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Solo In Chicago

...empowering the Second City's entrepreneurial legal community

Friday, August 10, 2007

Law firm staffing...

This is another critical area I've been "puzzling" on lately as sort of our The Olson Law Firm, LLC 2.0 re-launch and I had a long session with my off-site legal assistant earlier this week on the subject. Our current set-up is I have one off-site legal assistant who works through our computer network over the Internet for some 10 hours per week and handles the phones during the 2-3 mornings per week that she works. I think the off-site employee is the way to go (especially since I'm transitioning to a home office set-up) but there are times/tasks that I miss having someone here/there in-person...there still is some administrative/garbage work that I do that I wouldn't do if there was an on site staff person. Broadly, my assistant works on residential real estate closings, billing/collections, daily as needed tasks (lots of basic follow-up calls, ect.). FYI, our assistant is paid $15 per hour.

What's next?

Most importantly improvement and further delegation in her primary work areas: residential real estate and billing/collection. Those of you who work in the residential real estate field know this...it can't be a profitable practice area if you as lawyer are "touching" these files too much. I think it's appropriate for me to do an initial, thorough contract/inspection review with a client and likely draft/dictate an attorney modification - property inspection letter. I'd say that's the "practice of law". And obviously I'm going to attend a closing. But unless there's something unusual I shouldn't be doing anything else on a residential real estate file. If I'm calling about pure logistics issues I'm trading billable time for a nonbillable usage. And similar tweaking on billing/collections. I'm going to get a PO Box near my legal assistant so that monthly payments go right to her...only $20 per year. We're probably going to transition to PayPal for credit card transactions. And, maybe most importantly, we're going to utilize a software consultant to get better usage from our billing package. We're making the common error of letting our ignorance limit how we use the program when so much more in terms of business planning and budgeting can be done.

The biggest addition to her work load will be utilization of digital dictation equipment. This is the one area that I'd planned on when she was hired that we haven't done at all. Essentially I was waiting to incur the cost for the dictation equipment until I crossed certain bridges...i.e. I knew I'd be in this set-up beyond six months or so. This will allow me to utilize our assistant for longer letters, pleadings and just general better communication/instruction. They always say you speak significantly faster than you type.

She's going to create a firm pricing schedule. This obviously isn't going to take long but I want to have it. We do get calls about pricing and I think this will be a net positive...simply having a pricing schedule for our core practice areas.

Other additions to her work-load:

--Create legal information pamphlets.

--Create Survey Monkey client surveys.

--Change our client forms to fillable PDF forms (currently just Word-based).

--Purchase monthly office supplies.

If you're not using any administrative staff I'd encourage you to do so. Personally I think it makes the practice of law much more enjoyable. If you're a "pure" solo I've found you're just stuck doing way too much in terms of administrative work and it's not fun. You're too tied to your desk if it's just you. Building a business and seeing another person grow is fun and rewarding.

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