You hear the term “virtual,” and you think of something distant or not real. Not true for the virtual law firm model. This is a viable alternative business model for real lawyers to connect with clients in a very meaningful way. Legal consumers are driving change in how we provide services and are growing more comfortable conducting their business online.
So what exactly is a virtual law firm? A fully virtual law firm is a web-based law firm model for the delivery of legal services, providing easier access to legal consumers and the flexibility to meet evolving consumer demand. A virtual law firm is a real law firm bound by the same procedural requirements and ethical rules as a traditional law firm, with the difference being how services are delivered.
A virtual law firm is not simply e-lawyering. Communicating through e-mail or working remotely does not make your law firm virtual. It’s also not just a website with an intake form or call-to-action button. Going virtual is about abandoning the traditional way lawyers deliver legal services. The virtual practice is created by utilizing technology as the primary delivery for interacting with clients throughout representation. This is best achieved by working within law practice management software to provide a secure client portal in which to exchange documents, allow for payments and provide communication.
Your client portal is the foundation of your virtual practice. Many law practice management software offerings are out there and many serve as a full service one-stop shop. However, you may find combining multiple technologies and software services a better fit for your firm. The ABA’s Blueprint is a free service to members and is a great place to start when trying to determine which technology or legal service providers are the best fit for your firm.
Regardless of which software you choose, your full service or piecemeal client portal should provide certain features for your virtual practice. It should be user-friendly and secure. It should offer document automation, allow for flexible online payments, and provide for messaging and other communication access. You should have the ability to upload and exchange documents. You need a method for conducting conflicts checks, and your client portal should integrate with other software you use, as well as your calendar and scheduling system.
Is a virtual law firm right for you? This model definitely has benefits. A fully virtual practice requires fewer overhead expenses, because you do not have a physical office space, and with outsourcing and automation you do not have to hire full-time staff. You have the flexibility to work when, where and how you want. Your services are more easily accessible, because your reach is greater online. Being paperless also reduces expenses and allows for easier access to case information. A virtual model can more easily adapt to the changing legal landscape to better meet consumer needs.
However, certain risks are involved in a virtual practice. Operating entirely online can raise privacy issues. Take extra precautions by using secure internet connections, and ensure that your communications are encrypted on your computer, tablet or mobile device. Also make sure that the technology you are using is secure and encrypted, and that you are competent with and knowledgeable of your technology. Practicing in multiple jurisdictions also requires you to be extra diligent to ensure that you are complying with all pertinent rules.
Ready to get started? Here are your first five steps.
- Research state-specific bona fide office requirements and obtain any local licenses.
- Decide which services to provide, choose and create your business entity, and obtain appropriate professional liability insurance. Also, create a brief business plan to revisit every few months.
- Register your domain and create your website.
- Choose your law practice management software solutions and other technologies. Be sure to integrate these into your website.
- Draft all forms, templates, agreements and disclaimers.
Once you have completed those tasks, use the video tutorials provided by most practice management software providers. Read blogs, attend legal tech CLEs, and follow other legal innovators so that you stay updated on legal technology and can begin accepting clients and providing services that meet the ever changing needs of today’s legal consumers.
About the Author
Brooke Moore is the owner of Arkansas Virtual Lawyer, a virtual law firm providing unbundled legal services to self-represented litigants, individuals, and small businesses, and is a member of the ABA’s Law Practice Futures Initiative and the Legal Technology Resource Center committees. Contact Brooke at firstname.lastname@example.org, or on Twitter @ARVirtualLawyer.