This recent post from the Harvard Business Review bemoans the loss of the executive assistant in the lower ranks at most companies, a phenomenon resulting from technologic advancements like voicemail and email and pressure to cut costs. However, as the article points out:
At very senior levels, the return on investment from a skilled assistant can be substantial. Consider a senior executive whose total compensation package is $1 million annually, who works with an assistant who earns $80,000. For the organization to break even, the assistant must make the executive 8% more productive than he or she would be working solo—for instance, the assistant needs to save the executive roughly five hours in a 60-hour workweek.
The same analysis applies to solos – who serve as the equivalent of senior level management in their la practices. Most solos don’t think that it takes much time to put a letter into a final draft on letterhead, enter new clients into a contact management sheet, create a powerpoint presentation, following up on unpaid invoices or unsigned retainer agreements or schedule lunch dates or meetings. Yet, even if these tasks consume just an hour a day, they add up to 5 hours over the course of a week, or 20 hours over the course of the month. For $50 an hour – or $250 per week (roughly, the equivalent of one billable hour), a solo can outsource these odds and ends to a virtual assistant and spend the five extra hours on additional marketing activities- or simply relaxing a little more.
The Harvard Business Journal article identifies two critical factors that will determine the success of using an assistant. First, executive must be willing to delegate work – even if it’s work that they are perfectly comfortable doing on their own. Second, assistants must be willing to stretch beyond their comfort zone and seek new responsibilities. In particular, many lawyers have difficulty passing work on to others and prefer to exercise full control. If you fall into that category, hiring an assistant may not be worthwhile. As for finding pro-active assistants, I’ve had the most success relying on virtual assistants whose livelihood depends upon satisfying their customers. But many lawyers have good luck hiring support staff within and around their community. Finally, keep in mind that often a first, or even second experience with an assistant may not work out – so give yourself a couple of chances before deciding that an assistant may not be for you.