Jaclyn Foster knows what it’s like being a full-time paralegal and working for a temp staffing agency. But she opted to break from the norm and build her dedicated paralegal agency because she learned that a professional contract paralegal service could save law firms money, improve quality, and assure continuity.
Host Christopher Anderson interviews Foster about her journey from rural Minnesota and Wisconsin to running a team of contract paralegals to support modern law practices.
Foster explains how, in her experience, contract paralegals not only save money but bring a level of expertise and consistency that many full-time approaches lack.
Anderson and Foster discuss lessons learned from the pandemic, including how quickly a sidelined paralegal could be picked up by a different firm in a competitive market.
Jaclyn Foster is the founder and principal of Jaclyn Foster Paralegal Services.
Special thanks to our sponsors, Scorpion, Lawclerk, Alert Communications and LawYaw.
Intro: Managing your law practice can be challenging. Marketing, time management, attracting clients and all the things besides the cases that you need to do that aren’t billable. Welcome to this edition of the Un-Billable Hour. The law practice advisory podcast. This is where you’ll get the information you need from expert guests and host Christopher Anderson here on Legal Talk Network.
Christopher Anderson: Welcome to the Un-Billable Hour. I am your host, Christopher Anderson, and today’s episode is about production. What I mean by that is it’s about getting the work that you’ve promised done. When I talk to lawyers about running their business across the country, one of the things that’s sort of a joke line but sort of not that we talk about is that if you don’t sell the work that you produce, we call that pro bono, right? Or sometimes we call that going bankrupt if you don’t get paid for because you haven’t sold it. But if you don’t produce the work that you’ve sold we call that malpractice or fraud. And a lot of law firms get in trouble especially these days in that their sales go up, they’re able to get more clients, get more work in the door but then they struggle to get a great team together to produce that work. And so we’re going to be talking about a good way to get a team together that is not as difficult as you might think and that’s why we’ve titled today’s show “Help is easier to get.” And my guest is Jaclyn Foster and she’s the founder of the Jaclyn Foster Paralegal Group. And that’s a full-service group of paralegals that provide one-on-one direct support exclusively to small and solo law firms across the country. But before we get started with Jaclyn, it’s time of course to do a little business. We have a few sponsors and I’d like you to hear from them. So thank you to the sponsors that make this show possible. Alert Communications, if any law firm is looking for call, intake or retainer services available 24/7, 365, just call 866-827-5568. Scorpion is the leading provider of marketing solutions for the legal industry. With nearly 20 years of experience serving attorneys, Scorpion help you grow your practice. Learn more at scorpionlegal.com. Law Clerk, where attorneys go to hire freelance lawyers. Visit lawclerk.legal to learn how to increase your productivity and your profits by working with talented freelance lawyers. Lawyaw provides end-to-end document automation for solo, small and mid-sized practices. Save time and avoid mistakes with documents that you draft over and over again. Learn more at lawyaw.com and that’s L-A-W-Y-A-W.com. Today’s episode of the Un-Billable Hour again is “Help is easier to get.” And I am pleased to introduce my guest. Jaclyn Foster. Jaclyn has dedicated her entire paralegal career and now her company to serving small and solo law firms. During her career supporting solo attorneys, she’s quickly grown to have a recognition and appreciation for the common struggles that these firms face. One of which significantly to today’s show is difficulty being able to afford or quite honestly to find the highly qualified and experienced staff that they need in order to meet the needs of their clients. So Jaclyn, welcome to the show.
Jaclyn Foster: Hi Chris. Thank you. Yes, so I’ve been so excited to get on the show, so thank you for having me today.
Christopher Anderson: It’s our pleasure. So I notoriously do terrible introductions of my guests, so I’d like you just to tell us a little bit more. Like how did you come to be serving multiple law firms and how did being a paralegal kind of lead you into that?
