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How to Effectively Outsource Legal Work [An In-Depth Look]

By Kristin Tyler
January 22, 2021

Attorney Corey Parker specializes in law firm growth, and he has a particular knack for using freelance attorneys’ time and talent to scale his growing appellate practice, without needing to hire full time, in-house associates.

In a recent webinar we hosted (more on that below), he pulled back the curtain on how he has used LAWCLERK — our freelance lawyer marketplace — to meet his staffing needs, increase his client load, and improve his bottom line. 

In this post, you’ll learn how to use freelance lawyers to improve your law firm in the same ways. We’ll start off by sharing the best practices that Corey uses when outsourcing legal work (to give you ideas for your own practice) and then transition to debunking common misperceptions about outsourcing. 
 

Overview

Outsourcing Legal Work: Best Practices

1. Keep a List of Your Favorite Freelance Lawyers for Specific Cases and Tasks

2. Ensure Plenty of Lead Time

3. Include the Client’s Input and Questions When Assigning the Project

4. ‘Help the Writer Help You’

5. Make Writers Want to Work with Your Law Firm, Too

Outsourcing Legal Services: Misperceptions
 

Note: We help busy attorneys get an extra set of hands via our nationwide marketplace of over 3,400 incredibly talented freelance lawyers (aka virtual associates) with experience levels in almost every conceivable area of law. Learn more and sign up here.
 

Outsourcing Legal Work: Best Practices

1. Keep a List of Your Favorite Freelance Lawyers for Specific Cases and Tasks
 

One of the best strategies Corey has used with his squad of freelance lawyers on LAWCLERK is classifying and rating each writer internally. This provides two main benefits: 

  • He can repeatedly use the same attorney for the same kind of task, because he knows they're particularly proficient at it.

  • He can try to keep the same attorney for related projects needed on one case, so they’re already familiar with the details.

Up front, you may not know which attorneys you can count on for specific tasks. But once a writer has successfully completed one kind of project for you, you can usually count on them to do similar projects more easily and quickly. Corey suggests having a writer for each area of your practice, so you know you can count on them.

This is especially true for writers who come through on time-sensitive projects. It might be a little pricier, but if you’re in a rush and know a specific writer will deliver when you really need it, it’s worth it to ensure a short turnaround time. Corey also recommends having multiple backups on each of your lists of preferred lawyers, since it’s difficult to know if a writer may be unavailable. 

It’s also beneficial to have the same lawyer work on various projects across one case, if possible. For example, if they’ve already done some legal research and written the initial brief on a case, having them handle a reply brief or any other supplemental briefing will help you avoid starting from scratch with a new lawyer each time. 

Finally, you may also want to have a short list of lawyers by location. It’s possible to get a more affordable freelance lawyer if they live in an area with a lower cost of living, which can really help if you have a particularly cost-conscious client.

Pro Tip: The easiest way to track and manage your top freelance lawyers is to build Teams within your LAWCLERK account and add your favorite freelancers to various Teams. More on that can be found HERE
 

2. Ensure Plenty of Lead Time
 

Corey knows timing can be everything in the legal profession. “If you can get ahead of deadlines and avoid fires, the practice of law will be significantly less stressful.”  He suggests assigning projects as soon as you know you need to have them done, even if you have 90 days before the pleading is due. This ensures you can get them to the client sooner, and subsequently have them filed sooner, reducing timing stresses several times over.

He also sets internal deadlines for freelance work that are far ahead of the actual court deadlines. This is doubly important when trying out a new freelancer. If their work isn’t up to par, there’s more time for document review and to edit the document before it’s due.
 

3. Include the Client’s Input and Questions When Assigning the Project
 

Corey has clients fill out a form with their concerns, input about their case, and any questions they may have before outsourcing work to freelance lawyers. This bolsters client satisfaction, especially with clients who need to feel their concerns will be directly addressed. 

It can also cut down on back-and-forth between you and the client as the documents are being prepared, saving even more time on the case. Having a system in place for each case and explaining that system to the client can help manage their expectations and reduce the amount of questions they have throughout your relationship. “Without a system and boundaries, the client will feel like they can ask questions whenever they want, and you will always be interrupted,” he clarifies.

“I often have the writer draft a brief and then write a short letter or memo to my client, explaining that they took into account the client’s input and what they did or did not use from the input and why,” Corey explains. This can really cement in the client’s mind that their input was both valuable and attended to.

Here’s an example of a system Corey recommends:

  • The client uses your form to provide their input and questions about the case.

  • You assign the pleading to a writer, providing them with the form filled out with the client’s input and questions.

