Common Mistakes Lawyers Make With Virtual Support
I recently read this helpful post from Beverly Michaelis about the Six Mistakes Lawyers Make with Staff. The points made are spot on in my experience, and the post prompted me to consider a few of the biggest concerns that arise in working relationships between lawyers and virtual support professionals, including virtual legal assistants.
Poor communication is definitely one of the biggest stumbling blocks in virtual working relationships. Email and phone calls can be great ways to communicate, but I have seen many emails that are sent lacking critical information, or phone calls that are not followed up by written instructions confirming the content of the call and the expectations for the project undertaken. I have had lawyers send urgent emails asking about my services with no clear listing of what they need and why. It’s hard to provide a proper response right away (avoiding delays created by multiple email exchanges) if I don’t even know exactly what someone’s needs are and their timeline! Communication about work projects and assignments given by a lawyer to a virtual legal assistant should clearly set out what is needed, what the timeline is and any quirks of the assignment.
Not Providing Feedback
In an in-office situation, a lawyer will (hopefully!) tell his or her assistant if they did a good job. They may make corrections to their work themselves, but still let their assistant know how to improve for the next time. Virtually this seems to happen less and yet it is an important part of building a good relationship. Don’t feel like you are being nitpicky or difficult – you must provide feedback, both positive and negative, on a regular basis so your virtual assistant stays in the loop. It can be as simple as preferring different font points on different documents or as big as deadline issues over time of day and time zones (ie. due on Wednesday could mean Wednesday at 8am PST or Wednesday by midnight). We don’t often see the absolute final product on assignments as documents are printed out on site and so we don’t get that feedback unless effort is made to make sure it is given. I know I, and most other VLA’s, want to do our absolute best and anything you say about our work is going to help in that respect.
This relates to communication really (most staff issues do!) but do make sure your virtual staff either have access to your calendar or get regular updates as to your schedule. A virtual legal assistant may not need to know when you run out for lunch or to get a coffee, but they do need to know on a general level what times of day are best to reach you, when to schedule meetings with you via phone/skype and when you are going to be away for vacation or other absences. This helps the VLA stay on top of her tasks and she may even help you by knowing your plans, as you may set deadlines with conflicts.
Overall, virtual relationships are not that different that in-person relationships. Regular and clear communication enhances the relationship and respect and consideration provide a solid foundation.