Jaclyn Foster: Sure, yeah, so as you stated, I have dedicated my entire paralegal career to small and solo law firms. I started by going to a very specific school for paralegal work and ended up finding some internships while I was there and I grew up in a very small rural area. Very tip of Minnesota, about two hours south of the Canadian border. So being up there, we don’t really have big-big firms. So I started immediately in small firms and just quickly grew that. I mean I had attorneys that had seven employees they would go through in a year. They had a very difficult time keeping people in, partially because they were hiring the wrong people, partially because they just were too overloaded in work and had burnout rates. So that fast thing into now is I ended up moving to an even more remote area in Wisconsin. My husband has a logging business out here so we decided that it was best for me to move here but still had a very deep passion for my paralegal career. And it was even harder to find law firms in my area. The closest one was about 30 miles away and it was a very small firm so I did start working for them but just over time did not make sense anymore for my family for me to have that job.
So in 2018 I began subcontracting through a company called, it’s now called Bosun, it was Cc: My Admin. I think you’re familiar with that actually.
Christopher Anderson: Yup.
Jaclyn Foster: With them, they kind of broke me into my contracting career and connecting with both big and small firms across the nation. This was what made my leap into the virtual world. I didn’t even know it was a thing or could even be done. I had so many doubts in my head about how it could be done. You know, small firms they have such a tight-knit community when it comes to their work and their privacy and their confidentiality that the idea of working from across the country just didn’t make sense to me. But that leap really is what catapulted me into launching my own company and finding that passion and determination for creating this solution because I recognize it was the ultimate solution for every firm I worked for prior to this leap. They could utilize leverage and really benefit from what Cc: My Admin was doing and connecting me with them as a paralegal. So through this, I had the opportunity. I advanced into just federal jurisdictions everywhere. I supported a Supreme Court candidate and I worked for regional and national firms so what that also told me is I can have a paralegal career of my dreams from my kitchen table and work on some big cases for some big lawyers even though they’re solos. And really expand what I’m doing with my life even if I don’t have the access in my area. So immediately I recognize that this isn’t only a solution for the attorneys but also paralegals that are in my situation that are highly qualified but need more flexibility. So that’s where I just light bulb moment. I need to create this company and make this a possibility for both paralegal and attorney to match up across the country and work together.
Christopher Anderson: Right, and I think that’s kind of key is to understanding that this is actually as with any good business, right? You’re matching paralegals who might be in situations similar to yours or not but you know, who now have access to a much broader number of law firms to work with and law firms who have hard time — probably like law firms in your area particularly but in law firms across the country have a hard time finding good talent to work with. So let me ask you, I mean I know this is basic and of course our listeners are lawyers and so you’d think that the answer to this question would be pretty clear but I think from your perspective I’d like to hear and tell the lawyers that are listening that might not be familiar with outsourcing or contracting for paralegal work. How do you draw the line? How do you differentiate a contract paralegal from an employee paralegal?
Jaclyn Foster: Sure, so I personally very much draw the line and watch that line with my clients on two things is what I really pay attention to above the basics which everybody knows. It’s 1099 versus W-2. We’re not paying benefits, things of that nature. However, I think it’s very important that we establish exclusivity isn’t guaranteed with contract work. You can’t force a contractor to not take other clients as well as the time that they work. So they should be in control of when they work if they want to work at midnight. Now, I’m glad you said most attorneys should know this but it’s actually interesting when I sent out my contract, I don’t explain this in advance to my clients because I assume that they understand this independent contractor agreement. But I did have one client come to me and say, “I’m very concerned because you’re establishing that I can’t tell them when to work, they set their hours. I need their availability here and there.” So what I always tell my paralegals while this is the independent contractor situation, it’s highly unlikely you’re going to keep clients if you don’t make yourself available so there’s that. You know but for tax purposes, that’s where I feel that it really draws the line.
Christopher Anderson: Yeah, and now this is a great time to remind our listeners that we’re not providing legal advice on this show. Please consult with your local employment lawyer. But yeah, I think that’s a great line drawing that you’ve done. What I was saying as we were starting this up and talking about it is like we were comparing the fact that you are actually serving paralegals who now can have access to more law firms but law firms who have a hard time finding talent. And I think I’m hearing it, you know, I work with lots of law firms across the country and I’m hearing it over and over and over again that they’re not able to find the talent that they need or it’s taking too long. And some who just need the talent, they need excellent talent but they don’t need it full time or they need it for a big project but they don’t need it year-long.
