THEY ARE yet to hit Australia’s mainstream legal community, but legal VAs, or virtual assistants, are hot property for time-pressed and cash-strapped lawyers.
Skilled administrative assistants, Vas supply a range of services off-site. They enable sole practitioners to have their assistant without the responsibility of an employment contract, and larger firms to outsource their excess work to people they have never met face to face.
The greatest advantage for lawyers is VAs’ cost-effectiveness. Clients pay per hour of work requested, so there are no human resource costs involved. Assistants are off-site, so there are no overheads to be paid. And Australian VAs are proving popular for clients based in Europe, for whom the time difference and cost-differential means the work can be done more cheaply, and as they sleep.
Work includes typing of dictation and transcripts, information gathering, and bookkeeping. “But it could be anything,” said Kirsten Edwards, whose business First Legal Support Solutions operates out of a Brisbane suburb.
The US is the largest market for VAs, followed by Canada, Great Britain and Australia, according to a survey done by Brenners Information Group in California. But despite a world-wide registration of only 5,000, VAs are on the march. Last Friday was International Virtual Assistants Day, and over the weekend the world’s first three-day online VAs convention was held online.
Lynn Carroll, a Colorado-based legal assistant who runs her own business, Carrollegal, was operating her own online booth, where visitors could click on and open brochures, and log on for IP phone conversations. “I think legal virtual assistants are going to take off,” she said. “People have been working the technological kinks out for a while, and now we just have to let the attorneys know we are here for them.”
VAs number about 300 or 400 in Australia, said Kathie Thomas, director of VAs’ network A Clayton’s Secretary. Numbers have swelled since her network started, doubling in the last four years to 170.