HOW TO MANAGE YOUR REMOTE ASSOCIATE

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More and more attorneys are looking for remote attorney jobs. This is great news for law firms who understand the countless benefits of hiring virtual, freelance lawyers and keeping overhead to a minimum.

Once you’ve hired your first virtual associate, what now? The team at LAWCLERK has assembled some best practices for remote management of your virtual associates.

COMMUNICATION IS KEY

Given the remote nature of utilizing a virtual associate, communication is more important than ever. Here, we will look at not only the ways in which you can communicate with your remote workers, but the content of those communications as well. We will also review steps you can take if there is a breakdown in communication with your virtual associate.

Communication Methods

There are numerous ways to communicate with your virtual associate and the great new is that none of them are wrong. The best way to communicate with your virtual associate is whichever communication tools work best for you, whether that be email, phone call, Zoom video conferencing, instant messaging, or text.

Of course, there are times when any or all of these methods would be appropriate, as such its very important that you establish your communication preferences with your virtual associate very early on. Do you prefer to receive questions via email, text or through a phone call? Is there someone else at your office who you would prefer questions be addressed to? Or would you prefer that your virtual associate reach out to you to set up Phone call or video conference with any questions so you can discuss any issues in further detail? These are the types of considerations which can be helpful when determining how you prefer your virtual associate communicate with you.

No matter which method of communication you prefer we built LAWCLERK to make communication as easy as possible. Under your subscription dashboard, you have the option to use the LAWCLERK chat box for quick questions or status updates. LAWCLERK also provides you with your virtual associate’s phone number and email address for easy access. LAWCLERK also makes it very convenient to have an audio or video call with your virtual associate. Within your subscription dashboard you can see whether your virtual associate is online and if so, you can initiate a video or audio call immediately without the need for additional programs, applications, or links.

Some firms prefer to keep communication in house, and that’s fine as well. If this is your preference you may consider giving your virtual associate access to file sharing sites such as DropBox or NetDocs. You may also want to add your virtual associate to any internal chat/messaging systems such as Teams or Slack.

Many attorneys prefer holding a weekly meeting with their virtual associates. This is a great way set aside time to get a status on various assignments you may have your virtual associate working on, and to answer any questions your virtual associate may have. These weekly or bi-weekly meetings help to foster a great relationship between yourself and your virtual associate as it allows you to connect in a way that cannot be achieved through text-based communications such as email.

No matter what your preference is, the key to a strong working relationship with your virtual associate is to clearly define your communication preferences on day one to ensure you are all on the same page.

Communication Content

Just as important as how you communicate is what you communicate. Successful communication is in the details. This begins with the job description you include in the job post which helps you find the virtual associate who best fits your needs and continues throughout your working relationship. Details are particularly crucial when it comes to assigning tasks. Your associate must be very clear on what you expect them to complete if they are going to be able to meet and hopefully exceed your expectations.  Whenever possible we recommend providing sample documents or templates for the associate to use while completing their assignments. Providing your associate with an example or your work allows them to get an idea of your preferred writing style and will likely lead to less revisions being necessary when you review the work later. What we have seen in successful relationships between attorney’s and virtual associates is that when the attorney takes a little bit of extra time upfront to provide clear details the project is often more efficient and saves time given that the attorney does not need to spend additional time answering multiple questions about the assignment.

While the amount of details and direction that need to be provided will vary based upon the experience level of the virtual associate who is ultimately chosen, it is still recommended that you convey your communication preferences clearly and that when assigning your first task or case to a virtual associate you spend a little more time going over your needs and expectations in the beginning.

Avoiding Communication Breakdowns

Where we see virtual associate relationships struggle is when there is a breakdown in communication. To avoid this, we recommend that you be as responsive as possible. It is likely that there will be times when your virtual associate needs to reach you outside of any set meetings you may have in place. When this occurs, it is important that you be available for a response. You don’t want to be the reason why work on your files isn’t progressing.

If you are a part of a firm with other attorneys, it may be helpful for you to determine if there is another attorney in the office who the virtual associate could speak to if you are unavailable. This is particularly necessary if you are going to be out of the office for court or on a well-deserved vacation. Similarly, consider whether you want your virtual associate to reach out to a legal assistant or paralegal, if there are documents they need to perform their jobs so that they do not need to bother you with document requests.  By delegating to others in the firm you can enhance the quality of the communication with your virtual associate and help to ensure that they get the help that they need as quickly as possible.

If you run a solo practice and there is no one else for the virtual assistant to reach out to, you may need to consider a more direct method of communicating with your virtual associate such as text or phone call. It is also a good idea to establish upfront how you would like your virtual associate to proceed if they can’t get a hold of you for a day or two.

