routine and repetitious."  That particular phrase was actually in the ABA definition of a paralegal some years back.  How little we knew.

"There's no sector of the economy that's going to get a pass," says Martin Ford, who runs a software company and wrote "The Lights in the Tunnel," a book predicting widespread job losses. "It's everywhere."

Most of the jobs will never return, and millions more are likely to vanish as well, say experts who study the labor market. What's more, these jobs aren't just being lost to outsourcing and they aren't just factory work. Increasingly, jobs are disappearing in the service sector, home to two-thirds of all workers.

They're being obliterated by technology.

What is effecting the paralegal field in addition to technology?  Law firms today are seeking highly sophisticated and experienced paralegals. Those without technology knowledge and ability are at the highest risk.  Those who are not updated on the latest laws, procedures and who are not innovative or motivated are also at a very high risk.

Additionally, the five-year recession has seen associates dropping their level of assignment to cover paralegal duties in order to put forth enough billable hours. Rocky law firms, rather than see paralegals as cost-efficient and saving attorneys time, view the higher associate rates as more beneficial to the firm despite the fact that paralegals cost less and are frequently more profitable. It can make the top line more impressive resulting in the potential for higher bank loans, revolving credit lines and more. 

What can paralegals do to reverse the trend?  Maybe not much given the trend affects just about every service and manufacturing position.  However, you can leverage your paralegal background and propel yourself into new or  hybrid positions.   Here are just a few: 

  • Become a technology wiz in your specialty.  Software programs come and go and are updated frequently.  Being a wiz also means you are on the prowl every day for the latest trends and new programs.
  • Hot jobs are hot as long as the economy holds up, the specialty doesn’t cool down or schools do not answer the call to churn out trained candidates.  How familiar are you with the future of your specialty? If you were previously an ERISA paralegal, chances are you no longer hold that position.  Mergers & Acquisitions specialists were big losers in the recession.  If you were in M&A, did you prepare for an upcoming recession with a second specialty? Cross training is one way to make yourself more valuable in a firm. You may be the best paralegal the real estate department has but if that entire department is being shutdown, it won’t matter. But if you are also good at litigation, you may find yourself being moved into that department.  If not, you know why you may have been out of work for a long time.
  • What transferable skills do you have?  Take a good, hard look at your background.  Medical background? Construction? Insurance? Teaching? Police? Accounting? How can you combine your skills and leverage that background - even in a different field.    
  • Use social media to get your reputation well-known. We've said for years: network, network, network.  Use LinkedIn.  Make sure you have tons of connections. You just never know who knows what and where.
  • Expand your skill sets.  Are you a litigation paralegal without comprehensive eDiscovery knowledge?  You're on the target list, believe me.  I have listened to many, many paralegals declare that their firm does not "do" eDiscovery, so therefore there is no urgency to learning about it.  These buggy-whip, short-sighted paralegals are in for a big surprise if their firm starts losing business as a result and they are the first to go.  (BTW, the Organization of Legal Professionals, OLP, offers many online courses in eDiscovery and Litigation Support:
  • Be prepared to move into a different position all together.  For example, the Litigation Support field has a shortage of professionals schooled both in law and in technology.  Who better than a paralegal to move into a Litigation Support position?  The pay is excellent, the opportunities for the future very good.  The field will eventually evolve into something that we probably have not even envisioned, particularly since the legal field was one of the last to get on the band wagon.

Don't be short-sighted. Change is here to stay and in this century, most of us are not prepared for how fast it is happening. My strongest suggestion is to ride the horse in the direction it is going.  You'll be glad you did. 


Managing Effective Relationships with Vendors and the RFP Process

Our guest blogger today is Joe Kanka.

Recently, I had the opportunity to be a guest lecturer as part of the Organization of Legal Professionals (OLP) Paralegal Management Certification Program. As a former paralegal, I always welcome opportunities  to speak with today’s paralegals about how they can enhance their management skills. While the topic of the session was law office management, my presentation focused on Managing Effective Relationships with Vendors and Preparing RFPs. After all, we depend on diverse services and products to do our jobs successfully. And we must have different options available to us.

In my view, the ability to effectively manage vendor relationships and the RFP process are skills that are much needed in any industry including legal. And there are several reasons for this. So as a follow up to my OLP presentation, I have decided to write a series of blogs on the importance of strategic partnering. I prefer to call it strategic partnering and not vendor management. While paralegals are in a good position to add-value to the overall vendor management program, strategic partnering skills are also needed by attorneys, managers and litigation support professionals. As I pointed out in my presentation, a successful vendor management program helps organizations to be more competitive and strategic in managing their legal operations.

