2020 marks the beginning of a new decade where we’ll continue to see the economics of law fundamentally changing the business of law. Believe it or not, solo and small law firms, will be the change agents our industry needs to evolve. This group is by far the largest and represents the bulk of our industry. Nearly half (49%) of solos operate by themselves, one man or woman. And, three out of every four lawyers are affiliated in firms of five or fewer.
Given the economics and overhead of operating a business, these smaller firms are often sharing office space, sharing a conference room and sharing a secretary or paralegal. Therein, lies the origin of the desire to go virtual. But starting a virtual firm isn’t always as easy it looks. Before jumping in, below are a few tips to get your virtual law firm off the ground and generating a profit.
Throw Away the Paper and Get Automated
Any office—virtual or not— needs a solid practice management system to organize your calendar, deadlines, tasks, time keeping, billing and much more in one convenient place. Thankfully there are many to choose from including Clio, MyCase and RocketMatter to name just a few. Plus, most practice management systems now offer integrations with other tools such as document management systems or automated payments. Other tools like automated payments and accounts receivable (such as Headnote or Lawpay) or automated timekeeping (i.e. Smokeball) are also necessary to gain a comprehensive view of the financial health of the virtual firm.
Staff Up without Staffing Out
One of the great benefits of running a virtual firm is that you don’t have to maintain a large staff and office space. But you are still going to need some help from time to time or maybe even on a regular basis. When it comes to getting work done, there are endless resources available. Thanks to technology, a virtual attorney can collaborate online with receptionists, typists, paralegals and even other lawyers to get the help they need when they need it.
Democratization of Legal Services
A popular option to staffing up is outsourcing. It democratizes legal for small and solo shops by providing all the tools of specialization without having to increase the cost structure or overhead. Attorneys can outsource everything from simple research memos to complicated appellate briefs. Online marketplaces like LAWCLERK make it easy and accessible for lawyers to hire or be hired as freelancers. It’s a place to build a virtual law firm, hire virtual associates either to work with once or to work with on a regular basis to get more work done faster for clients in a way that increases profits, lowers overhead, allows for and gives specialized services as well as subject matter expertise. Freelance lawyers specializing in everything from eDiscovery to bankruptcy take the fear and hassle out of going virtual. And, those savings can be passed along to your clients, which gives you a competitive advantage.
Even though you are building a virtual practice, it’s essential to stay connected. Video is a great way to market yourself and connect with clients. Any marketing expert will tell you that incorporating video within your website and social media marketing is a smart way to attract new clients. The Virtual Bar Association is another often overlooked resource and there are many groups on the various social media platforms to help connect with other virtual attorneys.
Reference Materials are Your Best Resource.
Being in a virtual law firm doesn’t lend itself to knocking on a neighbor’s door to ask advice especially if you need guidance on a form or the latest updates in a particular practice area. Tools like LexisNexis Practical Guidance or Thompson Reuters’ Practical Law can help in a pinch to access standard documents, checklists, legal updates and how-to-guides in addition to delivering advice from experts in different practice areas. Also, don’t forget to check out available resources via your state bar!
With so many available resources, the time is now to begin scaling your business if the desire and need is there. A virtual law firm is a great low-overhead option and a profitable way to be a successful business owner.