Considering the many tasks that your paralegal team performs, the benefits of keeping them around are well worth the price. However, there are likely ways you could better utilise your paralegals to boost your bottom line.

Too many lawyers treat their paralegals like secretaries, and they consequently fail to get the most out of their team's talents. Below are six tips for maximising the efficiency of your paralegal staff to further reduce your workload, improve client satisfaction and increase profits.

1. Make the Most of Your Billable Hours

Lawyers may bill clients for all of the time that paralegals spend working on their case. Of course, you should be charging the market rate for that time rather than charging just enough to cover the costs of paying your team. By deferring some billable tasks to your paralegals, you could offer clients a small discount on those hours and still make a profit. Clients will be happy that they are not paying senior associate rates for tasks such as legal research, and you'll have additional time to focus on more important matters.

2. Make Sure All of Your Paralegals' Work is Billable

A lot of lawyers assign jobs to their paralegals that are technically considered "legal secretary" work. These tasks include answering phones, stuffing envelopes and managing client records. Firms are not allowed to bill clients for time spent on such clerical duties, so it's better to hire a secretary if you need one and save your paralegals for compiling research, preparing discoveries and conducting witness interviews. Before you assign any job to your paralegals, ask yourself if it's better suited for a secretary.

3. Provide Professional Development, Even if You're Not Required To

Lawyers who don't provide professional development opportunities for their staff are doing a disservice to themselves. Laws are always evolving, so professional development can help your team stay abreast of changes in the field while also expanding their skill sets. Investing in your team makes them feel more invested in the firm, so they return not only more knowledgeable but more loyal as well.

4. Establish Clear Expectations and Deadlines

Your paralegals can only be as organised as you are. Be sure to provide adequate background information for assignments to help them understand how they fit into a particular case. When asking your paralegals to prepare a document, it helps to provide an example text noting its strengths and weaknesses. Give estimates for how much time you expect each task should take to complete, and ask them to let you know if they need longer. When you're in a time crunch, it helps to establish priorities and let your team know which assignments are the most pressing. Make sure the deadlines you set are reasonable and clearly stated. Invite questions whenever you make an assignment, and let them know when and how you plan to check in on their progress. Carefully delineate responsibilities so your paralegals understand their limited decision-making authority. 

5. Hire a Paralegal Coordinator

One of the easiest ways to maximise the efficiency of your paralegal team is to invest in a paralegal coordinator. A paralegal coordinator is an HR representative specifically for the paralegal department. In addition to hiring and training all new paralegals, coordinators can handle the aforementioned professional development opportunities. Having an intermediary between you and your paralegals can be beneficial for obtaining feedback and making your team feel like they can voice their concerns.

6. Don't Be Frugal With Bonuses

Incentives and rewards are proven tools for boosting morale and performance. If your team is consistently meeting their targets, let the know that their hard work is appreciated by offering perks and bonuses. Spending the extra cash can help lower turnover and ultimately save money on training new staff. Offering other perks, such as flexible start times and additional secretarial support, can also help you retain your most talented paralegals. Most importantly, treat your paralegals like the professionals they are. Simply making a habit of saying "please" and "thank you" goes a long way in fostering a healthy work environment.

This article was written by David Grabovac at International Career Institute.