As I kick-off this series of blog posts on strategic partnering, let me state at the beginning that the legal industry must eliminate the word vendor from its vocabulary and replace it with the word partner. This was the topic of a previous blog post I wrote (see Do You Have the Right Business Partners?). The word vendor is a thing of the past.  Yes, I recognize that this will require a change in the legal industry culture but one that is long overdue.   

When it comes to strategic partnering, an important exercise that must be undertaken is what I like to call synergy analysis. That is, you should conduct an evaluation of current partners by looking at:

    The strengths and weaknesses of current partners
    The benefits that current partners provide to your organization
    The impact on your organization if you lose any current business partners

This same synergy analysis should be conducted whenever you evaluate new business partners. The key is to understand how any partner fits into the organization.

You should also break out your business partners into the following three key categories:

    People partners refer to service providers, forensic and eDiscovery companies, consultants, advisors, subject matter experts and staffing firms.
    Process partners refer to those companies who can support the key processes defined by the Electronic Discovery Reference Model (EDRM).
    Technology partners refer to companies providing software and service providers with the ability to work with several leading applications.

And yes, some partners may fit into more than one category.

In my upcoming blog posts on strategic partnering, I will address such topics as:

    Why are business partners needed
    How do you find business partners
    What makes a good business partner
    What can partners do for you
    How do you best manage partner relationships
    Are RFPs really necessary
    Types of services and products you will need
    Why use RFPs
    The three phases of RFPs
    Conducting due diligence on business partners
    Partner pricing considerations

My key conclusion is that partners can help you manage the business side of law involving people, process and technology. However, strong strategic partnering or vendor management skills are a must to achieve success in today’s legal environment.

Posted by Joe Kanka, Vice President of Corporate Development, eTERA Consulting. Joe can be reached at

Informative Articles, Interesting Blogs.....

Our guest blogger today is Celia Elwell - back with another useful column of Informative Articles and Interesting Blogs:

Legal Articles & Blogs:

2011 a transformative year” for workplace
class action litigation
, by Ashley Post, InsideCounsel

D.C. Judge Orders Deloitte To Court In Subpoena Dispute,
posted by Mike Scarcella, The BLT: The Blog of Legal Times

Piggybacking on Students' Free LEXIS Access by Practitioners: "No
can do" says Utah State Bar
, Law Librarian Blog

Stop Online Piracy Act Wants Biglaw Support; Biglaw Says, Aw,
Hell No’
by Christopher Danzig, Above the Law Blog

What Employers and Employees Should Understand About Conducting
Background Checks
, by Jason Shinn, Michigan Employment Law

The Best of the Best of the Best - The 2011 ABA Journal Blawg
, by Jason Shinn, Michigan Employment Law Advisor

Litigation Tips & Techniques:

Did Mark
Cuban's Attorney Just File Greatest Legal Scoreboard Ever in Ross Perot Jr.
by Robert Wilonsky, The Dallas Observer Blog

His First Jury Trial, by
Jim Calloway’s Law Practice Tips

Plaintiff “Entitled” to Search Non-Party’s Personal Hard
Drive Pursuant to Modified Subpoena
, by K&L Gates Electronic Discovery
Law Blog

Local Rules, Forms and Guidelines of United States District
Courts Addressing E-Discovery Issues
, by K&L Gates Electronic Discovery
Law Blog

Current Listing of States That Have Enacted E-Discovery
, by K&L Gates Electronic Discovery Law Blog

Examining Witnesses: Tips from Pace Law Library, by Evan
Schaeffer, The Trial Practice Tips Blog

Legal Writing and Research:

Competitive Intelligence - A Selective
Resource Guide - Completely Updated - December 2011
, by Sabrina I.
(Extremely comprehensive - a “must” bookmark)

Locating the Law - A Handbook for Non-Law Librarians,
by Southern California Association of Law Libraries (with hat tip to Bill

Writing Clear and Effective Legal Prose - When to Use the Passive
, by George P. Gopen, ABA Law Practice (with hat tip to Raymond
Ward, the (new) legal writer!)

Your Honor, could you repeat that . . . in plain language?,
Writing Matters, by E-Write’s Leslie O’Flahavan

Website Explores the Evolution of Law and Language at Supreme
, by Marcia Coyle, Law Technology News

Exemplary Legal Writing - 2011 Honorees, by the Green Bag
Almanac & Reader

CEOExpress (great one-stop site to find all types of handy
links for research, travel, news, etc.)

