As long ago as the 1980s — when PCs and fax machines began to dramatically alter how Americans did business — law firms pondered the possibility of going virtual. Consultants and advisors implemented the concept years ago. If offering legal services remotely wasn’t quite possible then, it certainly is now in the age of Skype, video conferencing, paperless file rooms, online libraries and cloud computing.
Sole practitioners already have widely adopted a virtual model for its cost and logistical advantages, and larger practices are now beginning to follow suit.
In addition to reducing expenses and increasing convenience and efficiency, a virtual or hybrid office may enable you to enter new jurisdictions by organizing as a network of attorneys in different states or even countries. Virtual offices also can simplify service offerings, making it easier to provide clients with the lower-cost, unbundled services they’re increasingly requesting.
For most firms, the best way to go virtual is gradually. Start, for example, by offering a la carte services from your website or by outsourcing routine work to virtual paralegals. If you’re starting a new virtual firm or have decided to make dramatic operational changes to an established brick-and-mortar practice, there are several “must-haves,” including:
Partner Consensus —Your partners — and preferably associates and support staff — should agree to your plans for going virtual and understand how it will change the way they work.
Client Buy-In —Many clients will welcome the convenience of interacting with attorneys and managing files via online applications — especially if it means cost savings. Other clients may resist and even take their business elsewhere. Be sure to perform a cost/benefit analysis before jumping on the virtual bandwagon.
Technology Expertise — Whether you directly employ IT professionals or contract with an online portal service such as Total Attorneys or DirectLaw, you need to ensure that your technology is reliable, secure and user-friendly — and that tech support will be available in emergencies.
Virtual Services — Even virtual offices need someone to answer the main telephone line, take messages and receive packages. And you’ll likely need conference room space for occasional face-to-face client meetings. You might contract these services with a virtual office company or hire an operations manager.
Obviously, quality control is a big concern. If you go virtual, can you ensure that your attorneys’ work and client satisfaction won’t suffer? Can the Firm still operate as a cohesive unit? Unfortunately, there are no guarantees. So it’s critical that you adopt this emerging business model slowly and rely on the advice of your technology and financial advisors.
If your firm is considering a virtual office, or you would like more information, please contact Joel Herman at [email protected] or call him at 312.670.7444.