The Virtual Legal Assistant
The Virtual Legal Assistant was first introduced in the virtual world of commerce in 2006 by Aretha Gaskin, a legal professional in New York City. She saw an immediate need to address the immense workload attorneys get when handling cases and came up with an enterprising idea to provide virtual support services to several of New York’s biggest law firms. Within a few years, the Virtual Legal Assistant became a growing segment in the virtual assistance industry.
An Important Component of the Legal Team
It wasn’t a long time ago that virtual assistants were hired primarily for secretarial duties and personal assistant services. But as technology brought economies together and business became global, the demand for virtual assistants with more varied skill sets and competencies increased. Virtual assistants were suddenly hired to conduct more specialized work in the fields of accounting, telemarketing and information technology and healthcare among others. It was only a matter of time for the legal profession to require the services of the virtual assistant.
How does a Virtual Legal Assistant benefit an attorney and the law firm?
- Manage non-essential tasks– An attorney goes through several documents when preparing for a case. These documents need to be organized and filed properly for easy access. Attorneys also go through several sources of information to build up the law firm’s position on a client’s case. An attorney needs to work on developing the strategy for the law firm’s client. He or she cannot afford to be compromised because a case file or piece of evidence was misplaced. The Virtual Legal Assistant or VLA has the experience and competence to organize all documents efficiently. The VLA does not necessarily need to have experience in the legal field. A prerequisite however, is the ability to accurately organize and index files.
- Provide accurate transcription work– Attorneys usually record court proceedings and depositions. An attorney also records interviews with clients, witnesses and other individuals pertinent to the case. Sometimes law firms hire courtside reporters to record hearings and have these submitted to them for transcription. The task of transcribing audio to text format is very time-consuming. A one-hour clear audio recording with only one speaker will take four hours to transcribe. If the audio quality is not good and there are multiple speakers, transcription time may take six to eight hours. For poor quality audio where there are multiple speakers and background noise, a one hour recording may take 24 to 48 hours. Transcriptions need to be available on time but more important these have to be done accurately. A VLA with background in transcription work can get this done accurately and within the required turnaround time.
- Increase productivity– A VLA is not a full-time employee. He or she is basically a freelancer and can accept work from other clients. Unless otherwise specified in the contract, a VLA will probably allocate only four hours per client per day depending on the workload. A law firm can hire more than one VLA and designate specific tasks to each one. The law firm also has the option to hire VLA’s from another country where there a time zone differential exists and instruct them to cover tasks after close of regular office hours. These tasks may include organizing files, transcription or receiving calls from clients. By using VLA’s, a law firm can get more work done and assure all concerns are attended to even after close of business.
- Lower operating costs– Hiring a VLA is a cost effective option compared to hiring a regular office employee. A VLA is paid on a fixed rate per hour and only for the productive hours worked. A regular office employee is paid a basic salary plus government mandated and company benefits. The estimated cost of a regular employee is twice the basic salary once benefits are factored in.
Considering the stakes involved in handling a case, hiring a VLA is necessary for keeping the legal team on course.