Virtual Assistants 101

Ever increasing numbers of attorneys hanging out their own shingle are in dire need of administrative assistance, but do not have the space, equipment or even workload to warrant hiring an employee.

This means many are forced to spend hours each day on the administrative duties required to keep their practice in business, taking away from more productive activities of networking and client development and even personal time.

While some may enjoy having total control, there is only so much time in any day and working 16-18 hour days every day takes it’s toll.

Fortunately, a better solution is available in a little known industry which is taking the business world by storm: virtual assistants.

What is a VA?

Virtual Assistants or VAs are business owners who provide administrative and other services virtually — through the use of electronic communications (the internet, telephone, e-mail, fax and instant messaging), couriers and even US mail.

Professional VAs accomplish assigned tasks from their own well equipped office, have years of experience in their chosen field, and are considered contract vendors and not employees thereby eliminating the expense, hidden costs and headaches inherent in the employer/employee relationship. And, since they are virtual, you don’t even need to supply space, let alone equipment, software licenses or training to work with a VA.

While you can locate a VA for almost any service imaginable, common administrative duties performed by VAs include word processing, desktop publishing, contact and calendar management, accounting/billing, reception and travel arrangements and web based account work.

Where Can I Find a VA?

I get asked this question all the time and there is no one size fits all answer (outside of my own business, of course!).  Since every VA is an independent business owner, the services offered, methods for transfer of work and costs vary. Rates range from as little as $25 to $100+ per hour or more based on the services provided and experience of the VA.

A good place to start is to google “virtual assistant” and your location/zip code to see if any local candidates are available for interview.  If you are not going to go with an established nationwide service, then I strongly urge you to find a local assistant. This is because someone who is local to you, hopefully with “legal” experience, will be able to provide a much more tailored service than a foreign national.  A review of a VA’s website should give you a good indication of services available and should provide a little information about the VA too.

Whether working with a single VA or an established network, always look for certifications, experience within your industry, type of work and/or software/technology used.You should also get referrals/testimonials of existing clients, where possible.

In many instances a VA becomes a strategic partner of their client’s business, offering suggestions for improvement of processes, methodologies for workflow, options for increasing revenue, as well as by providing access to their own network of contacts within the growing VA industry itself!

The Devil is in the Details:

Before deciding on a VA, you need to determine what you want them to do. Start with a list of duties you do not like doing, you are not properly trained to do, or projects you never seem to be able to get to. This will give you a framework to decide what you wish to keep on your to do list and what you wish to outsource to your VA.

Once you have found a VA to work with, it is imperative that you sign a contract or Terms of Service, specifying the nature of the relationship, types of services to be provided, deadlines/project parameters, costs, billing procedures and any other details. This is to avoid potential misunderstandings, as well as confirm that the relationship is of an independent contractor nature.

Just Do It

In short, if you are tired of taking care of the administrative tasks of running a practice, want to explore taking your company’s business processes to the next level, or simply could use a hand with a specialty or large project, consider locating and hiring a Virtual Assistant.