How does hiring a contract paralegal, like how can a contract paralegal get in there and like let’s skip the obvious. Like okay, yeah, so I can hire them temporary and I can hire them part-time but how is it really solving this problem for lawyers?
Jaclyn Foster: So I actually — and temporary and part-time and as needed, that’s absolutely an option when you’re going into the contract world and that’s one thing that does attract attorneys eventually to the contracting is I can use them as needed. But really where you start leveraging the benefit of tapping into a contracted talent pool is that the reality that talent is all over this country. So many of the paralegals that I work with are leading into the contracted world of their career and they’re doing so due to family reasons, so I have a lot of military spouses that move a lot. They have to uproot all the time following their husbands or their wives across the country for military purposes or they’re growing their family. Daycare isn’t feasible where they live, they may have a mom or a grandma out there that’ll help here and there but not full-time. And then some of them, they’re on their way to retirement but they’re not quite ready to retire because I don’t know, I mean I’m assuming all these attorneys will agree with me when I say there’s not a lot of great retirement benefits when you’re paralegal for small firms. They’re okay but they’re not enough to say retire early.
Christopher Anderson: Sure.
Jaclyn Foster: So a lot of my paralegals are kind of wanting to just slow down part-time, be a little bit more flexible. Maybe they want to snowbird but still get that work in. So these paralegals are absolutely qualified for what you need and that senior level that we can circle back to you stating you know, they’re not getting the work done because they have so many clients but they’re the only talent and their attorneys are the only talent in their office that can get the work done and they’re one person. So that’s where those types of paralegals are becoming more accessible.
Christopher Anderson: Sure.
Jaclyn Foster: The one thing you have with contract world that you sacrifice is having them in your office, close proximity which that truthfully comes with other benefits of not having them there.
Christopher Anderson: What are the other benefits of not having them there?
Jaclyn Foster: Well, we can we can fast forward into talking about the savings.
Christopher Anderson: Well, let’s not talk about the savings like we’ll come to that, but I was thinking you might be suggesting that lawyers actually get better at delegating the task and the paralegal gets better able to focus on it when they’re not being constantly interrupted.
Jaclyn Foster: Absolutely, so one of the biggest costs in a law firm I believe is productivity and the ability to constantly have productive hours being put forth. So in a law firm, you’re constantly getting distracted. Clients are popping in, sitting in your waiting room, staring at you. “I need to talk to you. I need to talk to your attorney.” Your co-workers are stopping you, asking you questions. When you’re in a remote setting, especially when you’re very confident in your remote setting and experience, you can sit down, do the task at hand, really micro focus into what you’re doing and clock in. When you’re done, you clock out and that’s your work product and it’s very trackable that way. We’re not getting distracted. So how long does that estate plan really take to draft in a law firm versus in your own home where there’s no distractions, you can sit down and do it and we can actually track that profitability.
Christopher Anderson: Right. And then the law firm’s really just paying for production time and not as much for the downtime.
Jaclyn Foster: Right, so it’s a complete 100% return on investment that way.
Christopher Anderson: Yeah, fantastic. We’re talking with Jaclyn Foster. Jaclyn and I are talking about the benefits of outsourcing or contracting some of the paralegal work in your firm. Jaclyn is the founder of the Jaclyn Foster Paralegal Group. We’re going to hear a word from our sponsors and when we come back, Jaclyn and I are going to want to talk to you a little bit about turnover and some of the difficulties law firms face and how contracting out some paralegals might help with that. But first, let’s hear from the folks who pay for this show.