  • The writer drafts the pleading and then separately addresses the client’s input and questions in a client letter — so you don’t have to.

  • The client reviews the pleading and receives a response to their follow-up questions and feedback.

  • The pleading is filed with the court.

Systematizing this process can be a huge time-saver for the client, for the freelancer, and for you.

Note: We help busy attorneys get an extra set of hands via our nationwide marketplace of over 3,400 incredibly talented freelance lawyers (aka virtual associates) with experience levels in almost every conceivable area of law. Learn more and sign up here.
 

4. ‘Help the Writer Help You’
 

Receiving work from a freelancer that still needs to be formatted, proofread, or edited for court rules can be time consuming, which can negate the benefits of having someone else do the work for you in the first place.

One of the best ways to ensure thorough, polished work is to give as many details and tools to the writer as possible, up front. Similar to having a form for clients to fill out about their concerns (as we mentioned above), you too can systematically pass along all the information needed to complete the project you’re assigning, from beginning to end. This can be accomplished by giving your freelancer a checklist specifying your requirements for things including margin size, preferred font, word count limits, and preference for writing style.

Corey suggests giving writers templates with the formatting already applied, so you know the documents you receive will already look as you need them to. Include any applicable pleading paper, preset margins, relevant court rules for formatting, and instructions that are as clear as possible.

Because you’re providing all of this, ensure the writer understands you want a “ready-to-file pleading. It defeats the purpose of delegating if you have to spend hours on administrative items like reformatting, adding tables, etc.,” he explains. But because they have all of this information, they should be able to do everything, including proof of service. “You should only have to review it at the end.”

Corey also suggests hanging on to this template even if you stop using freelancers at some point in the future. The same templates that worked for a freelance legal professional you hired on LAWCLERK will probably also work for an in-house associate or a full-timeparalegal, which means onboarding them to those projects will be much smoother and faster. 
 

5. Make Writers Want to Work with Your Law Firm, Too
 

There’s a great pool of writers available from LAWCLERK who are eager to keep doing freelance work, sometimes for relatively low costs, because of the flexibility to work from home when they want to. But just like you don’t enjoy working for difficult clients in your own practice, those attorneys don’t like working for difficult clients through LAWCLERK, either.

You can ensure good writers will want to keep working with you by thanking them for their work, giving them genuine positive feedback, leaving great reviews, and making sure they know they’ve made it to the top of your list for repeat work. Giving a great worker a good volume of work over time can cement the relationship as a positive one for both parties.

This can ensure they want to work with you repeatedly, which can give you an edge when you need a reliable freelancer. Because if they know you’re easy to work with, they may be less hesitant to raise their rates over time or turn down steady work from you. 
 

Outsourcing Legal Services: Misperceptions 
 

As Corey’s appellate practice grew and the workload increased, it became evident that he needed an extra set of hands, but full-time, associate attorneys weren’t conducive to his bottom line. He considered delegating some of the legal work to freelance lawyers, but he had two (misconceived) thoughts about that:

  • It took too much time to delegate everything, such as finding the workers and writing up the instructions, so it was easier and faster to just do it himself.

  • His clients had hired him to represent them, so it was his responsibility to personally do as much of the work required for their cases as possible, to ensure they were getting the best representation he could offer.

However, he soon realized neither of those things were true.

For one, every time he got into a project he had considered having someone else do for him, he always regretted taking it on himself. If he had just put in the time up front to find someone and explain the project to them, he’d have much more time in the long run to focus on more important tasks.

For another, being overworked meant Corey wasn’t going to deliver the best possible work to his clients. If he could get assistance writing briefs, filling out forms, and drafting letters, he could spend more time working on “big brain matters,” such as the strategy surrounding a case. 

In addition, you may find freelance lawyers who are more qualified than you are for certain tasks. Corey explains: “I’ve worked with some Ivy league graduates, attorneys who clerked for judges, and an attorney who graduated at the top of her class. Many of the freelance lawyers on LAWCLERK can write a better brief than I can, and it’s in my client’s best interest to have a brief written by them.”
 

More Information on Outsourcing Legal Services for Your Law Firm
 

We sat down with Corey Parker for an hour long webinar where he goes into greater detail about legal outsourcing and scaling a high-growth law firm: 

In addition, we’ve created an Attorneys Resources page where you can find a number of useful documents related to legal outsourcing, such as: 

Note: We help busy attorneys get an extra set of hands via our nationwide marketplace of over 3,400 incredibly talented freelance lawyers (aka virtual associates) with experience levels in almost every conceivable area of law. Learn more and book a demo here.
 

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