Are you in need of additional paralegal support but hesitant to take on additional permanent staff? It may make sense to consider hiring virtual or outsourced paralegal services. While many attorneys still prefer permanent staff, a growing number of law firms are discovering the value that virtual paralegal services can deliver.
Greta Brake, director of operations and senior paralegal at law firm EvansStarrett PLC, sees definite value in outsourcing paralegal work in certain circumstances. “Law firms are attracted to outsourcing because it offers a viable way to respond to fluctuations in the caseload while controlling permanent staffing costs such as payroll, benefits and office space,” she said. On numerous occasions, Brake has hired outsourced paralegal services to handle a range of tasks related to discovery, coding and document review on large matters.
“I wouldn’t rule it out,” said Irwin Kramer, managing partner of Maryland-based law firm Kramer & Connolly, “It can be very helpful for both the firm and the client when a firm takes on a particularly large or active matter.” Kramer prefers to hire contracting paralegal resources to work onsite rather than outsourcing paralegal work to an offsite location.
Onshore or Offshore When Outsourcing Paralegal Support?
For years, firms have looked to offshore paralegal work to firms in India or other countries as a way to reduce costs. But these days, offshoring may not truly be the lowest cost option. It may be just as cost-effective to hire onshore providers. According to a survey conducted by Fronterion, “Wage inflation abroad and soft labor markets domestically in the U.S. and U.K. have significantly narrowed the cost differential for the legal professionals performing legal process outsourcing (LPO) services. Fronterion has observed that offshore LPOs charge clients $25‐35 per hour for basic legal services while contract review attorneys in the U.S., particularly in the Midwest, often are charging comparable rates of $25‐30 per hour, according to sources cited by The Wall Street Journal.”
As Fronterion’s survey shows, it’s wise to consider onshore as well as offshore providers when comparing fees and services.
Best Practices in Managing Outsourced Paralegal Service Providers
Law firms should consider the following in order to achieve the best working relationship with virtual paralegal services.
- Ethical Alignment. “When reviewing providers, the top priority in my mind is to ensure that your firm and the outsourced provider share the same ethical standards,” said Brake. “The paralegal’s obligation is to make sure to protect their attorney’s license and do whatever work the attorney requires, as long as it is ethically, legally and morally sound.” The definition of ethics should also be reviewed with potential offshore providers, as overseas legal providers may require ethics training for their staff, but ethical standards may vary from country to country. “You need to be certain the paralegal services you hire in France or India will adhere to the same standards you’re required to uphold in the U.S.,” noted Brake.
- A clearly defined the scope of work. “The term ‘paralegal’ can mean different things to different law firms,” noted Kramer, “You’ll achieve the best results when you predefine the specific nature of the paralegal work you need.” Will the outsourced paralegal be expected to draft pleadings, correspondence or briefs? Or will they be retrieving records, issuing subpoenas, or coding and organizing documents? Clearly define your requirements upfront to ensure the outsourced paralegal’s skills will match your needs.
- A policy of two-way communication. The management of the outsourced staff should be assigned to an experienced manager who can establish productive two-way communications, provide clear direction on specific projects, and invite feedback from the outsourced team. Their observations can be very helpful in protecting the law firm’s and the client’s interests, even if they’re bringing potentially sensitive feedback to the table. “A paralegal is not trained to be a ‘yes man’ and shouldn’t be treated as one,” Brake said. “You want your communications with your outsourced paralegals to be as open and productive as it is with your internal staff.”
- Ongoing supervision. An attorney or law firm is obligated to provide ongoing oversight of the outsourced paralegal’s work. This means that a representative of the firm should be designated to provide ongoing supervision of all the outsourced staff’s activities. Establish policies and procedures in advance. This will streamline the management process, ensure that expectations are being met, and avoid potential miscommunication problems.
These recommendations are very effective in establishing clear expectations for both the law firm and the virtual paralegal. When managed well, outsourced paralegal services are a valuable asset that can be very effective in helping the firm achieve its goals.