The Rise of the Virtual Law Firm
Tough economic times have sped up a trend that was already in the works for the legal industry: the virtual office. Advances in technology allow attorneys to work remotely, an important, cost-effective convenience in an increasingly globalized and cost-conscious market.
Before tearing up the lease on the fancy Class A office space, however, attorneys need to carefully consider what it will take to create a successful virtual firm.
An efficient communication infrastructure is vital. Part of the appeal of virtual lawyering is the opportunity to work from any location. In addition to a professional telephone with conferencing and call forwarding capabilities, attorneys working from a virtual office need to have a high quality handheld device to take calls and access email from anywhere.
File sharing systems allow the user to store electronic files remotely and grant access to those files to clients and colleagues. Rather than tugging a rolling briefcase to an in-person meeting, attorneys with file sharing systems can set up cost-saving phone conferences where everyone can access all necessary documents from their own computers. Additionally, attorneys in several different locations can all access and edit the same files as if they were working off the same server.
If their file sharing systems don’t already act like an offsite server, attorneys may consider securing a remote server service so that their files are stored in a secure location and they have access to the computing power they need. Google is one of the best known providers of “cloud computing”, which allows access to as much server space as needed, regardless of growth and contraction.
Video conferencing may be important, so having access to a video conferencing facility or setting up a voice and video calling technology like Skype is helpful.
Paperwork can easily take over a home office. Cut storage costs by investing in and using a high-quality scanner for paperless storage.
Use Online Resources
Attorneys operating a virtual law firm often lack a dedicated marketing professional. Marketing or public relations consultants can be helpful if the budget allows. If not, marketing and business development can be daunting for a novice, but many online resources have made the process easier.
LinkedIn is an easy-to-use social networking site for professionals. After creating a profile, attorneys should consider joining or starting a LinkedIn interest group within their field of expertise. By asking and answering questions from members of the group, an attorney may find the members come to trust him or her and even send business leads.
Avvo is a legal industry social networking site. Anyone can use the site to ask legal questions, and attorneys who have set up a free profile can answer those questions. Again, the right “conversation” could lead to a new client, but be prudent by using a standard disclaimer in all cases.
Another way for an attorney to market to the outside world is through a blog. Many services offer easy ways to set up a blog that can be linked to an attorney’s website. Blogs should be updated regularly and should contain useful information. Twitter is a popular free micro blogging site and can be used in much the same way, though the content of a Twitter message is limited to 140 characters.
Without the overhead of a fancy office space, attorneys can charge less. A virtual office won’t hinder an attorney if the service and cost savings meet or exceed the clients’ expectations. Help clients understand how to keep costs low and avoid charging more than the value-added.
Provide Stellar Service
An attorney practicing out of a virtual office should strive to offer service a client would expect when walking into a marble tiled, Class A office building.
If operating from a home office, an attorney should expect the need for occasional in-person meetings and furnish the office tastefully. Many choose to work from a home office in order to spend more time with family or helping the community. Share these values with clients. These values may resonate with the client much more than a fancy office.
Let People Help You
Don’t let the information above diminish the importance of face time. Networking is extremely important. Consider joining and volunteering with an organization that allows access to target clients. These groups provide great connections, but also a way to break up the monotony of working alone.
Bar associations also offer great resources. The American Bar Association has even set up the eLawyering Task force. Local and state bar associations offer great educational and networking resources too.