Considerations When Outsourcing Legal Document Preparation
A lot of the companies offering legal document preparation services are your competitors. Their target market is consumers who cannot afford or prefer not to pay an attorney for help with their legal matter, but who do need some help when it comes to filing legal documents. On the other hand, some document preparation companies exist not to compete with you, but rather to serve you and your firm. Think of them as a type of contract paralegal, there to help you out in a jam or as an ongoing business partner.
Why Attorneys Use Document Preparation Services
Outsourcing your document preparation becomes necessary when you don't have the ability or expertise to get the work done in-house, as a temporary or chronic condition of staffing. This could be the case for a newly admitted practitioner who is trying to keep overhead low while working out how to make a practice succeed. Likewise, when a firm is venturing into a new practice area but does not want to commit additional staff or time to learn specialized document preparation software, it may make sense to hire outside help. Generally, the less you handle cases requiring a certain type of document preparation, the better the argument for outsourcing the work.
Outsourcing also can be employed as a deliberate business strategy. Using a document preparation company might be more cost effective than producing your own documents internally, leaving you more time to obtain new clients and serve existing ones.
Comparing Service Providers
Price. This should be a transparent point of comparison, especially if the company charges a flat fee per document. Hourly and per-project fees are a possibility, and you should always inquire up front whether any "surprise" charges might be awaiting you at project's end. You might be interested in billing methods as well--whether full payment is due before work starts, for example, or whether payment is handled completely online without any paper billing.
Qualifications. As with any service provider you hire, you should inquire into experience and expertise. A paralegal degree or training would be reassuring. Like law firms, legal document preparers can be solos or larger combinations, so choose according to your comfort level. If your state requires any bonding or registration for document preparers, you'll of course want to make sure the company is in compliance.
Technology and Service. Is the company using off-the-shelf forms preparation software, or something they developed in house? If it's the latter and you're curious, find out who the software developer was, and what attorneys and other legal resources were consulted during the build. If you've been trying different preparers, you might prefer one company's software to another's. An online job tracking system providing up-to-the-minute status on all work in progress and on previous activity is a nice feature that is sometimes available. Turnaround time is an obvious consideration. Inquire about any extra fees for rush jobs.
If the prepared forms are to be filed in court, you'll want to make sure that the company is up to date on the court's requirements and can provide you with an e-filing package ready to upload to the court's website.
It should go without saying that you're not delegating any attorney functions to the document preparer, and that the document preparer is well aware of their permissible role. If you find out a company is "going rogue" with any of your clients, that should be the end of the relationship. An ethically sound document preparer will ensure that the client is adequately represented and depends upon the attorney for all legal advice. With the right relationship in place, you can just sign the prepared documents and collect your fee.