Invest in your productivity through outsourcing

  • November 01, 2014
  • Carolynne Burkholder-James

Outsourcing isn’t just about sending commodity legal work to an offshore firm that can do it more cheaply, it’s also about improving efficiency by making sure small and solo practitioners don’t waste their valuable time doing work that is best taken care of by other professionals.

From bookkeeping to photocopying, website design and even legal research, outsourcing can help solo practitioners and lawyers from small firms become more productive.

J.M. (Michelle) Farrell, a solo practitioner based in Richmond Hill, Ont., says that outsourcing has helped her in her practice as a lawyer, mediator and arbitrator.

Farrell worked as a government lawyer for 15 years before she left to found Farrell Law & Mediation, what she describes as “an old-fashioned general practice” that provides “affordable services to working families.”

When she was starting her law firm two years ago, Farrell spent time researching what practice management tools would help her build her business and become more efficient.

“There are tons of resources out there for a solo practitioner,” she says.

One of Farrell’s first steps was to hire a firm to help her to develop her online presence, a process she has yet to finalize.

“A big part of the law firm of the future is going to be online. I don’t have the time to build my own online presence and I’m not about to become an expert in that,” she says. “That is one thing that makes perfect sense for outsourcing.”

Farrell also used a virtual office company that answered her phone and took messages on her behalf. The virtual office also rented boardrooms by the hour for mediation and offices where Farrell could meet clients.

“It gave me a professional business appearance,” says Farrell, who has since moved into shared office space.

Vanessa C. Davies also uses outsourcing to build her business.

The Ottawa-based solo practitioner practises criminal defence and administrative law out of Davies Law Office.

Davies says that being a solo practitioner is a “dream job” for her.

“This is exactly where I wanted to be when I applied to law school and now here I am,” she says. “I couldn’t be happier.”

Davies says that she decided to outsource some of her tasks to save herself time.

“Outsourcing really comes down to a straight old cost-benefit analysis,” says Davies. “What is my time worth? How long will it take me to do x? What can I afford to pay to not do x so that I can do my work?”

For example, Davies says that she initially attempted to do her own bookkeeping.

“I was wasting lots of hours and procrastinating doing my accounting,” she says. “So I thought I’ll call a bookkeeper and get a lesson in accounting.”

Davies contacted an Ottawa-based bookkeeper who gave her some advice.

“The first thing he said to me was, “Vanessa, how much do you charge hourly?” I replied, and he said, “Well I charge $18 an hour. It’s not worth it to you to learn this. Why don’t I just do your books for you?” I was sold,” she says. “He has since got me organized.”

Farrell also uses a bookkeeper, although she does most of the work herself.

“It’s nice to have another set of eyes on your work,” she says.

Davies says outsourcing some tasks has made her more productive and focused.

“Invest in your productivity by hiring extra help to keep you organized,” she advises other solo practitioners and lawyers from small firms. “You need to spend a little to make more.”

Sarah Picciotto, the founder of OnPoint Legal Research Law Corporation, which provides legal research, analysis and writing services to more than 300 law firms, says outsourcing can save lawyers money in the long term.

“Our clients tell us that if we can take some work off their desks, they can do other things to develop their practice and grow their own company,” she says. “A lot of our clients are lawyers who have been practising for a long time and they don’t do research and analysis very often. It makes sense to hire someone who does this all the time. We’re more efficient.”

OnPoint often assists small firms and solo practitioners by researching obscure areas of law, says Picciotto.

“In a big firm, if an area of law comes up that someone doesn’t know anything about, they can run down the hall and chat with somebody or they can have an associate look into it and get an answer,” she says. “That's not an option for solo practitioners.”

Picciotto, who is based in Vancouver, says that solo practitioners and small law firms have other unique challenges that make outsourcing ideal – for example, they don’t have the option of asking an associate to help with a big file. That's when her firm can help.

“I just got off the phone with a client of ours who called and said, ‘Oh my goodness. I’ve got a trial and two appeals coming up. It just kind of happened.’ He’s a solo practitioner and he’s not going to hire an associate for two months of crazy busy work,” she says. “Now he’s given us a factum to write and it’s off his desk. He’s not going to be spending 24 hours a day working.”

Aside from saving time, Davies says that outsourcing has an additional benefit.

“It also helps grow the economy. It makes me feel good to help a fellow entrepreneur grow their business,” she says. “Coming out of a recession like we are, entrepreneurs are the engine of growth. We’ve got to help each other.”

Carolynne Burkholder-James is an articling student at Heather Sadler Jenkins LLP in Prince George, B.C.. Before pursuing a career in law, she worked as a journalist for five years.