Christopher Anderson: No one cites routine drafting as the reason they chose to become a lawyer but that’s where a lot of time goes for solo practitioners and small firms. Lawyaw can help you transform your existing word documents into reusable templates with no coding required. Save time and avoid errors with intuitive features like conditional logic. Use a tool that empowers your experience and expertise. Learn more at lawyaw.com. And that’s L-A-W-Y-A-W.com. Law Clerk is where attorneys go to hire freelance lawyers. Whether you need a research memo or a complicated appellate brief, our network of freelance lawyers have every level of experience and expertise. Signup is free and there are no monthly fees. Only pay the flat fee price you set. Use rebate code Un-Billable to get a $100.00 Amazon gift card when you complete your next project. Learn more at lawclerk.legal. Welcome back, we’re talking with Jaclyn Foster, founder of the Jaclyn Foster Paralegal Group and I wanted to turn our conversation now. We’ve been talking about the benefits both to the paralegals into the law firms of having a contract paralegal from the perspective of being more productive and more efficient.
But I want to look at this from a completely different angle now Jaclyn. Like law firms, I already talked to you about the fact that they’re having a hard time finding talent. But another challenge that a lot of them face is once they find it, they don’t keep it. Like people are leaving for one reason or another either because they’re moving like you were mentioning or because they find a better job or because they decide they don’t want to do paralegal work anymore or because they’re not any good at it. But it becomes a revolving door and like the bane of a lot of lawyers existence is recruiting, recruiting, recruiting, recruiting. How does leveraging contract workers kind of help to ameliorate this problem that a lot of law firms are facing?
Jaclyn Foster: Sure, so I mean the reality of the workforce is no employee contractor and or W-2 will bring with a guarantee of a lifetime relationship. I think we all can come to that conclusion no matter what you do. So when I was subcontracting, one of my clients once said to me on our very first day together that it’s statistically unlikely we will never part ways. I remember her saying that. Then I at first it really threw me off because I actually lost sleep over it because I was really truly in this for the long haul with her. I was excited to work for her firm, contract, it was great hours. I liked the attorney. I liked the work.
Christopher Anderson: What are you talking about? I was tattooing you on my arm.
Jaclyn Foster: I know, you know, and she was wonder I grew to really understand her directness but, you know, and then over time I started to realize and come to that level with her of thinking people in businesses change all the time. There’s always going to be something that will separate you from your employee and vice versa. The difference though with contract workers is that the moment they switch into contract work mode, they become business owners as well. So they need you as your client. They want you as your client and they aren’t there until the next best job offer comes along with more benefits or more flexibility. They’re there typically with contract work, attorneys aren’t committing to full or even part-time hours. They may be utilizing paralegals on an as needed basis or for a set five hours per week but contract workers need to have multiple clients to get to their 20 to 40 hour per week goal. So they need to keep you and grow with you. That’s their ultimate goal.
Christopher Anderson: And are you seeing those relationships lasting a long time? Like that a contract worker stays working for a firm for a good long length of time?
Jaclyn Foster: Absolutely if it’s a good match. So that, I mean, that goes down to how to actually recruit and find the right matches. But I do find that the contract workers that are really there not just to pass COVID or pass the time but really “I’m here to I want to be a remote business owner. I want to start working on my paralegal business career.” So additionally, if you have made the decision to hire contract workers opting into an agency model of contract work is ideal so going back to that because the reason why is because the owner of that company should be committing to you long term. So maybe their paralegals themselves aren’t but the business itself is. So they should take your staffing as seriously as you take it. For example, one time I mean I’ve had situations where paralegals I have assigned to attorneys end up finding a full-time contracted position but them and I have such a good relationship that they’re saying, “We’re not going anywhere. We’ll stay here until we get a new paralegal brought on. We’ll train her in the systems.” We’re a business, so versus when you have a paralegal come into your firm on a W-2 and they want to put their two weeks, in typically they don’t even finish out those two weeks and they’re gone. They just leave. They operate, they say “I’m done” and they go. So that’s one difference with the working in the contract world is you’re working with more professional business mindset paralegals versus employed type paralegals.
