This article is authored by Anvita Bhardwaj, from Symbiosis Law School, Noida. This article talks about the growing technology which has enabled the successful virtual operation of law firms around the world.
Are virtual law firms the future of the corporate world? They redefine legal practices by using the work approach of “work from home” and break the traditional stereotypes like a law firm should be located in a physical space, etc. A virtual law firm has proven to be very advantageous as it does not adhere to confined geographical spaces. It does not have a “bricks or mortar” office. This saves rent for a firm, the money that can be better invested in growth and development of the firm. The advantages virtual law firms provide are too hard to ignore in this tech-savvy environment. The inflexibility of traditional offices seems less appealing in contrast. Virtual law firms pose some challenges, with respect to collaboration and communication, security, accountability and task management. However, with the right knowledge and right tools, you can easily overcome these challenges and have a plethora of opportunities.
The lockdown posed due to the pandemic has also played a major role in the surfacing of virtual firms. With lawyers and legal aid stuck at their homes suffering from salary cuts and furloughs, many firms have opted to go virtual. At the same time, firms which have already been working virtually, are experiencing growth rather than facing the problems inflicted by the pandemic.
Requirements to set up a virtual law firm
- Office Space: You need to choose an office space in your house, preferably a room that you can access alone in order to maintain confidentiality and privacy for clients. The network should be flawless so communication can take place smoothly.
- Laptop, Printer and Scanner: In order to have a successful firm, you need a powerful laptop or computer, one that can work without interruptions. The computer you or your staff uses should be personal and not shared with other people in the household so that the confidentiality of files can be maintained. A printer and scanner are necessary requirements. One should be able to scan and share whatever he wants online. Prefer portable scanners so that you can use them wherever you go!
- Headset and other supplies: To ensure that your team sounds professional on video or VOIP calls make sure to use quality headphones. Also, supplies like highlighters, pens, staplers etc. are still going to be utilised so be sure to provide them to your staff and be fully stocked.
- Security: Software is a key element in a firm’s success. Security of technology and software tools is paramount in a virtual firm. Using a secure client portal is recommended. This has two advantages. Firstly, your data will be encrypted. Secondly, your client can access the files anytime and be updated with his case.
- Take your time and try out multiple options but make sure your data is secure and has end-to-end encryption. Use a “Cloud-based practice management software” and “Cloud-based document storage”. The management software will track the schedule of the firm and manage all the expenses. You can approve invoices. It will help keep your firm organized. Try using a unified software so data duplication can be avoided. Use of cloud-based document storage is crucial as it is critical that you have access to your data whenever and wherever. Many features of cloud-storage help in custom searches which reduce time and increase efficiency.
- Communication: Working with a team of lawyers requires coordination. Be sure to invest money in quality communication tools. Use VoIP (Voice over IP). It is a service that will make it appear as the calls are incoming from the firm instead of personal numbers. This goes a long way in ensuring professionalism. Also, you can use Google Meet, Zoom, Microsoft Teams or Hangouts to conduct meetings with your staff. You can also opt for a virtual receptionist to record your calls and messages.
- Payment: Use a secure network, tie-up with a bank’s online payment gateway to receive or pay money. It will be much more convenient than using cheques for payments.
Traditional vs Virtual Firms
In a traditional firm, more expenses are incurred. Rent, machines, furniture, maintenance etc. leads to more overhead charges.
A virtual firm incurs fewer expenses. No overhead charges, money is mostly invested in subscription of software.
Client Communication is rigid. Works according to schedule. Factors like traffic, availability of the vehicle, time is taken for travelling; all this is to be taken into consideration.
Lawyers can develop better and stronger relationships with the client as they can connect with their clients around the day. They do not need to be confined to office spaces.
Work-life balance is better. Fixed working hours in a day.
Maintaining a work-life balance can be difficult as office and home space are the same.
The traditional firms are dependent upon time, they might not adapt well to work from home and need to stay in the office for overtime.
More billable time and more revenue as one can work from anywhere he wants.
Virtual law firms
Let us now look at a few examples of successful virtual law firms.
Woolley and Co.
Woolley and Co. is the world’s first virtual firm. Since its inception in 1996, it has established itself as a leading firm with specialization in family law. Based in the UK, this firm with its IT platform has enabled business, linked lawyers with clients as well as each other. With sheer determination, Andrew Woolley made sure that he overcame any challenges posed by virtuality of the law firm. He added software enhancements which makes his firm now a trusted and famous firm in the UK.
