No matter what size your legal practice, increasing efficiency while keeping costs down is likely a top — and ongoing — priority in today's highly competitive legal marketplace. However, the pressure to control costs and respond to changing client dynamics may prevent you from hiring a legal assistant when necessary. That could be a big mistake.
But how do you know when it's time to consider hiring a legal assistant? Here are three signs that your law firm is in need of one:
1. Time management issues
You are spending too much time on administrative work that doesn't grow revenue for the firm.
If you're regularly handling tasks that prevent you from focusing on the work your clients will pay top dollar for, you should consider hiring a legal assistant. It's especially common for lawyers who run their own practice or work in a small firm to think, "Well, it's probably easier and faster if I just do these things myself." But remember that every hour (or even fraction of an hour) you spend on activities such as updating files or corresponding with clients instead of actual casework, client consultation and generating new business erodes your firm's bottom line.
2. Overloading the team
You are over-delegating to your team, and they're getting overloaded.
Expecting busy and experienced lawyers in your organization to routinely take on duties that would be accomplished more effectively by hiring a legal assistant can hurt their productivity, too. It also undermines your law firm's ability to build revenue in two ways:
- Lawyers can't focus on work that your firm can bill more for (see Sign No. 1).
- Lawyers have even less time to help the firm build new business and expand growing practice areas.
Another potential side effect of not hiring a legal assistant: retention issues. Doing meaningful work is a top legal career concern for more than one-quarter of lawyers, according to research by Robert Half Legal. If you ask skilled lawyers on your team to assume responsibilities they do not find fulfilling and that do not make the best use of their abilities, you risk losing valued staff.
3. Unhappy clients
Your clients are complaining about service quality.
This is the biggest red flag of all. If you and/or your existing team members can't juggle both your primary duties and tasks that can be just as well handled by hiring a legal assistant, client service quality will inevitably suffer. It won't take long for your clients to notice — and possibly decide to move their business elsewhere.
When expert help is needed
If you're still uncertain whether hiring a legal assistant makes good business sense, just look to the practices of leading law firms. According to research by Robert Half Legal for our Future Law Office program, one way top firms deliver more cost-effective services to their clients is by assembling teams of highly skilled legal assistants to support groups of lawyers. And to ensure the professionals they do hire are a good fit for the firm, many law offices also take a creative approach when hiring a legal assistant: initially engaging them on a temporary basis to determine whether their support is needed for the long term.
A reputable legal staffing firm can help you in hiring a legal assistant who meets your firm's specific needs and will blend well with your corporate culture. One key advantage of working with a staffing agency is they often have access to candidates who are not actively seeking employment but would consider making a move for the right opportunity. These are often the most experienced and knowledgeable, and, thus, most highly sought-after legal assistants — the type of professionals who can help your firm maintain its competitive edge.