Top 7 Outsourcing Do’s and Don’ts for Lawyers

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Outsourcing is a common practice for many industries – including the legal industry – and it’s easy to see why.  Outsourcing extra work can provide flexible, affordable way to get the exact kind of help you need when you need it.  Outsourcing may seem like the magic “Easy Button” you’ve been waiting for with any hiring challenges during this Great Resignation, but it’s important to understand the risks involved. By outsourcing, you are allowing another company or individual to handle some of your important tasks and responsibilities. While this can have its benefits, some things need to be considered before jumping on board with an outsourced resource.

Before you start outsourcing with a freelance lawyer, consider the following dos and don’ts:

  1. DO be clear about the type of work you need to be done,
  2. DON’T be afraid to delegate
  3. DO ensure costs are appropriate,
  4. DO facilitate communication with the freelancer,
  5. DON’T micromanage,
  6. DO ask for references, and
  7. DON’T forget that quality matters.

In this post, we’ll take a look at these outsourcing do’s and don’ts in greater detail so that you can free up valuable time by delegating common tasks. But first, let’s consider why you might want to outsource work instead of hiring an associate.

Outsourcing vs. Hiring

The prospect of hiring an associate can be daunting especially when you are already busy enough at your law firm to need to hire.  For many attorneys, just thinking of the time-consuming process to review resumes, schedule interviews and train a new hire can make them delay hiring the help they need.  Then you have to also factor in all the expenses and overhead with a full-time hire.  You’ll have to consider office space, salary, benefits, insurance, bar dues, continuing education and equipment. Then, you need to do an in depth analysis of your business to ensure you have consistent revenue to cover all the associated costs of hiring a full-time associate which can add up to a minimum of $190,000 (when you consider salary, insurance, retirement, FICA contributions, malpractice insurance, and equipment).

For many, the cost savings alone are strong enough to justify outsourcing over hiring an associate, yet there are plenty of other benefits of outsourcing. Working with freelance attorneys opens the door to many skilled and talented on-demand lawyers who can help you expand your service offerings and finish more legal work. By tapping into the expertise of others, you can offer more to your clients, take on additional work, and grow your practice.

Outsourcing can also make it easier to offer more flat fee services since you can pay freelance attorneys in flat fees (as opposed to the associate who is likely paid by the billable hour). This, in turn, can enable you to lower the cost of legal services and become more competitive in your market. Talk about a win-win for the business of law.

Finally, the pandemic has changed the way we all work and consume services. Law firms that embraced remote lawyering prospered in the midst of COVID-19. Not only do clients want to work with law firms that offer virtual services, but lawyers also learned how to work productively from home. As a result, there is now a competitive talent pool of freelance attorneys who know what it takes to work remotely.

Research the Type of Work You Need to be Done

When outsourcing work, you need to research the type of tasks that you want to be performed by someone else – whether that’s a freelance lawyer or a freelance paralegal. According to the Pareto Principle, 80% of your results (or in this case, profits) come from 20% of inputs (or tasks). Think of which tasks you are strongest at and what brings in the most profit (and consider outsourcing the tasks that do not fall within either category). For instance, is your time best spent drafting trust agreements or meeting with more potential new clients?

Chances are you get the greatest return on investment from meeting with potential new clients. This means delegating your drafting responsibilities can open the door to greater profits (and free up your time for other things you’d rather be doing). Knowing exactly what you want and need to be done will help determine if outsourcing is the best choice or if you should just perform the task in-house.

Once you determine which tasks are taking up your time and precluding you from the activities with a high return on investment, you should consider how much time and effort another attorney might put into those tasks. This will help you budget the time and pricing of a particular project.

LAWCLERK’s freelance lawyer marketplace enables you to post specific projects at a flat fee price of your choosing. Naturally, you’ll want to pay a contract attorney less than you quoted your client for a particular task, but that isn’t the only factor that goes into pricing a project. It is also wise to consider what specific expertise is needed for the project. Do you need someone with real estate contract experience? If so, make sure you include that information in your project posting so that the right freelance attorneys find you.

Common Outsourced Tasks for Lawyers

If you’re having trouble coming up with a list of tasks to outsource, we can help you save time. Our freelance marketplace is full of great ideas of tasks to outsource. Some of the most common tasks posted on LAWCLERK include:

  • Blog articles,
  • Discovery review and preparation,
  • Writing motions and pleadings,
  • CLE material drafting,
  • Trust drafting,
  • Practice area FAQ guides,
  • Red-lining contracts,
  • Materials for webinars,
  • Legal research, and
  • Brief and memo drafting.

