No matter what size your legal practice, increasing efficiency while keeping costs down is likely a top priority — and an ongoing juggling act — 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 paralegal or legal assistant when necessary. That could be a big mistake.
More (spending) is less (costly)?
It might sound counterintuitive, but hiring a paralegal or legal assistant — and adding their salary to the list of expenses — can actually improve a firm's bottom line. How do you know when to consider such a move? Here are three revenue-draining signs that the time might be right to seek some paralegal help:
- Time management issues — If you're regularly spending too much time on work that doesn't grow business for the firm — and prevents you from focusing on the work your clients pay top dollar for — you should consider hiring a paralegal or legal assistant to take it on for you. It's especially common for attorneys who run their own practice or work in a small firm to think, "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 like updating files instead of actual casework, consultations or generating new clients erodes your earnings potential. Learn to delegate these tasks to skilled legal support professionals.
- Overloading your lawyers — Burdening busy and experienced attorneys in your organization with duties that would be more effectively handled by a paralegal hurts your firm's productivity. This pattern also undermines your company'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 attorneys, 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 don't make the best use of their abilities, you risk losing valued staff.
- Unhappy clients — Your clients complaining about the quality of your service is the biggest red flag of all. If you and your existing team members can't balance your primary duties with tasks that can be just as well handled by hiring a paralegal, client-service quality will inevitably suffer. And it won't take long for your clients to notice — and possibly decide to take their business elsewhere.
A cost-effective solution: Hire a paralegal or legal assistant
If you're still uncertain whether hiring a paralegal or 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 lawyers. And to ensure the professionals they hire are a good fit for the firm, many law offices also take a tried-and-true approach when hiring a paralegal or 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 or paralegal who meets your firm's specific needs and blends well with your corporate culture. One key advantage of working with a staffing agency is that 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, thus most highly sought-after paralegals and legal assistants — the type of professionals who can help your firm maintain its competitive edge.