LawyerExpress (Like CEOExpress above, but with legal slant. See
“user manual” link at bottom of page to maximize use.)

Technology Tips and Tricks:

Review: iPad at Work by David Sparks -
excellent book for attorneys using an iPad
, by iPhone J.D.

Ten Essential Classes of Websites for Lawyers, by Jim
Calloway’s Law Practice Tips Blog
(Another “must” bookmark!)

Six Tips to Safeguard Your Mobile Devices, by Albert
Barsocchini, Law Technology News

TRUSTe's 2011 Website Privacy Index, by Law Librarian Blog
(with hat tip to Sabrina I. Pacifici!)

Law Office Management & Ethics:

Social Media Networking For Lawyers: A
Practical Guide to Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter and Blogging
, by Simon
Chester and Daniel Del Gobbo, ABA’s Law Practice

Social Media Management Tools, by Jim Calloway and Catherine
Sanders Reach, ABA’s GP Solo

10 Unknown Google Tips

31653ckv7e9sfy7[1] Someone sent me the following list of neat Google tricks.  I wish I could give credit to the writer, so forgive me about that. If anyone knows, let me know. However, here are new ways to use Google that we all can use:

1.         Definitions
Pull up the definition of the word by typing define followed by the word you want the definition for. For example, typing: define bravura would display the definition of that word.

2.         Local search
Visit Google Local enter the area you want to search and the keyword of the place you want to find. For example, typing: restaurant at the above link would display local restaurants.

3.         Phone number lookup
Enter a full phone number with area code to display the name and address associated with that phone number.

4.         Find weather and movies
Type "weather" or "movies" followed by a zip code or city and state to display current weather conditions or movie theaters in your area. For example, typing weather 84101 gives you the current weather conditions for Salt Lake City, UT and the next four days. Typing movies 84101 would give you a link for show times for movies in that area.

5.         Track airline flight
Enter the airline and flight number to display the status of an airline flight and it's arrival time. For example, type: delta 123 to display this flight information if available.

6.         Track packages
Enter a UPS, FedEx or USPS tracking number to get a direct link to track your packages.

7.          Pages linked to you
See what other web pages are linking to your website or blog by typing link: followed by your URL. For example, typing link: displays all pages linking to Computer Hope.

8.         Find PDF results only
Add filetype: to your search to display results that only match a certain file type. For example, if you wanted to display PDF results only type: "dell xps" filetype:pdf -- this is a great way to find online manuals.

9.         Calculator
Use the Google Search engine as a calculator by typing a math problem in the search. For example, typing: 100 + 200 would display results as 300.

10.        Stocks
Quickly get to a stock quote price, chart, and related links by typing the stock symbol in Google. For example, typing: msft will display the stock information for Microsoft.


Life Gets Easier: Google Introduces The Next Evolution of E-Mail?

J0422113 Imagine making e-mail slicker, faster and easier to use.  Apparently, Google imagined that too.  Today, Google announced Google Wave what will probably become the next new e-mail.

Wave is an ambitious new communication platform.  It seeks to replace many of the web functions we use everyday;  email, instant messaging, blogs, wiki's, and more.  Watching the UTube video, even I understood it and I think it might actually succeed.  Wave is the brainchild of two brothers, Lars and Jens Rasmussen, that previously brought us what we know today as Google Maps. 

Everyone uses email and instant messaging on the web now, but imagine if you could tie those two forms of communication together and add a load of functionality on top of it. At its most fundamental form, that’s essentially what Wave is.  While you are e-mailing, you can invite someone in to response, close it and come back to it.  You can invite a third person it.  A lot of it is click and drag.

Wave features a left-hand sidebar “Navigation” and a list of your contacts, from Google Contacts, below that. But the main part of the screen is your Wave inbox. This looks similar to what your Gmail inbox looks like except it feature the faces of your friends who are involved in each thread. There are also number indicators signifying if there is new content in that thread. This is an important distinction from Gmail — it isn’t just about new messages, there can be any kind of new content in these waves.

Clicking on any of the wave threads will open another pane to the right of the inbox that shows that wave in its entirety. Let’s say one wave is a message from a friend and you want to reply to it. If they’re not currently online, you can do it below their message just as you may in Gmail. Except there’s no bulky new message creator to pop open, you simply start typing below your friend’s message. But perhaps you want to respond to a particular part of their message — well you can do that too simply by starting to type below the part you’re replying to.

Are you following me here, camera guy? 

It’s a really interesting concept, one that you really do need to see in action. It’s ambitious as hell — which we love — but that also leaves it open to the possibility of it falling on its face. But that’s how great products are born. And the potential reward is huge if Google has its way as the ringleader of the complete transition to our digital lives on the web.