PLANNING AHEAD

Virtual associates are great and can provide you with fantastic work product, but to get the best out of your Virtual Associate it is necessary to give them as much time to complete a task as possible. A good rule of thumb is to assign the work as soon as you know the deadline and have decided to delegate it.

It is also important to plan ahead when you are giving deadlines for projects. You are going to need to review the work of the virtual associates, so you will want to make sure that whatever deadline you provide allows for the virtual associate to complete the task and enough time for you to review it.

Planning the type of work you intend to delegate to your virtual associate is also helpful. As you can bill your virtual associate out at a fair market rate, you can plan to assign those tasks which will be time consuming and meticulous to your virtual associate and still be able to bring in revenue above what you are paying your virtual associate.

ESTABLISH CLEAR EXPECTATIONS

Managing remote employees naturally creates the need to set crystal clear expectations during onboarding since you won’t be getting face to face interaction in a traditional office.

We suggest that you set expectations for regular working hours from the remote associate’s home office. Be mindful of time zones and find out when they will – and won’t – be available for video chats, team meetings and real-time collaboration.

You should also establish clear expectations for anyone on your remote team for securing their home office workspace. Make sure the remote associate uses proper security measures for their home Wi-Fi. Ask about their home work environment and what precautions they take to keep client information confidential. Be sure they are mindful to protect access to their laptops when they step away to take breaks throughout the day – especially if they live with a roommate or family. While this may feel a bit like micro-managing, it is actually critical to fulfilling your duty as the supervising attorney.

Let your remote associate know about all of the project management and collaboration tools available to them for sharing information such as Microsoft teams. Many law firms even give remote associates their own log-in access for legal research or practice management tools.

It can be easy for remote associates to fall into the trap of working too much and having little to no work-life balance. This can lead to burnout. If you have a talented remote associate who you want to keep around for the long haul, it is also wise to discuss expectations about downtime. When managing remote teams it can be just as important to expressly let them know when you don’t expect them to be working as when you do want them to be working.

ENGAGING AND RETAINING TOP TALENT

Another common challenge with a remote workforce is monitoring and nurturing employee engagement with the entire team– whether your remote team is made up of full time employees or freelance professionals. Team-building activities and social interactions are critical to help virtual teams bond since they don’t get regular face to face interaction.

Team-building activities can be unstructured events like Google hangouts for impromptu group work sessions or “virtual coffee” during the day. They can also include more elaborate planned events like virtual scavenger hunts, game nights, book club and so much more. Zoom happy hours and online cooking classes are other great activities to bring remote team members together.

Virtual meetings and activities can help boost productivity but they can also serve to build a sense of teamwork which in turn can help with retention. Make it a priority to make team to nurture your remote team and cultivate the type of work environment that talented team members won’t want to leave.

MANAGING WORK GIVEN TO VIRTUAL ASSOCIATES

Now that you have planned which tasks to assign to your virtual associate it important to stay organized. You may already have a case management system you want your associate to use which will help you organize these tasks, however as part of your subscription, LAWCLERK offers a great tool you can use to help you keep track of the work you have assigned to your virtual associate.

One of the best organizational tools LAWCLERK provides is “Matters”. Using matters allows you to create a separate folder for each of your virtual associate assignments. Matters can be based upon whatever you like such as client, case or even assignment type.

When you click on “add a matter” you will be prompted to give your matter a name.  Then a new “matter” box will appear your subscription dashboard.

If you click into the new matter you can write instructions to your virtual associate about what you need them to do.  You should include things like the deadline and whether the deadline is firm or flexible.  You can also upload any documents your virtual associate will need to begin working.

In an ideal world you will get into the habit of logging into your subscription immediately when you have new work to assign so you can create a Matter and get your Virtual Associate going asap.

Within each matter you can also keep tabs of how many hours the virtual associate is spending on the work.  This is especially helpful when you need to bill for the virtual associates time.

Using Matters for Different Clients or Cases

If you are assigning work for a virtual associate for a variety of different clients, you can create a new and separate matter for each client. We do not recommend assigning a bunch of work for multiple clients in one matter as it will be difficult to sort out the virtual associates time when you need to bill your clients.

If you choose to separate your matters by client or case, we recommend that you name the matters using the client or file name so they are easier to recognize and track.

Using Matters for Different Tasks

If you have a larger client and your virtual associate will be working mostly on assignments for that one client, then we recommend using a different matter for every project. For example, one matter for the motion to dismiss you need, one matter for research on evidence to exclude and one matter for discovery responses that you need drafted.

CONCLUSION

Strong communication skills are crucial for maximizing your success when working with your Virtual Associate!  Establish your preferred communication method early and provide clear directions to your virtual associate for the tasks you assign them.  Plan your tasks accordingly and keep them organized utilizing LAWCLERK’s great resources. Hopefully this helps give you some ideas on how best to manage work with your Virtual Associate.

 

Kylie Foster

Kylie Foster

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