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Law firms and businesses in many other fields were already beginning to embrace remote work and virtual operations even before COVID-19, but the pandemic made doing so a necessity. The legal industry customer base is also much more in favor of remote services compared to the years before the pandemic. According to a 2021 survey by cloud-based company Clio, 79% of respondents said they were in favor of working with a lawyer remotely. A 2018 survey by the same company found that only 23% expressed the same opinion. Law firms will need to adjust to this shift in consumer expectations by offering virtual services. If you are considering transitioning to virtual law practice, you can learn more by contacting the legal digital marketing professionals at Law Quill.
What Is a Virtual Law Practice?
A virtual law practice is a law firm that uses digital means to conduct its operations, rather than operating out of a physical office. The operations are typically hosted in satellite offices or the homes of the lawyers. Services are provided to clients through modern digital communications technologies, such as video conferencing. A virtual law firm is subject to the same regulations as brick-and-mortar law firms, but the lawyers are often self-employed consultants instead of partners and employees.
Reasons to Offer Virtual Legal Services
There are numerous potential benefits for law firms that transition to virtual law practices. Even law firms that are committed to maintaining a physical presence should consider offering virtual legal services to take advantage of these benefits.
Better Client Outreach
Virtual law firms can reach a wider client base than those that work in physical locations alone. While a strong digital marketing presence can help all types of law firms, traditional law practices are often limited to clients in their geographical area. Since a virtual law firm conducts its client interactions and other operations through digital means, these firms can represent clients from all over the country.
The virtual approach benefits people who require legal services as well. By having a wider selection of options, prospective clients are better able to find the lawyer who can best meet their legal needs.
Overhead Cost Savings
The pandemic forced virtually all white-collar companies to shift to remote work. After realizing how much money they had saved in overhead costs, many of these businesses have decided to remain remote even after the pandemic. According to Global Workplace Analytics, the average employer can save approximately $11,000 just by transitioning to a half-remote, half-office schedule.
Office space is one of the largest expenses for law firms, so cutting this out of the budget entirely allows for major savings. Businesses also save money on utilities and office supplies. These savings extend to employees as well – Global Workplace Analytics estimates that workers can save between $2,500 to $4,000 per year working remotely half time.
Flexibility in Hours and Location
At a virtual law firm, the lawyers have flexibility in when and where they work. They can only work as needed, rather than being restricted to a typical nine-to-five schedule. Working remotely as a lawyer also saves valuable time by not needing to commute to and from the office. The remote nature of the work allows digital lawyers to work from anywhere. This can be especially convenient for lawyers with families, and also opens up the option to work remotely while traveling.
These factors allow digital lawyers to more easily achieve a healthy work-life balance, which is a highly sought-after perk in the job market. This allows digital law firms to offer unique benefits when looking to hire new lawyers. The digital nature of the law practice also allows the firm to cast a wider net and choose from applicants outside of their immediate geographical area.
Easier Client Interactions
Practicing law virtually allows for much easier access to clients. Meeting a lawyer in person requires time commuting, which can be inconvenient for those with busy schedules. Virtual consultations can check all of the same boxes as in-person meetings and are a much more convenient option. Digital meetings also make it easier to speak with clients more frequently due to the time saved.
How to Transition to a Digital Law Practice
Whether transitioning from a brick-and-mortar firm to a fully digital law practice or starting a new digital law practice from scratch, attorneys should take the time to fully understand what is necessary to operate this type of business. After gaining this understanding, it is important to take the information that has been acquired and use it to develop a strong business plan. This plan may be implemented gradually, as the firm slowly transitions from a brick-and-mortar operation to a digital firm. You can learn more about switching to a virtual law practice by contacting the law firm digital marketing professionals at Law Quill.
Research State Rules on Virtual Law Firms
Lawyers who are looking to transition to a digital practice must familiarize themselves with the rules and laws of their state. Some states require a physical office space for law firms. Practices in these states may still work remotely, but need to maintain a physical location. The state bar is a good place to look for statewide rules. For example, the North Carolina Bar Association and many other organizations have official rules for operating a virtual practice.
Aspiring digital lawyers should also read the American Bar Association eLawyering Task Force, which sets standards for virtual law firms. The Task Force states that digital firms must use a secure client portal connected to the law firm’s website. This portal must be encrypted and password-protected to protect data from all parties.
Find Digital Communications Tools
All law firms are built on a foundation of strong communication between attorneys and their clients. When practicing in the digital sphere, law firms need to build a reliable communication system using modern tools. Some key components to include in this system include:
- Phone system – Clients should have access to a phone system that they can call to speak with attorneys.
- Video conferencing tools – A strong video conferencing platform is necessary for handling client calls and internal meetings. Some of the main options on the market include Google Hangout, Zoom, and Microsoft Teams. Research all options and determine which one best suits the needs of your firm.
- Email system – Email is not unique to virtual law firms, as all modern firms rely on email. But when transitioning to a digital firm, evaluate your current email strategy. Put a system in place that allows for easy and fast communication with clients and internally within the firm.
- Live chat – Consider implementing a live chat system to allow potential future clients to receive assistance at a moment’s notice. This is best reserved for the early stages when someone is first reaching out for legal guidance.
Digitize Your Documents
Switching to a virtual law firm allows you to store and handle all documentation digitally, rather than on paper. When transitioning to a digital firm, all physical documents will need to be digitized and stored electronically. In addition, new digital law firms should research digital document software that allows for electronic signatures on documents. The software should be easy for clients to use and protect the privacy of the documents.
Choose Management Software
A digital law firm can be managed much easier than a brick-and-mortar practice with the implementation of legal practice management software. These programs provide automatic assistance with the day-to-day tasks of the firm, such as scheduling meetings, storing and sharing documents, and compiling and storing contact databases. Legal practice management software also often includes legal billing and legal case management tools that can be used for accounting, tracking time, and managing workflow.
Update Company Policies
When the pandemic made remote work the norm, companies in virtually all industries needed to update their official policies to account for the unique aspects of working from home. The previous office policies of a brick-and-mortar firm will need to be updated to account for the new digital nature of theb business.
Some of the unique aspects of remote work that should be included in a law firm’s policies include:
- Guidelines for virtual meetings
- Rules on which meetings may be recorded, where those recordings may be stored, and how these recordings can be kept confidential
- Security standards for protecting data
- Rules on work hours, such as schedule flexibility
Build a Website and Digital Marketing Strategy
Law firms and businesses in most industries need a strong digital marketing strategy to compete in the modern market. This applies to brick-and-mortar law firms as well, but shifting to a digital practice presents a good opportunity to evaluate your current digital marketing strategy. A new website should be built for the digital firm and the firm should consider seeking professional guidance from a law firm digital marketing agency.
Learn More From Our Law Firm Digital Marketing Agency
Are you curious about shifting your physical law firm to a virtual law practice? At Law Quill, we specialize in digital marketing for law firms, including all aspects of building a strong digital presence that brings in clients. Contact us today to learn more about making the transition to a digital law firm.