For more information and a demo, go to U Tube:GoogleWave UTube link: 

"Pzizz Offers Help for Power Nappers"

Helpful "be more productive at work" find from the folks at Web Worker Daily. Yeah, actually napping at your firm during the day might not be a good career move. But what about all-night document productions?

"We’ve written before about the benefits of an afternoon “power nap” in helping you get through the day and attack problems with renewed energy. But some folks have trouble getting to sleep in a limited time slot. For reluctant nappers, the downloadable application pzizz promises help. It runs on either Windows or Mac systems, and I had a chance to give it a spin this week.

"Pzizz is easy to use: you launch the application, choose a preset (the 'Default Energizer' preset is designed for a 20-minute power nap), and tell it to generate a soundtrack. Then you can play your soundtrack directly on the computer (useful if you have headphones and enough space on your desk to put your head down) or export it to MP3 for playback on another device (likely to be more comfortable for most users)."

So, what do you think about the usefulness of power napping?

"Keeping Current Can Be Hard to Do for Law Librarians"

I bet! In fact, I've often thought that being a law librarian would be a most interesting job. Just think about everything you would learn!

"Librarians are curious people. We like to skim magazines and books, we like to surf the Web and we have some interest in a lot of topics. A former co-worker used to say that librarians are 'trivial' in that we are always picking up trivia -- a definite asset when one needs to keep current in their profession.

"I was familiar with blogs, wikis and social software before I wrote 'The Many Hats of a Law Librarian: Part 3.'


"So, keeping current has two parts: awareness of new or changing resources/activities and appreciation of possible uses or impact in your institution. Or, there may not be a use in your library. Mash-ups look to be a fun technology, but I do not see a need for it at my institution at this time. Law firm librarians may find it more interesting.

"Keeping current is not just for technology advances, although technology does drive much of the change and activity. My 'Hats' series [of articles] is an attempt to describe how the Internet and electronics have impacted and continue to impact our profession. Our traditional hats as modified by technology means current awareness crosses more lines and covers more topics than ever."

Author Tricia Kasting is a reference/government documents librarian at Hofstra University School of Law's Deane Law Library in Hempstead, N.Y.

"Biglaw Plods Towards Mastodon's Fate"

Goodness, gracious, this is a remarkable discussion about the future of big law firms! Thanks to lawyer, author, & blogger Robert J. Ambrogi for highlighting it in Legal Blog Watch:

"When the general counsel of a major corporation says that the current model of the large law firm is heading towards extinction, ears perk up throughout the legal industry. That is precisely what happened after Sun Microsystems GC Mike Dillon wrote on his blog last week that Biglaw is going The Way of the Mastodon. His thesis is that large law firms exist primarily as aggregators of specialized legal expertise -- by combining multiple legal disciplines, firms can provide 'one stop shopping' for their clients. That used to make sense, in the days before the Internet when it was inefficient for a company to hunt down all the specialized legal talent it might need. But with the Internet, the model is changed, Dillon says."

If you work for a big law firm, I strongly recommend reading the entire post!

"10 dumb things users do that can mess up their computers"

Check out these very helpful reminders from the information technology gurus at TechRepublic:

"We all do dumb things now and then, and computer users are no exception. Inadvertently pressing the wrong key combination or innocently clicking OK in the wrong dialog box can change important settings that alter a computer's behavior or even crash the system.

"Nervous newbies are often fearful that one wrong move might break the computer forever. Luckily, short of taking a sledge hammer to the box, the consequences aren't usually quite that dire. Even so, users often do create problems for their computers and for your network. Here's a description of common missteps you can share with your users to help them steer clear of preventable problems.

#1: Plug into the wall without surge protection

"Here's one that actually can physically destroy your computer equipment, as well as the data it holds. You may think your systems are in danger only during an electrical storm, but anything that interrupts the electrical circuit and then starts the current back again can fry your components. Something as simple as someone turning on an appliance that's plugged into the same circuit (especially a high voltage one such as a hair dryer, electric heater, or air conditioner) can cause a surge, or a surge may be caused by a tree limb touching a power line. If you have a power outage, you may experience a surge when the electricity comes back on.


#6: Open all attachments

"Some folks just can't help themselves: Getting an e-mail message with an attachment is like getting an unexpected gift. You just have to peek inside to see what it is. But just as that package left on your doorstep could contain a bomb, that file attached to your mail message could contain code that will delete your documents or system folder or send viruses to everyone in your address book."