Axiom Law is a firm based in Washington DC, in the United States. It started its operations in 2009 with just a single lawyer. Now the company has over 2000 lawyers. The lawyers have the flexibility to work from home or at client’s offices. They earn up to $150-$275 per hour.
The company is considered both as a virtual law firm as well as a legal talent recruiter. The hiring of employees is a very difficult process as only 5% of applications get accepted in Axiom.
Keystone, UK is the first and only law firm to receive the Carbon Trust Standard. Ever since its inception in 2002, Keystone has mastered the benefits of flexible working fashioning its own unique model to allow lawyers to work from wherever they choose, whether at home, at the firm’s own designated office locations or even in-house with clients, all whilst still providing an optimum service. Keystone competes with a lot of leading conventional law firms. It combines the latest technology with modern work techniques which makes it stand out from the crowd. Keystone offers 11 different commercial practice areas.
Scott-Moncrieff and Associates
This virtual law firm started growing its roots in 2001 in London, in the United Kingdom and since then it has proven to be a pioneer in mental health law. Though Scott-Moncrieff and Associates now cover many other aspects of law, mental health remains its speciality. It is also one of the world’s first virtual law set-ups and promises its lawyers that they are in charge of their own careers. The lawyers keep 70% of whatever they earn. The employees can pursue other interests on the side.
Culhane Meadows is the largest national, full-service, women-owned law firm in the country USA (Certified by Women’s Business Enterprise) It has grown in six years from just 4 co-founders to almost 70 partner-level attorneys. It has no associates. It is spread in nine different locations. As one of the largest cloud-based firms in the country, it does not employ any salaried paralegals and instead engages in legal support resources available under a variable cost approach to cut overhead and save money for its clients. They also have a full back-office administrative team which is also working remotely from their home offices and handles their day-to-day operational needs, conflict checks, billing, invoicing, setting up new client files, etc.
Advantages of virtual law firms
Flexibility, freedom and financial success
- No Commute Time
Big firms are situated in metropolitan cities, travel time back and forth from work takes 2-3 hours of a person’s day. With employment in a virtual firm, you can increase your efficiency by saving more time. After all, time is money!
- Less Overhead Expenses
With no rent and utility expenses, no costs that are associated with a brick and mortar office, you can save a lot of money. This will also increase your profit margin considerably. This will help you invest more in your company and your people.
- Flexible Schedule
With a virtual office, you have the freedom to work from wherever you want and whenever you want! As long as you meet the client’s expectations as well as the firm’s targets, you are in charge of your own career.
- Better Health
The employees can remain more active when they work from home. They don’t have stress induced by work as they would have by being glued to their desks in an office.
- Fewer Vacation Days
Once the employees have a flexible schedule, they will be able to complete their work anytime and anywhere they want to. This will result in fewer vacation days and more productivity for the firms. They will only take paid leaves when they are sick.
- Better Relations with Clients
With flexible schedules, they can connect with their clients as per the convenience of the clients which would ultimately help them in establishing stronger bonds of trust and understanding.
- Wider scope of clientage and employment
With no geographical limitations, you can hire legal talent from all around the world as per the needs of your client. Since the firm will be virtual you can expand world-wide and if not, you can at least become a leading firm in your country as you will not have to be restricted in a specific city or state.
- Work-life Balance
Employees are happier and can maintain work-life balance easily if they try to. The employees that are happy with their work environment tend to stick around for longer.
Disadvantages of virtual law firms
- The occurrence of security issues: If the cloud is not updated properly, or passwords are not strong enough, gross negligence is committed by an employee in maintaining the confidentiality of files or conversations breach of security can occur easily. All this is less likely to happen in a conventional office set up.
- Lack of team spirit: Camaraderie is hard to establish in a virtual firm no matter what you do since your employees never meet face to face and only communicate with each other through conference audio or video calls.
- Work/Life Balance: This is disrupted for some as there is a thin line/blurred line between personal and professional life.
With the advent of virtual law firms, you can have a better professional culture, one which is more transparent and open; has consistent communication, treats everyone equitably and pays people what they are worth! It promises flexibility and financial success. You can work where you want and when you want, make more money, manage your own practice and have better business development. The only things you need are technology and marketing to turn yours into a successful venture. Promote your firm on various social media platforms like Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Instagram and Youtube. It is very important to have a social media presence and assert the fundamentals of your firm. Offer competitive and unique packages to bring on the best of talent to your firm. Pitch the benefits of your virtual firm to your clients. Explain the virtual nature and put efforts into explaining the technology you are using in your firm. Understanding and meeting client expectations are the most important thing that you need to be successful. From the above discussion, it can be inferred that the advantages certainly outweigh the disadvantages.
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