The Virtual Law Office – What is it and Why?

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At this point, you’ve most likely heard of the virtual shift in the legal marketplace. It’s no secret to lawyers around the globe that the consumer is driving this change – client expectations are changing and will continually evolve. Lawyers who ignore this change will risk irrelevance.

Law firms need to realize that simply lowering hourly rates or creating alternative fee structures is not enough to keep their clients with them in the current, ever-changing marketplace. So while this will reduce the top side of the revenue stream, it does not address the expense side. Simply put, they must be able to provide more for less, regardless of the size or type of the client or the area they practice in.  And cue the virtual law firm – bringing your firm an emerging business model that structures effective work environments with a much lower overhead.

Assess your clients’ wants – Are they more concerned with the geographical location of exactly where you produce work for them and whether your staff is all under the same roof? Or, are they more concerned with timely, quality work, regardless of where it’s produced? Do they want solutions that don’t cost an arm and a leg? Would they want to engage in innovative, unique delivery models that are more convenient for them? Think about the answers to these questions, and if you don’t know them…ask! Taking the time to look at what your clients really care about can be a catalyst for improvement.

Your clients’ expectations are changing, and your business model should follow if you want to stay relevant and at the forefront of your industry. From small to large firms, solo practitioners to larger firms operating beyond the traditional brick-and-mortars, virtual models are emerging daily and revolutionizing the way this industry operates.

Virtual firms are full-service, handling the entire scope of current practice areas, from criminal defense to acquisitions, complex litigation, and everything in between. Larger firms can now practice in a distributed manner, with a centralized meeting location for attorney and client face-to-face meetings, but the rest of the work is done off-site, at the lawyer’s home or another location that is convenient for them. Administrative support is provided through the use of virtual assistants (already widely used in many other industries). And cloud-based practice management systems allow lawyers to collaborate on cases instantaneously and access all information related to the case no matter where they are – at home, a client’s office, or even the other side of the globe.

The work produced for the client looks absolutely no different when operating in a virtual firm, it is only the background operation that differs. For this reason, creating and implementing the correct platform and applications to carry out the specific business needs a firm has, is of utmost importance.

Cloud computing is at the basis of the majority of all virtual models. But what is it? Some have discounted the use of this fairly new technology because they don’t fully understand it, but this technology is now the norm in the business world, for many different industries. It has been successfully implemented and used to optimize the way the business operates, lower costs, and increase revenue through productivity increase. Legal-specific online practice management applications are developed, and expanding regularly. These platforms enable lawyers to engage directly with their clients using secure online portals and maximize mobility. Entire firms are now able to operate from mobile devices.

The cloud supports a paperless work environment, directly affecting how well a client is serviced. Imagine this: A client calls with a question that requires the review of some specific document, within seconds still on the call, you have accessed the document and emailed over to the client, or shared your screen via Lync for mutual review of the document. Never spend another wasted minute searching through piles of paperwork or files for a misplaced document again. And what about all that confidential data? Would you rather risk the loss of an all-paper office after a natural disaster or have your data stored online, encrypted and secure, redundantly backed up, and accessible from any secure online connection? Can you imagine the malpractice claims if paper documents or files stored on a hard drive are inadvertently destroyed, with no backup?

The cloud eliminates questions like, “Where did Smith leave the Anderson file last?” with collaborative, virtual work environments where lawyers in different locations can all communicate and access the same information simultaneously and instantaneously.

With lower overhead costs, law firms can begin passing on these cost savings to the client, making legal assistance more accessible, affordable and thus, increasing client acquisition. The benefits of the virtual law firm are real, and in the future, the term “virtual law firm” will be a thing of the past, and this all will simply be called “practicing law.” It’s time to start fully understanding the opportunities, implementing the new technologies, and serving clients, the way they expect to be.

For more information on developing a virtual office for your firm, fill out the contact form to the right and a Virtualization Expert will be in contact with you shortly.