Christopher Anderson: Yeah. That could be really useful because one of the questions I was going to ask you actually is like one of the hesitations I’ve heard from a lot of law firms considering this kind of delegation of their work to contract paralegals is that you know, my law firm, I’m going to take their voice now, right? They say, “My law firm has a brand. Our work product looks like this. Our level of quality that we insist on is this. The voice that we bring to our clients and to the documents we create is this.” How can I use a contractor to make sure that we’re still staying on brand?
Jaclyn Foster: Sure, so love that question because I’m all about that brand piece of it and bringing in a contract worker. This is where I kind of suggest unless these people are going to be hidden behind your scene. Stay away from just document drafting services where they just bust it out and send it to your clients and that’s it. When I’m talking contract, you’re bringing them in as a part of your team. They’re getting onboarded into your systems. They’re getting trained into your procedures as well as you have them written out and as well as they can.
They take on a firm email address. Some of them will set up a certain number with Google Voice that has your area code. Things like that. And they introduce themselves as a paralegal for XYZ Firm. And so that’s where you have to find it. Just because you’re hiring contract doesn’t mean you can throw out all the other traditional hiring processes out the door. You still need to find somebody that has the same inclusive vision as you and wants to join that team of your practice and bring your firm to the next level as a team.
Christopher Anderson: Yeah. That does make sense. When we think about the disruption that we’ve had in businesses through the COVID-19 pandemic. Has this been a blip where people like because we’re not in the office. People who are looking to contract work or what are we learning through this process or through this time that you think is part of the new model that law firms will kind of stick it out regarding contract work?
Jaclyn Foster: Well I think there’s a two-tone with what happened in COVID in the thick of the COVID-19 pandemic because I’ve had kind of a fluctuation. I say on two sides, one side of it, the firms are learning that this contract remote virtual setting or I guess I should just say, this virtual setting is not so out of the ordinary anymore. People are forced to figure it out and jump in and be brave and not be scared about their confidentiality and the breach of all of that. And then the other side is I think that a lot of these attorneys are learning that their direct hires will not be sidelined for long until they find a new opportunity. And many of my now clients calls me after the thick of the pandemic were on May and they told me they had furloughed employees during the thick of the shutdowns. Now that they were ready to bring them back to work they lost them completely to a different firm. So I think that they were really learning, I mean in the moment of a crisis, staff is not going to stick around because at that point it becomes fend for yourself, fend for yourself. And you can’t blame these paralegals for trying to find consistent work while you know, they need money. So versus actually when I was working during the thick of the pandemic, I was still contracting with that Cc: My Admin Bosun. They were offering their clients relief off of their contracts. You don’t have to hit minimums. You know, saying things like that to say, “Let’s be more flexible with you because we’re all in this together.”
Christopher Anderson: Right, yeah. Well that makes total sense. All right, what I’d like to do is we’ll take a break and hear from our sponsors here. And when we come back, I want to kind of — we’ve been talking now about kind of the how it helps with the hiring and recruiting and training aspect of it and how we can stay on brand. I want to turn and start talking a little bit about the economics. And we kind of touched on it, but I did say we’d come back to it. So we’ll hear from our sponsors and then we’ll start talking about how this makes financial sense or if it does.
Christopher Anderson: Now more than ever, an effective marketing strategy is one of the most important things for your firm. Scorpion can help. With nearly 20 years of experience serving the legal industry, Scorpion has proven methods to help you get the high value cases you deserve. Join thousands of attorneys across the country who have turned to Scorpion for effective marketing and technology solutions. For a better way to grow your practice visit scorpionlegal.com. As the largest legal only call center in the U.S., Alert Communications helps law firms and legal marketing agencies with new client intake. Alert captures and responds to all leads 24/7, 365. As an extension of your firm in both English and Spanish. Alert uses proven intake methods, customizing responses as needed which earns the trust of clients and improves client retention. To find out how Alert can help your law office, call 866-827-5568 or visit alertcommunications.com/ltn. Welcome back. We are still talking with Jaclyn Foster. Jaclyn has created the Jaclyn Foster Paralegal Group which is a solution for law firms to augment, replace, be able to better manage their paralegal team with high quality and the ability to scale and un-scale as needed. And one of the things we wanted to talk about when we came back is let’s face it, I think if attorneys that are listening don’t know this, they should know this and they shouldn’t be scared by it. But they should know that the hourly rate that you pay a 1099 contractor is typically higher than the hourly rate you would pay the employee that you have on full time. Knowing that, Jaclyn, how — and I think we’ve kind of touched on it. But how does this make sense for a law firm to pay more for paralegal rather than just hiring one?
