How Viable Is the Virtual Law Firm?

//How Viable Is the Virtual Law Firm?

Virtual Law FirmAs the legal industry evolves, more lawyers are embracing technology like legal practice management software in ways that are transforming the way they work and serve clients. A growing number of law firms and solo-practitioners are embracing the virtual law firm as a primary way to serve clients and deliver legal services. Or, they are using some aspects of the online law firm to help them connect with clients more efficiently and effectively. But how viable is the virtual law practice? Is the concept of an online lawyer one that the legal industry should embrace? Let’s take closer look.

What Is A Virtual Law Firm?

There’s no one, rigid way to exist as a virtual law firm. Essentially, a virtual law firm is an online lawyer service that primarily provides legal services remotely with the assistance of lawyers apps and cloud-based law firm software. An online lawyer may not have an official and permanent brick-and-mortar office but they may get clients online through their law firm website, stay on top of appointments with an online legal calendar, communicate with clients and via email or some client portal while maintaining a shared office space so they have a physical office to use when they need to conduct in-person meetings. Let’s take a look at some of the most common characteristics of a virtual law firm:

  • A solo-practitioner or a core group of virtual attorneys operating under one legal entity.
  • Usually this group of online attorneys practice their own specialty but procure clients under that single entity. Sometimes the online lawyers practice in the same area or in areas that complement each other.
  • They don’t usually share the same office. The virtual law firm may have online attorneys working from home or in offices in different cities. And they may use case management software such as Smokeball that allows to update client and matter information in one shared virtual space and collaborate in real time.
  • The online law firm usually has very low overhead because they don’t have to pay rent for office space and they avoid paying all the expenses associated with an office space such as furniture and utilities.

But it’s important to understand that while the above listed characteristics are common for virtual law firms, online attorneys may operate in a hybrid fashion. Maybe only some of their lawyers are working primarily online while the majority work in an office or some other variation. As law firms experiment with providing virtual legal services, virtual law firms may evolve.

Benefits Of Providing Virtual Law Services

As traditional law firms figure out how they can be served by technology such as case management and collaboration tools to better serve clients and help their practices thrive, more benefits of virtual law firms will become more evident. But right now there are some core benefits of virtual law firms that every attorney should know about.

  • Capture legal savvy clients. There are a lot of people who use the internet to get a basic understanding of their legal issues. They recognize that they have a legal problem and they understand enough about the internet that they use it to get more information. Some clients may stop there because they feel confident that they can solve the legal issue with the basic information they found. But an attorney with a virtual law practice has an opportunity to connect to this type of client. Virtual attorneys can provide basic information to legal savvy clients but also help them understand that solving their legal problem may require the expertise of a seasoned attorney who understands the nuances of the law. Having a virtual law office provides a low-cost and low-effort way to capture this type of client.
  • Retain existing clients. Leveraging a virtual law firm to provide deeper information to existing clients can help retain those clients. By providing content that helps a client understand the legal aspects of their issues a little more deeply, virtual law firms can help them understand why they should maintain an active relationship with a law firm. This is especially the case with any client (such as a business) who needs ongoing attention to their legal issues.
  • Expanded reach. Since having a virtual law firm doesn’t require that all the attorneys on the team be physically in the same room, online law firms have an opportunity to expand in ways that is more expensive and more difficult for traditional law firms. It’s a lot cheaper to hire a lawyer in another city who’s working from his home office than it is to open up a physical location that requires leases and signage and the purchase of office equipment.

Adapting To Change

Resistance to change is normal, especially in the legal industry. Some law firms are resistant to the idea of a virtual law firm for several reasons—they fear they’re not as productive, they’re concerned about the perception of professionalism, they worry about client confidentiality and other things. But let’s take a look at a few things that law firms should think about as they seriously consider the benefits of moving towards virtual law.

  • What do clients really want? If you look at the true desire of clients, they want good value for their money. Having a traditional law firm means very high overhead and very high prices for legal services. Many clients would prefer to pay lower legal fees and some of them won’t mind that they’re working with an attorney virtual office.
  • Good customer service. At the core of any law firm is the ability to provide good customer service. Professional attorneys want to deliver quality legal services in a way that makes the client happy that they’re doing business with that firm. There is no reason that a virtual law firm can’t maintain high-quality customer service without maintaining a physical office. As long as the law firm has a strong system to communicate and instill in all attorneys a culture of quality service, an online law firm can be just as high quality as a brick and mortar one.
  • Quality information. The days of clients staying in the dark about their legal troubles have ended. More clients want quality information about their legal issues so that they understand what’s happening even if they hire an attorney to represent them. Whether a law firm is in a physical office or a virtual one, providing quality information on legal issues is imperative to winning client trust.

If law firms want to thrive in the next 30 to 40 years, they may need to seriously consider the advantages and benefits of running a virtual law firm, and that will never happen unless you have the right law firm software. Get your free demo of Smokeball and take your practice anywhere!

By | August 23rd, 2018|

About the Author:

For years, Josh has helped lawyers become more organized, productive, and profitable. A trained litigator, Josh came to Smokeball from a large east-coast law firm where his practice focused on franchise, insurance, marine, and general litigation. His work with Smokeball, and his continued passion for what he does each day, is driven by a desire to help lawyers and their staff do better in every way. Knowing well the stress and strain put on today’s legal professional, he regularly focuses on improving work and life in the law. He has traveled the country working with and learning from lawyers and their staff. Josh speaks regularly to bar associations about successful law firm practices and other legal topics. Recent notable engagements have been with the Chicago Bar Association, the Illinois State Bar Association, and the Missouri Bar’s Solo and Small Firm Conference. In addition to his work at Smokeball, Josh serves on the Writing Resource Center staff at The John Marshall Law School. Besides legal technology, his research interests include judicial decision-making, jury decision-making and psychology, and legal writing. He has written and overseen research exploring causal effects of sex/gender on federal appellate court decision-making, and assisted with research for a forthcoming textbook on judicial decision-making. Josh holds his J.D., cum laude, from Washington University in St. Louis, where he served as a Senior Editor of the Wash. U. Law Review, held the prestigious Thompson Coburn Research Fellowship, served as Research Assistant to then-Vice-Dean (now Chancellor) Andrew D. Martin, and clerked at the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Missouri. He holds a B.A. in Political Science and a B.M. in Music Performance with Honors Scholar distinction from the University of Connecticut, making him a Huskies basketball fan through and through. Follow Josh’s activity on LinkedIn, and keep up with new articles on the Smokeball Blog.

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