Legal process outsourcing, or working with freelance attorneys, is a current trend in law practice management. Flatlined salaries for partners and associates have pushed firms to find ways to do more work with fewer people. Outsourcing often makes good business sense for big law offices and also for small firms because it gives lawyers the flexibility to focus on higher revenue-producing matters while also keeping their costs down. For more information on finding tasks to outsource, check out our article, “How to Decide What to Outsource in Your Business (and When).”

Don’t Be Afraid to Delegate

It can be incredibly tough to delegate as an attorney. After all, you are responsible for all work performed by your firm – and you can face serious consequences if that work is not up to par. But, delegating, when done properly, can be the best way to streamline and take your firm to the next level while also enhancing your service offerings.

If you are not sure where to start, consider delegating tasks that can be done remotely. This way you have more control over the work being performed and it is easy for attorneys with different specialties to join your firm without any additional overhead costs. If you run into a situation where a freelance attorney does not meet your expectations or something goes wrong during their assignment, you have full control over the outcome – meaning you can cut them loose without having to worry about firing a full-time associate (and the losses that come therewith).

At the end of the day, no matter what type of tasks you decide should be outsourced first, remember that having an outside perspective can actually ensure better results for your clients. Once your initial projects are complete and running smoothly, feel free to branch out into other remote work assignments, like document review and discovery assistance. The key is to delegate at your own pace until you feel comfortable with a particular freelancer. 

Ensure Costs are Appropriate

If a contractor charges more to complete a project than you charged your client, you’ll wind up in the red. Naturally, this is an issue you need to avoid if you plan on outsourcing regularly. If you find that your rates are consistently too low to affordably delegate, that may mean you are under-charging. If no other attorneys are willing to perform the task for the rate you quoted, you are selling yourself short!

How to Set Reasonable Prices for Outsourced Projects

For projects posted on LAWCLERK, you can propose hourly billing via the subscription program or flat fees. Hourly billing is often preferred by lawyers who are billing their clients by the hour. Let’s say you are charging a client $250 an hour to draft a contract, you might work with a virtual junior attorney on LAWCLERK for a rate of $75 an hour. Or, if you want to ensure hourly billing doesn’t get out of hand, you might set a flat fee. Using the previous example, you might estimate that the contract will take 2 hours to draft. This means $150 could be a reasonable flat fee price to offer a freelance attorney for their work.  These types of rates make it affordable for law firms – which are small businesses – to access the help they need.

As a service provider, you probably have a good idea of how much a project is worth and roughly how much time it will take to complete. Keeping this in mind along with your desired profit margin will help you determine the appropriate price to quote your client as well as how much you should offer a contractor.

Facilitate Communication

Communication is essential to successfully delegate any task – and outsourcing is no different. After all, outsourcing is just a form of delegation, so any contractors you decide to work with should be easy to communicate with (and easy to reach). You will likely use collaboration tools to stay on track with your project, but that only goes so far. Lawyers are very busy people and not everyone is familiar with the same technology, apps, and programs. If you need something done remotely, make sure the person you hire is easy to get in touch with.

While LAWCLERK offers an easy-to-use chat feature that enables frequent communication with freelance attorneys, you should make it clear if you expect a freelancer to be available in other formats (like e-mail, Slack, or Skype). Also, set clear expectations regarding communication upfront. If you want status updates as your freelancer reaches various milestones, make that clear from the beginning of your working relationship to prevent misunderstandings down the road.

Tips for Communicating with Freelancers

Working with professionals who aren’t physically present in the office can be challenging. One of the most important steps in outsourcing projects is onboarding your freelancers (or your freelance team). You probably have your own special way of doing things that your clients expect, so you will need to help your freelancers meet those same standards.

Even after you familiarize freelancers with your process, you’ll want to keep the channels of communication open. Because freelancers may be working in a different time zone from you, you should have a 24/7 way of chatting. While you aren’t expected to answer questions 24/7, at least give your freelancer the opportunity to send questions on their own time via a chatroom, Skype, Slack, or something similar. Then, you can answer questions on your own time. This will keep the conversation flowing and work progressing even if you are located on the opposite side of the country (or world) from your contractor.