Jaclyn Foster: Sure, so it really is broken down by taking that average salary of $55,000.00 per year for a senior level paralegal.
So I’m not saying you’re hiring somebody straight out of college or maybe a bank teller that has zero legal experience like I was at one point. I’m not saying their average salary, I’m saying the average salary if you’re trying to find talent and somebody that’s actually going to build the profitability of your practice is around %55,000.00 per year nationwide. So on average, an employee will actually cost 25% to 40% above their salary amount and this is of course a widespread percentage because upon what these firms are planning to offer their employees, this percentage can include recruiting, onboarding, new hire, training, benefits, paid time off, sick leave, insurance, retirement, taxes etcetera. So therefore when you calculate all that in 25% to 40% above that full-time hire at $55,000.00 per year is now costing you between approximately 69 and 77 a year. So that’s a big jump just in all those added benefits but really that’s to me the boring part of it but very much numbers.
Christopher Anderson: Yeah.
Jaclyn Foster: The savings are truly endless and this is because as previously mentioned what we were discussing law firm owners now have the ability to fluctuate that usage of their staff without a high risk of losing them. So a lot of the times my clients will call me and right away they say “I need 30 to 40 hours of support per week. I need it to be a senior level” and I said “You know what? I hate to not encourage you to want to pay us more but let’s just do a trial month and see where you’re actually falling in time”, because circling back to that level of experience when you’re hiring contract and it’s finding that 7, 10 up to 25 to 30 years of experience, these paralegals come with efficiencies that many firms haven’t even come close to seeing. So what might have taken their prior higher five hours to complete takes the senior level professional about two hours.
Christopher Anderson: Right.
Jaclyn Foster: For example.
Christopher Anderson: And it’s billable typically, if it’s a billable law firm.
Jaclyn Foster: Right, exactly, so it’s all billable and plus that productivity and elimination of unproductive hours is really what sells that return on investment. Because like you said, it’s all billable. You can watch as the invoices come through from your contract paralegal. Okay, it’s taking them on average about three hours to finish a will and have it perfectly packaged in the ancillary documents etcetera. So let’s look at what we’re charging our clients and make that profitable. So they can really start playing with their numbers and seeing where they want to go because it’s so consistent with that experience and they know it’s good work product. There’s nothing wrong with it, I mean we’re not all perfect but you know what I’m saying is that it’s very consistent across the board on what they’re doing. It takes them 45 minutes to draft up a family divorce package. Something of that nature where they can really start seeing those flat fees are becoming more popular with attorneys. I know they’re harder to figure out where you land, but that’s one way of figuring it out on how much do you want to make.
Christopher Anderson: Sure, and I think you kind of alluded to this but I just want to be clear, like a law firm that’s taking on a contract paralegal, do they have to send them a laptop?
Jaclyn Foster: No, actually they cannot send them equipment by law.
Christopher Anderson: Yeah, and they’re obviously not creating or adding space in their office, they’re not sending them a printer. They’re not doing benefits. They’re not giving them a cell phone if that’s what your firm does etcetera. So there’s savings there too but I love the idea of the productive but not unproductive time because I think that’s a huge differentiator as well. Let me ask you, I mean you look at this and I’m sitting here thinking, “You know, this sounds pretty interesting. Could I build my firm with no people? Like could I just go completely contract work. No in-house team?”
