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Transforming Your Law Practice Into a Virtual One

By Annette Choti

The idea of running a virtual law firm can be daunting at first, but there are steps you can take to ensure a smooth transition.

virtual law firm

Lawyers have embraced the shift to remote work, with more and more law practices taking on a virtual presence to better serve clients. If you are considering transforming your law firm into a virtual one, it is important to understand the advantages and challenges.

What Is a Virtual Law Firm?

A virtual law firm provides legal services to clients using online platforms and virtual communication technology rather than in-person meetings. The operations of a virtual law firm are typically hosted in satellite offices or from home. While virtual law practices are subject to the same regulations as traditional law offices, the lawyers are often self-employed consultants rather than partners and employees.

According to the 2021 Legal Trends Report, 79% of clients want the option to work with lawyers remotely. With so much demand, the need for lawyers to embrace virtual operations and integrate technology into their law practice is clear.

What Are the Benefits of Virtual Law Firms?

A number of benefits are associated with transforming your practice into a virtual one and using online platforms to deliver legal services:

  • You remove the need for a bricks-and-mortar office — and the costs associated with operating an office.
  • You can work from anywhere, with a more flexible schedule. Cloud computing, online meeting platforms and virtual collaboration spaces allow you to bring your practice with you wherever you are.
  • You can tap into an expanded target market for new business since you are no longer limited by geographical location.
  • You will have far fewer no-show clients because clients do not need to leave their homes to meet with you.
  • You can recruit from a bigger pool of talent — because your employees don’t need to live near the office.
  • You can reinvest the money you save in overhead back into the business.

Ultimately, law firm owners can enjoy greater flexibility, overhead cost savings and improved client outreach with a virtual law practice.

For another perspective on virtual practice, read attorney Matthew Weiss’s “Five Tips for Making the Transition to Virtual Law Firm.”

What Technology Do You Need? Virtual Law Firm Software

The tools you use to transform into a virtual law firm will depend on your particular practice. However, no matter how big your firm is, or what type of law you practice, you will rely entirely on online platforms and software to run your business, organize your documents, and communicate with your clients and team.

The most common technology used to support remote law practice includes:

  • Secure client portal
  • Website
  • Phone service or VOIP
  • Cloud storage or cloud-based document management system
  • Videoconferencing software
  • Call-answering service
  • Word processing and/or document automation system
  • Calendering software
  • PDF Software
  • Legal payments system
  • Password manager*
  • Collaboration tools
  • E-signature software
  • Case management or practice management system

*Do not open your virtual law firm until you have a cybersecurity plan — and the necessary safeguards — in place.

While practice management software may not be at the top of a new small firm’s list of purchases, keep in mind that the products typically include the components you will need — and pay for separately — such as billing and payments, document management, document automation, calendaring, client portals and more.

Read attorney Catherine Tang’s advice on running a tech-forward law firm — including the six apps she uses for remote work.

How to Start a Virtual Law Practice

The rise of remote work and virtual law practice has made it easier to start a law firm and has helped level the playing field — but it has also increased competition across the industry. Research the market thoroughly and proceed carefully when starting your virtual law firm. It can be helpful to follow these steps.

Familiarize Yourself With State Regulations and Ethics Rules

Before starting your virtual law practice, make sure you are legally allowed to do so in your state. Some states require that attorneys have a physical office to practice. If this is the case in your state, you may not be able to operate a fully virtual law firm, but you can partially operate as a virtual practice.

Ensure that you prioritize your clients’ privacy in all aspects of your virtual practice. Having adequate security and encryption measures in place is crucial to maintaining confidentiality.

For a deep dive into the ethics questions to ask, read “Moving to a Virtual Law Office: How to Practice Ethically in Place,” by Mark Palmer.

Write a Comprehensive Business Plan

It is essential to carefully plan the steps you will take to transform your practice into a virtual one. You may want to draft a business plan, outlining your goals and the values you wish to uphold in your practice. Then tackle the practical steps for how you will operate your firm. For example, how will you arrange initial consultations? How will you communicate securely with your clients? How will you get paid? Using automated systems wherever possible — and carefully researching the technology you will need — is crucial for running a profitable virtual practice.

Create a Marketing Plan and Budget

Be sure to account for marketing in your business plan. Do you already have a law firm website? If so, can it be further optimized to generate leads? Will you leverage social media to reach new clients? These questions are key when formulating your marketing strategy for your virtual law practice.

Read “Getting Clients: For Lawyers Starting Out and Starting Over” for the basics on how to choose a practice niche and begin building business.

Making a Successful Transition to Virtual Law Practice

A thoughtful, thorough transition plan will save you time and money in the long run. The following tips can help ensure that the transition is as effortless and stress-free as possible:

  • Move at your own pace. Be realistic about how much time the transition will require and be careful not to rush it. Otherwise, you can overlook key elements of operating a virtual law firm. If the shift feels like too much, consider using a hybrid model and gradually transitioning in time.
  • Promote a positive work culture. If you have employees, transitioning to a fully remote law practice can change “office” dynamics. Consider implementing daily or weekly check-ins to encourage communication between your team. You can also hold virtual events or happy hours to celebrate victories and ensure that your team feels appreciated. (See “Communicating Better in a Post-Pandemic World.”)
  • Draft new policies for your office. Ensuring that your team has the necessary training, support and resources to ease the transition to remote work is important. An updated procedures manual goes hand in hand with a new business plan. Consider updating your policies and employee manual to reflect these changes and maintain quality of service standards at your firm.

Ask the Editor: FAQs About Virtual Law Firms

Virtual law firm, online law firm, remote law firm — what’s the difference?

While these terms are used interchangeably, there are differences. A virtual law firm or virtual lawyer uses technology to provide legal services online — that is, the work of a lawyer is done “virtually.” A virtual law firm may have an office, or it may not. Also, to confuse things further, thanks to ALSPs like Axion, “virtual lawyer” is a term used for lawyers who work on a contract basis. An “online” law firm is an old-school way of saying you are a virtual law firm. “Remote” simply means you are working away from your firm’s main office — in a remote location. A remote law firm is not necessarily a virtual law firm. It’s confusing, but in the end, as Chad Burton said in “What Do You Mean by ‘Virtual Law Firm’?” clients don’t really care how you label your firm; they care about results.

Do I need to take another bar exam if I move to another state to practice remotely?

Maybe not. Megan Zavieh explains the various scenarios in “Can I Relocate Without Taking Another Bar Exam?”

Does a virtual law firm have an address?

Every business needs an address for business registration, official correspondence, tax purposes — and Google. If you don’t want to use your home address, a post office box or shared office suite address is usually acceptable (but check with your attorney or accountant). Important: Be sure to register as an online business in Google Business — otherwise the local U.S. Post Office or your private residence will show up on the map in searches. Neither is good.

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Categories: Digital Marketing for Law Firms, SEO Secrets, Virtual Law Practice
Originally published April 17, 2023
Last updated July 28, 2023
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Annette Choti Annette Choti

Annette Choti graduated from law school 20 years ago, and is the CEO and owner of Law Quill, a legal digital marketing agency focused on small and solo law firms. She is the author of “Click Magnet: The Ultimate Digital Marketing Guide for Law Firms” (2022). Annette used to do theater and professional comedy, which is not so different from the legal field if we are all being honest. She can be found on LinkedIn or at annette@lawquill.com.

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