How many of you have spent an entire Saturday trying to reorganize files, whether electronic or paper? So, an eight-hour Saturday, even at an appointed hourly rate of say one hundred dollars per hour, is eight hundred dollars lost to you. That buys a nice hunting rifle, a new suit or outfit, a plane ticket and one night hotel stay to Vegas; well, you get the idea. As another, how many times have you spent two or three hours driving, parking, sitting in an elevator, then waiting in the line at a clerk’s office, whether to copy an item from a file or to file something? At a very reasonable attorney’s rate of one hundred fifty dollars an hour, that is three to four hundred dollars you will not see again.
So, the questions becomes, …what is your time worth? Do the math. One hour of your time at 150.00 per hour pays for the eight hour shift of a fifteen dollar an hour assistant, plus parking, with enough to buy coffee for the two of you [figuring those fancy latte thingies in a large size]. Isn’t a free Saturday worth that? Two hours of billable time per week pays for another shift. Thus two or three hours of your time means you can afford a part time assistant, who will more than earn their pay if you help them to do so.
Here are some of the things a new assistant can do which require minimal or no training – copies, organizing files, filing [once they know where and to whom the filings go] of pleadings, motions, mailings, getting stamps and office supplies, dropping off items to other attorneys/clients. With some care and training, [and every hour spent training a new person is an hour that reaps gold] a good reliable assistant can gradually learn to update your calendar, answer the phones, contact clients and courts on your behalf when you are late or in another county, take payments from clients, help you prepare and file vouchers on appointed cases, etc.
Alternatives to a full or part time assistant
There are many ways to use some of the essential services that an assistant performs without actually getting an assistant. Let us start with a quick list.
Dictation services and apps – If you are a smartphone addict, get Dragon dictation, and learn how easy and efficient it is to create an email, a text, or notes by talking into your smartphone while driving or walking or standing around having a smoke. Siri has some of this function on the iPhone, but it is frankly not as fast. There are also secretarial services that will type up letters and correspondence by dictation on tape or via MP3 file. There is a service called Speak-Write which does this specifically for lawyers, and they have both software for taking MP3 files from a digital recorder or your computer, AND they will let you call in to dictate a motion over the phone. Simple, affordable, and no messy employee problems.
Organizing and filing – If one has a general practice, and is comfortable working from home, efiling makes good sense, and will be mandatory for civil matters in Texas in 2014. This saves one a great deal of time and effort, and should be embraced as a way to avoid that nasty rush hour traffic. It is mandatory for federal criminal filings, and will likely become easier and possibly mandatory for state criminal filings and appellate filings at some point, though we are not there yet. Likewise there are office organizing services and secretarial services that will go to your office and create, then maintain, a simple filing system and help organize your files such that your workspace becomes amazingly efficient. They can be hired on an “as-needed” basis, and it still makes the same sense economically to pay them sixteen bucks an hour to do this while you are billing four hours of productive motion crafting on a case at 150.00 per hour.
Free help – Last, there are some ways to get some assistance on the true “cheap”, and they are called interns. Most law schools and para legal programs in the area have such willing serfs, er…people… available for either academic credit or real world experience necessary to get them paying jobs [eventually].
I hope this has proved useful and at least stimulated some thoughts on how your practice can grow with just a little help. Many hands make the load lighter.
Good luck! Paddy