Of the four major types of attorney practices (solos/small firms, mid- to large-sized firms, corporate legal departments, and governmental entities), solo practitioners and attorneys in small firms face the most challenges. Yet, for these attorneys, solo practices and small firms can also be the most rewarding, both personally and professionally.
What’s the biggest challenge? You’re on your own. And, there are only so many hours in a day.
Not only are you trying to practice law, you’re also learning how to run a business (which they don’t teach you in law school) and handling everything yourself. Solos and small firm attorneys are responsible for every aspect of the practice: Building and managing a business, marketing, client retention, budgeting, bookkeeping, filing, faxing, copying – all in addition to providing legal services to clients (what you went to law school for in the first place). When you’re alone, it’s hard to manage all these aspects of a business and still have time to actually practice law. You may often feel like you’re working on rather than in your business. It’s like being a first-year associate in big law, except most of your hours aren’t spent practicing law. It’s tough; there’s no doubt.
You’re not alone, though. It’s something almost every business owner struggles with, regardless of their profession.
Limitations on support
Wouldn’t it be nice to delegate some of those tasks to an assistant? Yeah right. I know. There are so many limiting factors that can preclude an attorney from bringing in support:
- Limited cash flow;
- Limited budget;
- Not enough work to hire someone;
- Not enough office space (and definitely not an extra set of furniture and equipment) for another person;
- Not enough finances to pay temp. agency fees or employment costs; and
- No indefinite need for extra help (at least not yet).
If you approach your business – and, yes, law practice is a business – from the traditional sense, then, yes, there are many limiting factors. But not if you utilize a more modern or quasi-modern business model. Today, many solos are keeping the business-side of their practice simple: Little-to-no overhead, no employment-related expenses, etc. They’re retaining on-call reception services rather than hiring a receptionist; they’re working from small, shared, or home-offices; they’re retaining virtual bookkeeping services instead of hiring a bookkeeper/office manager; and, they’re retaining professional paralegal support services for all their support needs.
How do paralegal support services help solos and small firms when there are so many limiting factors?
With paralegal support services, the bottom line is savings. Savings in the form of time. Savings in business-related expenses. Savings to your clients.
When you retain paralegal support, you don’t have the time or expense of finding, interviewing, hiring, training, and retaining an employee. You don’t have all those employment expenses, such as employment-related taxes, insurance, health benefits, continuing education, sick and vacation time, and retirement. You don’t have to pay for a larger office, or buy more furniture, computers, or electronics. You don’t have to pay someone 40, or even 20, hours a week. You pay only for the work actually performed – no more, no less – while letting someone else handle all those overhead expenses. You receive as little or as much support as you want or need. If times are tight, you ask for only the support you absolutely need. As things improve and business picks up, you delegate more and more. The service is there when you need it and you don’t have to worry about how you’re going to cut payroll checks every week.
Your clients benefit, too, with decreased legal fees as a result of your utilization of paralegal support services. Not only do you double the number of hours you can bill, the lower paralegal billing rate serves to help reduce your clients’ legal fees. Similarly, the difference between your paralegal’s rate and your own paralegal billing rate is an immediate profit for your practice. Together, it’s a win-win situation for both you and your clients.
Retaining paralegal support services provides a means of receiving support, even with the many obstacles solos and small firms face.