The technology that has emerged in the legal industry offers tremendous opportunities for both fresh law school graduates and veterans of traditional firms alike to transition to a virtual law office. Lawyers can launch, operate, and manage a virtual law office as a low-cost and low-barrier entry to the market, while also serving clients more effectively.
Here are the benefits for lawyers looking to transition to a virtual law office and adopt a more tech-forward practice.
In the past, starting a law practice meant significant startup costs. From utilities to commercial space to office furniture to staff, lawyers who wanted to open a firm had a lot of upfront costs to overcome, often limiting new lawyers from getting a solid start. This is especially true of large cities, which tend to have more competition from large, established firms.
Even with the startup costs covered, it can take time to start drawing in clients and earning income. Sometimes, law firms work on client acquisition for months before they get their first clients.
This all comes with risk and expense, which can take a law firm down before it has a chance to succeed. A virtual office solves this problem, however, but offers much lower startup and overhead costs, allowing lawyers to focus more of the budget on client acquisition and marketing. In addition, law firms with lower overhead can take more time to draw in clients without struggling to maintain the operating expenses.
Even at large law firms, lawyers are increasingly likely to work remotely or in a hybrid environment. With secure communication and cloud solutions, lawyers have an opportunity to work from home more or conduct work in the field, offering more work-life balance.
Virtual law firms take this a step further. Lawyers can open a law firm and conduct business wherever there’s a wi-fi connection, offering more flexibility during the often-challenging startup period. Whether they’re balancing a family at home or working odd hours to get work done, lawyers have the flexibility they need to succeed with a virtual law firm.
The generations that grew up with the internet want more access to lawyers online. Despite being a highly sensitive and mostly traditional industry, many law firms are already embracing technology trends – including virtual communication, practice management software, and remote work – and clients are noticing.
These generations already shop, book travel, entertain themselves, and often work online, so they want a lawyer who’s willing to embrace technology in the same way. This is true of both business clients and consumer clients.
With a traditional law firm, lawyers are limited to the regional or local practice areas. Virtual law firms expand the reach to the entire state in which the lawyer is licensed, or in the case of a nationwide specialty like immigration, nationally. Lawyers can now capture clients in different areas, boosting client acquisition.
For some clients, choosing the best fit for a lawyer is more important than location, especially if they have the convenience of handling their legal case online (at least in part). This is also beneficial for clients who have limitations, such as personal injury clients who are hospitalized or clients who are dealing with legal issues while traveling.
Virtual law firms come with significant client retention benefits. With an increased focus on “client first” service across industries, virtual law firms have the tools and technology to serve the clients better.
Practice management solutions offer client tools like online bill pay, secure client communications, cloud-based document storage, automated forms, and more, all within a safe and ironclad client portal. This offers many benefits for the client, including better response times, a reduction in phone congestion, more flexible hours, and improved convenience. The virtual law firm is more efficient from both the client’s and the lawyer’s point of view.
There’s a key difference between working remotely as a lawyer and being a virtual lawyer, which is all about how the firm connects with clients online.
According to the eLawyering Task Force of the ABA, a virtual law firm must operate with a secure client portal that connects to the law firm’s website. The portal must be secure, encrypted, and password-protected to protect all parties and data.
Lawyers who want to become virtual lawyers or open a virtual law firm must know the rules and ethical implications. For example, some states require lawyers to practice in a physical office space. So, even if lawyers choose to work remotely, they must still have a brick-and-mortar office.
Virtual lawyers also have a responsibility to protect client data and maintain confidentiality. Most of the communications with virtual law firms take place online, and data can be vulnerable to bad actors and breaches. All channels and data must be secure and encrypted.
Lawyers who have a traditional law firm must plan the transition to a virtual law firm. In this case, it may be more reasonable for firms to make the shift to virtual slowly, such as using a hybrid model and gradually increasing the ratio of online to in-person services.
Traditional law firms must also adopt more innovative processes and streamlined tasks. Outdated technology, such as scanners and fax machines, will shift to virtual solutions, and this can be a big change to adjust to.
Another option for updating the processes is choosing a cloud-based technology with all-in-one practice management solutions and automation. Billing and payments can be done virtually, eliminating a lot of paper waste and manual time spent. These solutions must be secure and encrypted as well.
Virtual law firms remove significant barriers for new or practicing lawyers looking to open a solo practice, work remotely, or adopt more technology solutions to streamline and automate processes. Along with low overhead and improved processes and work-life balance, virtual law firms also serve clients better, giving them more convenient and accessible legal services in safe and secure portals.