Jaclyn Foster: That depends. I actually have two attorneys that are completely 100% remote right now. Everybody on their team including them are remote. Not because of the pandemic, they did this years and they’ve been working hard at it to eliminate those office expenses. So it does depend. I personally have found that the best setup for a firm isn’t completely remote or virtual for the client experience unless you’re in something like intellectual property trademarks where everybody’s like everybody’s online including your clients. But you know, family law, probates, things that are a little bit more personal I feel that we need some face to face in our lives still. So the one thing that you really need and people are going to laugh at it maybe, I hope not. But hear me out, the one thing I feel that every firm needs is a very exceptional secretary. And I say secretary specific because I think that this position is so underrated when people are searching and hiring. They say, “Okay, a secretary I can pick up anybody off the street, whatever. They can answer a phone. They can write some emails.” A secretary is the person that the client first meets. They become the face of your firm. They are really going back to that brand, your brand.
A potential new client calls in, that’s the first voice they hear in your company. So they can make or break an existing client relationship and they really do hold a lot of power. I remember when I first started working in the law firm and I was called a legal secretary as when I was kind of interning. One of my colleagues, the paralegal in the office slipped out on the attorney. They kind of have this friendship relationship saying, “Are you really calling her secretary? Do you know how outdated that is?” And he said, “I don’t know why people look at the word secretary as degrading. I mean secretaries go back to these historic times where they knew all the secrets of the biggest offices.” So I don’t think that firms are taking enough seriousness in hiring the secretary and I believe that it’s a true skill set. That when you match it, you have your secretary in office, that’s your person. She’s your right-hand man. She keeps you afloat. Especially attorneys, sometimes a lot of them need a little bit more hand-holding on their calendar, their returning messages. They handle that in office. Keep the anchor down while you have your senior level paralegals in their zone of genius of drafting and researching and really diving into what you need them to do so that that attorney can then go out and market and go to court hearings and do that specific thing that the attorney needs to do. So circling back, no, I don’t feel that you can set up a complete remote. I mean I know some clients that use a company called like Smith AI. I’ve heard of, I’ve worked with a couple others that do all the answering. Truthfully, I think it’s great but I really do feel that it’s nice to have at least somebody in-house. But these secretaries are — it’s a $32,000.00 national average for a specific secretary role. So that’s a little bit less and more wiggle room for where you’re at.
Christopher Anderson: Sure, sure. So I want to kind of shift gears again here with you because I think you know, if attorneys are listening to what we’re saying and getting ideas like I am about how to do this. One of the things that should be coming to their minds, hint-hint attorneys. This should be coming to your minds. Is this sounds great but I don’t have standard operating procedures. I don’t have processes and systems for how to work with a contract paralegal. How can they get help knowing how to do this? Because if they haven’t experienced it, it may seem really daunting.
Jaclyn Foster: Knowing how to?
Christopher Anderson: Work with a contract paralegal. No, not how to find it, just like how do I — they’re not in my office. I can’t just walk over and go like, “Hey Tom, I need a will” or “Hey tom, get a divorce packet out” or “Hey Tom, get a demand letter.” Like it’s different. How can they learn how to work with that different?
Jaclyn Foster: So first of all, I would say that your contract paralegal should have the experience that you lack and a good contract paralegal that is very skilled in the virtual world will help improve your processes as a whole to get you there. There’s tools that I swear by use to keep my flows going with all my attorneys and my paralegals of say for instance we use that app called Voxer. It makes your phone a little walkie-talkie. You can get on and use that. We get on Zooms once a week just to make sure we’re touching base, we’re all on the same page. We have systems in place and utilizing more of the practice management software such as Clio or some used project management software such as monday.com. Really what it comes down to is making sure if you’re a newbie at the contract world, your contractors should not be a newbie at the contract world. They should really have be able to handhold with you and teach you and what’s really great about it truthfully, I have seen going virtual will expose every single weakness in your practice immediately. Because if you don’t have access to certain resources, you’re trying to have a team all over the place. If they’re at home because of the pandemic or if you start contract world, virtual world will bring those weaknesses full face and you can fix them then.
