Essential Tasks a Solo Attorney Can Outsource to a Virtual Legal Assistant

Are you a solo attorney spending most of your time tending to time-consuming legal administrative tasks? Do you often leave the office exhausted only to recall you haven’t billed a single hour that day? If this sounds like you, you’ll want to continue reading.

The good news is you have decided to go solo at an ideal time. With the growth of the internet, and the exploding virtual assistance industry, you can now get the support you need without incurring the costs of a full-time salaried legal assistant.

There is a simple two step process, which I recommend you follow if you wish to free up more time to practice law.

First, come to the realization you cannot do it all on your own. Going solo does not have to mean working solo. Once you have reached that conclusion, hire a virtual legal assistant (VLA) to help you manage your law practice.

Legal Administrative Tasks your VLA can Handle

Now that I have your attention, I’m going to list three essential tasks a virtual legal assistant can take off of your to-do list today.

1. Time Tracking & Invoicing

If you are not keeping track of each moment you spend working on your clients’ cases, you are probably losing more money than you’d like to admit. Let a virtual legal assistant keep track of the time you spend on each case. Just email or fax your timesheets to your VLA daily. When it is time to invoice your clients, your VLA can generate your invoices and forward them to your clients for payment.

2. Digital Transcription

Have you finally realized you can get more done when you dictate your letters and pleadings? A virtual legal assistant can transcribe your digital recordings and analog tapes. Just dictate your letters, pleadings or a long list of tasks, and have your VLA transcribe your recordings and deliver them to your inbox. If you want, you can phone-in your dictation to your virtual legal assistant for prompt transcription.

3. Deposition Scheduling

Depositions are essential to most legal matters. However, scheduling depositions can be a headache when you are continuously playing phone tag with the other party. Let your VLA coordinate the deposition with you, the witness, and the other attorney. Your VLA can add the deposition to your calendar, secure a court reporter, reserve the conference room, prepare and mail the deposition notices for you.

When you decided to go solo surely you didn’t expect to carry everything on your shoulders. Delegate those time-consuming legal administrative tasks to a virtual legal assistant, and get back to practicing law. A VLA will help you increase productivity and your billable hours.

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Becoming a Legal Assistant is Easy!

There are a lot of rewarding and well paid jobs out there that are just waiting to be discovered. The legal assistants or legal secretaries have relatively high salaries and opportunities to advance in their profession. You can choose to work in a law firm, government agency, insurance or finance company. You will have to do all the administrative work for the attorneys such as preparing papers necessary for court, filing documentation, arranging schedules and meetings and dealing with clients. You probably cannot wait to apply, but before you do so you have to check out and use these valuable tips on becoming a legal assistant.

Higher education is not required for the practicing of this profession. Applicants have to have a high school degree only. Still, it is best for you to have had a legal secretary course. These are readily available to all willing to participate. Also, people who have studies certain high school disciplines are preferred to others. You will have a higher chance of getting a position if you have attended business orientated and/or secretarial courses.

There is a wide range of skills required from a person to become a legal assistant. It goes without saying that you have to have perfect secretarial skills. You should be able to type accurately and fast. The excellent keyboarding skills are a must. It is essential for you to be able to work well with different computer programs for filing documents. Most legal assistants are required to create libraries so you have to make sure these will be easily manageable and accessible. The good interpersonal skills are highly valued as well. You should be able to communicate effectively with the high-powered attorneys and with their clients.

You can readily look for legal assistant vacancies in the job websites on the internet. It is a god idea to check out any specialized sites and forums as well to in order to find more positions available. You will get a firm or state specific application tips there as well. You should not hesitate to do some networking if you have the opportunity to do so. Sending out speculative applications is a good idea as well.

Legal Assistant and Paralegal Job Description

Good paralegals can actually do what attorneys or solicitors can do. It’s only that by law they are not allowed to give legal advice, represent clients in court or set legal fees. If you simply look at a paralegal job description, you will know that they are in hot demand because most lawyers just don’t have the time to do all the things required of them.

In the old days, paralegals were considered glorified secretaries, but nowadays many people considered them to be unofficial full-fledged lawyers.

If you abhor doing research, then forget about being a paralegal. This is because a paralegal job description comprised conducting a lot of research, help lawyers prepare for trails, hearings and closing arguments.

Some people are confused by the terms paralegal and legal assistants. Are they the same? Well, it depends on where you come from. But in general, both positions mean the same thing – they help lawyers prepare for trial and do research.

In places where these two positions have different definitions, they also have different salary scales. Training programs for both of them, in such cases, are also different because they have a different set of responsibilities.

Take note that in places where paralegals and legal assistants have different meanings, you will see that the former is more involved in casework, drafting legal documents and legal research. The work of legal assistants is more administrative in nature. Another major point is that when law firms want to hire paralegals, they would keep on good eye on the applicant’s background to see whether they have any experience in dealing with law-related matters or a background in political science. If they are looking for legal assistants, they will see whether the applicant has a secretarial or clerical backgrounds.