Don’t Micromanage

It can be difficult to take a step back from a project when you have supervisory responsibility, but it will go a long way toward building a positive working relationship. Plus, you’re delegating work to free up your time, by micromanaging a freelancer you can defeat the purpose of delegating at all! This is the kind of stuff they don’t teach you in law school.

When you outsource, it’s important to remember that the freelancer is a professional who has been doing this work for years. Not only are LAWCLERK’s freelance attorneys well-versed in their particular practice area, but they are also used to managing themselves (and don’t need someone looking over their shoulder every step of the way). By micromanaging freelance attorneys, not only are you wasting time that should be spent focusing on other tasks, but you are also discouraging them from finishing projects in a reasonable timeframe. If an independent contractor feels like they have no autonomy or control over their work, chances are they will have a problem working with you in the future.

One way to reduce the temptation to micromanage is by offering task-based compensation. Flat fee, task-based compensation encourages freelancers to work efficiently without the need to micromanage. This is especially helpful for attorneys who need quick turnaround times on tasks that require specialized knowledge and skills (which might not come naturally to your in-house staff).

Ask for References

It can be tough for attorneys to give up control due to rules of professional responsibility – but it’s not impossible. Of course, the last thing any attorney wants is to run into ethical trouble by outsourcing tasks. But it is very possible to delegate tasks while still complying with all applicable rules and regulations.

At LAWCLERK, we vet our freelance lawyers (everyone on our platform must be an attorney), but you’ll still want to perform some vetting on your own. Don’t be afraid to ask a freelancer for references. Also, ask your colleagues, mentors, and other firms for references for legitimate outsourcing companies or individuals. If a particular contractor worked well for your mentor, chances are they will work for you as well.

How to Select a Freelance Attorney

When you’re looking for a freelancer, the most important thing is to have a healthy and positive relationship with them. Staff members who are outsourced must have an equal understanding of employment standards and communication routes. Make sure you ask about their prior experience as a freelancer or working remotely in addition to any subject-specific expertise they may have.

Also, make it clear when and how often you expect them to deliver updates about progress on tasks. It’s important for attorneys and contractors alike to set expectations from the beginning to avoid miscommunications down the road – especially when both parties might be located across the country in different time zones.

Don’t Forget Quality Matters

You’re probably familiar with the adage, “if you want something done right, do it yourself.” But this does not have to apply to an outsourcing relationship. Quality matters in an attorney-client relationship and your clients deserve the best, so don’t settle for anything less than top-notch quality.

In the end, it all comes down to trust. If you don’t feel like a freelancer or an outsourcing company will be able to produce high-quality work consistently and timely, then you should not outsource your tasks at all. But if you do choose to go ahead with working with a contractor or outsourced legal team, make sure you keep these best practices in mind.

When outsourcing, it’s important to consider your unique situation. You may be willing to perform a little more editing in exchange for cheaper outsourcing fees – or you may prefer to pay more in exchange for doing the least amount of work. Either way, you should review completed projects before remitting payment to ensure you got exactly what you asked for. After all, your clients expect quality work out of you, so you should expect the same quality out of any contractors you work with.

How to Ensure Quality with Outsourced Projects

You have a duty to supervise attorneys who perform any work on your behalf, so you must ensure your freelancer provides the same quality work you would. To pull this off, we suggest that you take the time to set expectations and clearly define the scope of the project from the outset – that way your freelancer knows exactly what is expected of them. This includes sharing information about deadlines, your budget, and how they should track their time for billing purposes.

You also need to perform conflicts checks and discuss confidentiality up-front. At LAWCLERK, we offer a template freelance attorney agreement that addresses these issues (although you are free to make your own additions).

Finally, you’ll want to build a successful working relationship with your freelance attorney so that you can turn to them for more help in the future. Keep them up to date on information pertinent to their work and offer streamlined feedback along the way (or upon completion).

For more tips on working with freelancers, check out our article, “Top Ten Tips on Managing Freelancers.”

LAWCLERK is the Largest Freelance Lawyer Marketplace

Outsourcing can be a great way to free up your time and focus on the important things. If you’re thinking about outsourcing, we invite you to check out our freelance lawyer marketplace. At LAWCLERK, you retain full control over the freelance attorneys you choose to work with, project assignments, and pricing so that you can outsource the right way.

Kristin Tyler, Co-Founder Lawclerk

Kristin Tyler, Co-Founder Lawclerk

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