Christopher Anderson: That’s pretty cool. All right. One last question, we got just a couple of minutes to handle it but I know attorneys, some of them are thinking it and I’ll preface this with saying that it’s serious. Like so first of all, like I know that this topic is a serious topic. I also know that attorneys will bring it out as an excuse to not even think about doing contract work and that is confidentiality. The privilege, all of us, our attorneys, every state in the union has a duty of confidentiality and a duty to protect the confidences of our clients. How can working with an outside 1099 contract paralegal in some other state who might be working with other law firms. How can we maintain our adherence to this rule in a way that makes us feel confident?
Jaclyn Foster: Sure, so essentially it comes down to the hiring process. You can’t — I think sometimes firms or anybody looks at the contract world as there’s no — they look at the contract world that the same rules don’t apply as if you’re hiring somebody to bring into your office.
What you have to remember is that person coming into your office is just as much of a risk as that person you’re hiring contract. The only difference is you see them face to face and I mean what other difference is there than that? How do you know that you can trust that they’re not going to print off all of your estate planning documents and take it home with them in their backpack and or their purse and draft up their own estate planning documents? How do you know that your work product is safe? How do you know that they’re doing conflict checks? The main thing is to really slow down in the recruitment process and to make sure you’re hiring a company or a contractor, a sole proprietor, whatever it may be that takes their business just as seriously. For instance, look at professional liability insurance. I see all over in the paralegal groups on social media this topic come up and many paralegals I see will say, “We don’t need professional liability insurance. We’re practicing under the attorney’s malpractice insurance. Why should we get that?” To me, that just says you don’t take your job as seriously as they take their job and so if you’re going out there, I mean professional liability insurance is like $30.00 a month. It’s not like you’re getting this huge policy, so why wouldn’t you have that extra safeguard to help support your clients in their decision-making process and give them some peace of mind to say, “I carry this. I take my professionalism seriously. We have a set contract.” Have them sign your contract stating “We’re not going to keep work product on our desktop. We’re going to keep it all in your practice management software etcetera.” So just kind of having that really open line of communication and trust. Also run your background checks.
Christopher Anderson: Yeah.
Jaclyn Foster: Of course.
Christopher Anderson: Absolutely, and can they rely on the contracting agency to handle any of that or should they be doing that themselves?
Jaclyn Foster: So I personally do all the background checks myself and they are contracting with me, I provide them my subcontractors but it’s all on me at the end of the day. So our contract together, I do establish my professional liability insurances here. I do take the steps. For instance, my company, we do a three-step interview process so they get the pre-screening and then they come to me and then if the attorney wishes, we have them interview with a couple of paralegals if they want to make a choice themselves. Some of them just say, “No, give me who you think is great.” You’d be surprised at how lax some attorneys are, but we do we do go through the pretty intense interviewing process to make sure we’re hiring the right people.
Christopher Anderson: Awesome, Jaclyn, that is all the time we’ve got today. Thank you so much for coming on and explaining the world of contract paralegals.
Jaclyn Foster: Absolutely. Thank you so much for having me Chris.
Christopher Anderson: It’s my pleasure. That wraps up this edition of the Un-Billable Hour. Thank you all for listening. Our guest today has been Jaclyn Foster and again, she is the founder of the Jaclyn Foster Paralegal Group. Jaclyn, in case — I know we covered a lot but there’s so much we didn’t. If people want to learn more from you or ask you a question or learn more about your business, how should they get in touch with you?
Jaclyn Foster: Sure, so they can visit my website. I’m also all over LinkedIn Jaclyn Foster. They can visit my website though, it’s jf-paralegalservices.com. So you can find me there, reach out.
Christopher Anderson: And again, you’re J-A-C-L-Y-N, right?
Jaclyn Foster: I am. That’s why I made the web URL JF because everybody spells my name wrong.
Christopher Anderson: Totally makes sense. Well thanks again for being on the show.
Jaclyn Foster: Yes, thank you Chris.
Christopher Anderson: And of course this is Christopher Anderson and I look forward to seeing you next month with another great guest as we learn more about topics that help us build the law firm business that works for you. Remember, you can subscribe to all the editions of this podcast at legaltalknetwork.com or on iTunes. Thanks for joining us and we’ll be speaking again soon.
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