You probably don’t wait until the day before your taxes are due to deliver your records and receipts to your accountant. (At least, I hope not.)
Similarly, when you have thousands of documents to produce, you probably send them to the printer for production sometime before the due date. (But I know there are times when it comes close.)
You have legally imposed deadlines; you can’t chance being unable to meet them. Doing so violates your ethics rules, at best. Besides, you need time to review the work product before sending it off. If you do wait until the last minute and your regular service provider isn’t available – accountant, copy services, etc. – maybe you’ll find someone else who can do the work.
Usually, though, we find service providers we like and trust, and who understand our practice; we don’t really want to go through the trouble of finding someone new at the very last minute – when we’re already stressed – and hope that they’ll do a good job. But if it’s not a concern or you just don’t have a choice, it’s probably going to cost a nice sum. It’s called a rush fee. And, while we all like to pay for convenience nowadays – including me – those types of fees, day in and day out, will break any firm in today’s economy. (And we won’t discuss the dissatisfied clients you’ll have when they see the costs’ section of their bill.)
Paralegal support services are like every other service-based business. They’re service providers with multiple clients and schedules to organize and prioritize. I haven’t found a set standard, but most support services offer a 24 to 48 hour turnaround for everyday work. That’s the average. Oftentimes, the attorney will receive the finished work product in less time; perhaps the same day. But for attorneys who do have urgent matters requiring a fast turnaround, there are paralegal support services that provide rush service. Again, those services generally include a rush fee.
Unless you work in criminal law, you usually know ahead of time that you have a filing coming due. That a legal issue needs to be researched. That a case needs to be analyzed. That documents need to be produced. That exhibits for an answer need to be gathered and prepared. That a letter needs to go out. That a contract needs to be cleaned up. That a response to an office action needs to be drafted. And so on. There’s no denying that there are emergencies. After all, this is the legal field. However, most of the time they’re not. (And, no, self-inflicted deadlines don’t count. We all want things done by a certain time but wanting something done and needing something done to meet a legal deadline are two very different animals.)
What if you wait until the last minute (assuming you/your clients don’t mind paying heftily) and your service provider is out of the office, in a meeting, working on a filing for another client, and so on? You risk missing a critical deadline and jeopardizing your client’s case.
The legal field is stressful in itself; there’s no need to add stress to yourself and your practice. If you know you’ve got something coming up that you need help with, give it to your paralegal as far in advance as possible. Delegating early allows you to clear your desk of as much as possible. When the work’s done, your paralegal will send it back. In the interim, you have that much less on your plate to worry about and can focus on the matters needing your attention.
If that’s not possible, let your paralegal know that you’ve got something you’re going to need help with so he or she:
- is on notice of what’s coming;
- can let you know his or her latest possible date to receive the work in order to meet your deadline; and
- rearrange his or her schedule accordingly to accommodate the situation.
We work in the legal field. We’re used to deadlines and last minute rushes. And, we expect them. But we can also minimize them and, as a result, minimize the stress that comes along with the territory. Working with a freelance paralegal can help you plan ahead so you don’t wait ‘till it’s too late.