The COVID-19 pandemic has offered a hard reset to the legal profession. No longer are lawyers confined to big firms in big offices, and clients are happier than ever to take meetings from the comfort of their home computer. Becoming a virtual law firm comes with a host of benefits that can not only benefit your business, but makes your clients more satisfied.
But what does a virtual law firm need to succeed in today’s legal landscape? In this blog, we examine three pivotal considerations when deciding to make the switch to becoming a virtual law firm.
What is a Virtual Law Firm?
A survey conducted in an ABA Legal Technology Survey Report shows that the term “virtual lawyer” means many different things to many different legal practitioners. The most common consensus is that a virtual lawyer lacks a traditional office space. As lawyers have entered the 21st century, the common notion of a law firm has developed and evolved, particularly for solo or private practitioners.
Yet in the wake of COVID-19, the definition has once again evolved, as over 80% of law firms transitioned to working remotely some or all of the time. With this meteoric change, the way lawyers work has changed dramatically, and their tools with it. Nearly every law firm might now be called a “virtual law firm” to some degree.
The unprecedented shift towards virtual business across nearly every segment of the economy has also changed how customers engage with law firms.
Minimum Requirements for Becoming a Virtual Law Firm
No matter how a lawyer defines a virtual law office, lawyers who use the internet to conduct business must make careful considerations around how they interact with clients. Failing to acknowledge certain aspects of your practice can put you in legal hot water, including:
- Office Address Requirements
- Client Engagement
- Practicing Within Your Jurisdiction
Two different types of office address requirements exist in the legal field: a physical office requirement, and an advertising office requirement. Depending on your state or jurisdiction, these requirements vary widely.
For instance, some states with an integrated bar requirement mandates a physical residence address necessary for Board of Governors elections. These are different from mailing addresses, which often don’t need to be tied down to a working space. In these cases, a physical office is mandatory.
An “advertising office requirement” is an adaptation of the ABA Model Rule 7.2(d), requiring that all legal marketing materials include the name and contact information of at least one lawyer or law firm responsible for its content. Most states have some variation on this rule.
The internet offers a robust network for expanding your client base through online advertising. By targeting online content to prospective clients, lawyers can quickly net qualified leads by leveraging digital marketing strategies based on search inquiries. Before you start practicing law virtually, ensure that you check any office address requirements in your area.
Client Engagement and Cybersecurity
At the beginning of the pandemic, the speed at which lawyers were able to adapt to a new working environment was largely contingent upon whether they were a paper-based or paperless law office.
Paperless law firms provide lawyers with tools that help streamline their day-to-day operations, such as quick retrieval of documents and electronic signature authentication, all without being present in an office setting. Not only can this help put hours back in your day, it can also be of tremendous benefit for those who work off flat fees.
To successfully pull this off in a virtual law office setting, you will need to consider how you will engage with your clients without being present in the same room. Cloud-based client portals are quickly becoming a requirement for keeping a client and their lawyer aligned on a case, provided that due diligence is taken to ensure that their information is safe from cybersecurity attacks. The Illinois State Bar Association has outlined several methods for selecting a cloud-based service provider.
Taking the time to digitize existing paper documents can be arduous, but it future-proofs your legal practice and makes it easier to serve clients in the long-term.
Practicing in Your Jurisdiction
While your practice may be virtual, your ability to practice in different states is not. Virtual law offices need to be extremely diligent in avoiding the unauthorized practice of law, or UPL.
Even if your business is not actively soliciting clients from other jurisdictions, you can only serve clients in regions you are licensed to practice in. Marketing efforts can usually be tailored from state-to-state, but the best digital strategy you can use to ensure you can serve your clients comes from the intake process.
Whether you opt to use an online form or virtual legal receptionists, your intake process should be clear about what states you can and cannot represent. The more structured this process, the less likely you will represent a client out of your jurisdiction.
Amata Law Office Suites: Providing Tools for Tomorrow’s Virtual Law Office
With more lawyers opting out of a physical office for a virtual one, Amata Law Office Suites provides clients with all of the tools you need to succeed in today’s legal environment. We provide a community where lawyers can work side by side and access the expertise across a wide variety of specializations, which can also be accessed on a hybrid or virtual model. Come in for client meetings as-needed, or utilize our legal services to bolster your business. Virtual receptionists and contract paralegals are all a part of our services, making us the premiere legal office experience. Full program and pricing details available here.