Today, more lawyers than ever are working from home or remote locations instead of clocking into a brick-and-mortar office each day. This has many benefits, particularly for small firms and solo practitioners, as it allows for a massive reduction in overhead costs as well as a level of flexibility that lawyers have rarely been able to experience in the past. Many attorneys are choosing to leave their traditional practices and branch out on their own by starting a virtual practice to take advantage of these benefits. However, many considerations should be weighed before doing so, which we will cover here.
Benefits of Starting a Virtual Law Firm
- Flexibility. By working remotely and controlling your intake of clients, you can effectively control your workload, as well as your workflow. You can control how much work you have, how much you charge for it, and when you complete it. These benefits are essentially unheard of when working for a larger firm. This can also be beneficial to people who have other commitments, such as needing to care for children during the day. They may choose to work at night instead, or around other commitments and obligations.
- Mobility. Long gone are the days of being tied to a desk. As a virtual lawyer, you have the flexibility to work anywhere at any time. Of course, this still leaves you the option of spending eight or more hours a day at a desk. However, you also have the option to work from home, in a co-working space, or while traveling anywhere with decent wifi.
- Lower overhead costs. For many lawyers, one of the largest components of their overhead costs is rent. By eliminating the cost of rent, utilities, and all associated costs of having and maintaining a physical building to work in, they maximize their profits, and may even choose to spend the saved money doing other things they love, like traveling, building a primary home or vacation home, or spending time with their families. Alternatively, they may invest these savings into marketing and growing a large and lucrative virtual practice.
- Expands client reach. Going virtual and handling all client meetings and interactions online or via phone also opens up your potential client base much more, especially expanding the reach of your practice geographically. Clients who would initially not have been able to travel to your office can now book a consultation online with you in minutes. This can allow you to have a much larger client base than you would have had you invested in an office space.
- It is greener. Maintaining an office space creates a significant carbon footprint due to the electricity and resources that it requires to operate it. By eliminating a physical office space, you can reduce the carbon footprint of your firm and benefit the environment. This is also achieved by eliminating the need to commute and have staff members commute to work each day, as well.
Drawbacks of Having a Virtual Law Firm
While many of the drawbacks of having a virtual legal practice are comparable to the drawbacks and difficulties of working remotely in any field, others are specific to law. For instance, working virtually as an attorney may make it hard to have clear boundaries between your work and home life. You may also struggle to focus or be as productive in your own home or a more casual environment as opposed to going into an office each day that has a more traditional feel and which can trigger a “time to get to work” feeling. Co-working spaces may solve some of these problems, but can also cause people to feel like they are a guest in their own office space, and the large number of people coming in and out may make it hard to focus.
When it comes to drawbacks specific to the legal field, they mostly have to do with client privacy. If you are working from home or in shared office spaces, you will likely have to take additional precautions to ensure that your client data is secure. If you base your office out of your home, you will likely have to share your home address with clients. Additionally, you will have to take special care when it comes to selecting client software and tools to make sure that it complies with all ABA requirements.
Requirements for a Virtual Lawyer
There are some legal and ethical requirements that virtual lawyers must keep in mind when starting or advertising their virtual law firms that traditional law firms do not need to consider.
- Business Plan. You may think that because you are licensed to practice law, you have all the tools you need to succeed in your practice. However, it is critical to have a business plan to clarify the vision and goals for your firm, as well as to make sure that you have an achievable financial plan and an understanding of the market segment that you are entering.
- Advertising. Because virtual law firms do not have control over the audience that sees their advertisements, they must be careful to adhere to the regulations that their jurisdiction has regarding law firm advertisements. The law firm advertisements should include any jurisdictional limits of the practice as well as the names of the partners.
- Competence considerations. It is important for lawyers to honestly and thoroughly assess in each matter that is brought to them whether practicing virtually will allow them to provide competent representation to the client. If the client has a matter that will require an attorney to be present and more involved, the lawyer should be honest about this and should not proceed with the presentation or they could face an ethical violation.
- Check Virtual Law Office (VLO) Regulations in the state in which you practice. VLOs is an evolving topic, but many states already have regulations governing them. Be sure to familiarize yourself with any rules or regulations in any state in which you practice to ensure that you comply.
- Software and Security. When you have a virtual practice it is important to ensure that your client management software meets ABA requirements and that you have sufficient protection of all client data. This includes having an encrypted client portal on your website and multiple authentications for signing into email and other areas where client data can be located.
Software and Support You Will Need for Your Virtual Law Firm
- ONE400. ONE400 is a dedicated marketing and consulting company that can help your virtual law firm design a brand, logo, and SEO-optimized website so that you can reach your desired audience and grow your practice. Many law firms think that they can handle promotion and advertising on their own, however, it often falls to the wayside when client matters take top priority. Having a dedicated agency to focus on building your client base and attracting new clients while you focus on doing the legal work can make a big difference in building a successful practice and putting your skills where they are most valuable. Contact ONE400 [contact form link]
- Zoom. While numerous platforms allow you to have video calls with clients, Zoom is arguably the best. An added benefit to using Zoom is that most clients are already familiar with the platform and know how to use it. Zoom also has app integrations with many other popular business software solutions. You can also download the app for free, or use it on your desktop.
- Clio. Clio is excellent client intake and management software that can make your life easier. It provides many law practice management tools that can aid in billing, case and contact management, document management, tracking time and expenses, and calendaring. Clio offers unlimited document storage, which is necessary for many firms, particularly those that handle litigation matters.
- CRM. CRM is a kind of technology that allows you to manage all interactions with clients and potential clients. CRM can help you grow your business and improve business relationships. An example of a legal-specific CRM is Lawmatics.
- Hello Sign or DocuSign. If there is one thing that lawyers require from clients (other than payment), it is a lot of signatures. Hello Sign and DocuSign make it easy for you to send clients drafts, documents, and revisions, and to ensure that they are legally signed. This is also easy and convenient for clients, as they do not have to make multiple trips to your office to sign documents.
- Notarize.com. This online notarization service is fast and easy to use. It allows you and your clients to get notary services online 24/7.
- Slack. This software allows for intra-law firm communication, making it possible to communicate easily and quickly with any other staff or attorneys who work for your firm about client matters and issues.
- Cloud-based legal software. Utilizing cloud-based legal software gives you the security of knowing that your client records will not be lost even if something happens to the physical files or your hard drive. However, it will require taking additional security measures against hacking.
- DropBox. This application makes it easy to share large files with clients, as well as to organize e-discovery and case files within your firm, and prepare for trial.
Are You Ready to Start Your Virtual Law Practice?
After reading this, hopefully, you will have an understanding of whether starting your virtual law practice is right for you, as well as the first steps that you need to take and some of the bigger issues that you will need to tackle. Remember that it is okay to play to your strengths and outsource in areas that you are not as familiar with, such as marketing.