A Virtual Law Office has been defined many different ways by many different people. It can certainly be seen as one form of e-lawyering, or using the power of the Internet to deliver legal services. It is a secure method of delivering legal services online that is accessible to the client and the lawyer anywhere they can access the Internet.
Simply put, there are several different ways to create a virtual law office. One is to be entirely web based. Another is to establish a virtual practice as part of a “bricks and mortar” firm, meaning the virtual lawyer utilizes the firm’s infrastructure rather than being totally web based. Typically, regardless of the type of virtual practice, there will be a secure client portal where the lawyer and client conduct their business, including payments for services rendered. Up to the present time, most virtual practices tend to focus on practice areas that tend to involve routine document preparation.
So, why would you want to be virtual as opposed to having a physical office? There are lots of reasons. You can work from home; you can work at your convenience; you can avoid “walk in” clients and diminish client “face time” (particularly if you work for other lawyers and law firms); and you can work around your family’s schedule(s) (which is particularly good for young lawyers who also happen to be parents).
But what about those times when you need assistance? Whether it be a virtual receptionist to answer your phone while you’re “away,” a virtual secretary to help you prepare documents, a virtual paralegal to help you with discovery or another lawyer to collaborate on a difficult case, virtual practice offers many resources to lawyers, particularly solos and small firms.
There are some questions you must ask, though, in deciding whether virtual practice is right for you. As the oracle at Delphi said: Know Thyself. How comfortable are you with technology? In order to successfully go virtual, you will need to keep up to date on technology, on virtual tools and on the every changing methods available for communication with clients. Furthermore, your virtual team needs to be equally comfortable with technology. If one of you is working with a virtual collaboration tool such as SharePoint or Dropbox, you both need to know how to share and safeguard the confidentiality of information using these tools.
Being virtual doesn’t necessarily mean you have to be mobile, but being able to work any time from anywhere will give your virtual practice a huge advantage, so having the right mobile technology and wireless access to the Internet can be a great help. But you must understand how to get connected where ever you are and how to stay connected securely and confidentially. It’s not the easiest thing, but if you can understand the basics, you’ll be well on your way to becoming a virtual lawyer.
Another consideration is whether you are disciplined enough to work without a standard routine or without the typical law office environment. That means people – people. Can you work alone in solitude? Of course, you can. You’ve always dreamed of working away from the office, on your own time, with no distractions. Of course, you say that now. But, what about those cold, snowy or dark and rainy winter days? There’s no one around to talk with about the latest football or basketball games. There are no distractions or interruptions during the day. (Or alternatively the Internet, Facebook and Twitter – become too much of a distraction!)
Developing a virtual practice offers great opportunities for cost reduction and time management, freeing revenue and time for the things that really matter to you. But make sure you’re ready for the virtual freedom from interruptions and the ability to schedule yourself as you wish…before you take the virtual plunge.