There are many study programs for both paralegals and legal assistants to bring their knowledge and expertise up several notches. For instance, legal assistants could pursue the Certified Legal Assistant programs offered by the National Association of Legal Assistants (NALA). There is a wide variety of programs for paralegals, ranging from certificate courses to master degree programs.

Whatever it is, if you want to pursue this career, it is best you take a good look at the paralegal job description drawn up by the firm you are interested to work for. This is important because being a paralegal of legal assistant is often a high-pressure undertaking. If you are the type who thrives in stressful situation, then being a paralegal is a good profession to get into as this industry has been growing at an annual pace of 22 per cent for the last five years and is expected to continue that way till 2020.

Should Arizona Paralegals & Legal Assistants Be Paid Overtime Wages?

Recent surveys reveal that many law firms, including law firms employing paralegals and legal assistants throughout the State of Arizona, do not pay such employees overtime wages, choosing instead to classify them as “exempt” employees. Although an employer law firm may tell such employees that they are not entitled to overtime pay because the position is “exempt” from the overtime requirements of the Fair Labor Standards Act, neither the job description nor the work performed usually supports the claimed exemption.

Section 13(a)(1) of the FLSA provides an exemption from both minimum wage and overtime pay for employees employed as bona fide executive, administrative, professional and outside sales employees.
Section 13(a)(1) and Section 13(a)(17) also exempt certain computer employees. Job titles do not determine exempt status. Instead, in order for an exemption to apply, an employee’s specific job duties and salary must meet all the requirements of the Department of Labor’s regulations.

When it comes to the legal assistant or paralegal position, it is fairly well-established that such positions may not properly be classified as exempt. From its first private letter ruling on the issue in 1977, the Department of Labor has consistently maintained that legal assistants and paralegals are not exempt unless they qualify under the administrative exemption. The department has repeated the same language in letter after letter.

Specifically, the Department of Labor has taken the position that “legal assistants and paralegals generally are not involved in the performance of duties requiring the exercise of discretion and independent judgment of the type required by section 541.2; they are, instead, involved in the use of skills rather than discretion and independent judgment.”

Based on that determination, the Department concludes that “such employees generally are found to be highly trained and highly skilled specialists who, as such, would not qualify for the exemption as defined . . . in Regulations, Part 541.” The DOL has recently readdressed the issue and reiterated that traditional legal assistant/paralegal duties such as preparing oral presentations or meeting and interviewing clients do not involve the exercise of discretion and independent judgment required to properly classify an employee as exempt.

These determinations rest upon the DOL interpretation that “discretion and independent judgment” mean “the authority or power to make an independent choice, free from immediate direction or supervision with respect to matters of significance.” Although it is unquestioned that certain tasks performed by paralegals involve some level of independent judgment, such work does not involve the exercise of discretion and independent judgment at a level contemplated by 29 C.F.R. Part 541.

Significantly, the DOL has also noted that the implications of the strict ethical prohibitions against the unauthorized practice of law by lay persons means that a legal assistant would not have the amount of authority to exercise independent judgments with regard to legal matters necessary to bring them within the administrative exemption.

Similarly, the DOL has stated its position that the professional exemption is also inapplicable because, although legal assistants may have special training in their field, their duties do not require knowledge of an advanced type in a field of science or learning within the meaning of section 541.301 of the regulations.

It is well-established that determination of an employee’s exemption under the Fair Labor Standards Act is purely a question of fact to be determined on a case-by-case basis. However, the employer always carries the burden of proving the exemption and an employer’s claim of exemption must be narrowly construed in favor of the employee. Indeed, some courts have held that an employer’s burden in proving an FLSA exemption is “heightened beyond the usual preponderance standard, such that the employer must show that the employee fits plainly and unmistakably within the exemption’s terms.” This is particularly true where the employer is a law firm.

The result of all of this is the potential for sizable liability for law firms that improperly classify their employees. A paralegal or legal assistant who can show that he or she worked an average of 10 hours of overtime per week over the course of three years, would have a claim for 1,560 hours of unpaid overtime. Assuming an average pay rate of $23.53 per hour ($48,000 per year), the overtime rate would be $35.29 per hour, leaving $55,059.74 in unpaid overtime wages alone. Additionally, the FLSA provides for an additional amount of liquidated damages in an amount equal to the amount of overtime wages, bringing the total claim, not including attorneys’ fees and interest, which can also be recovered, to over $110,000. A further concern is A.R.S. § 23-353, an Arizona statute requiring an employer to pay employees who have been discharged “wages due him within three working days or the end of the next regular pay period, whichever is sooner,” potentially tripling the employee’s claim.

The above demonstrates the clear risk to an employer who does not pay paralegals and legal assistants overtime wages. Legal assistants and paralegals in Arizona who believe they may have claims for unpaid overtime wages should contact an experienced Arizona employment attorney as soon as possible to determine whether they have valid claims. Because the time limits for bringing such claims are relatively short, failing to advance them in a timely manner may result in a significant reduction to any unpaid wage claim.