Some people have defined a virtual law office “as a professional law practice existing online through a secure portal and is accessible to both the client and attorney anywhere the parties may access the internet.” Others may count LegalZoom and similar services as a virtual law office, or virtual law service.
For this post, however, I am talking about a legal practice without the traditional brick and mortar office. Usually these firms are smaller and the attorneys operate out of their homes or in a non-traditional office space.
A 2014 poll found that overall only 7% operated virtual law offices. It appears that 10% of solo practitioners operated virtual law offices, while 8% of small firms (2-9 attorneys) and large firms (500+) operated virtual law offices.
Although the idea of virtual law offices are somewhat new, the data and enthusiasm are on the rise. Over the last several years the legal market changed dramatically. The news was flooded with a down economy, firm layoffs, and the rise of self-help services offering cost-efficient solutions.
So I am here to briefly discuss the pros and cons of virtual law offices. My list is by no means all-inclusive, so I’d like to find out your thoughts after reading mine.
What makes virtual offices appealing?
Low monthly costs: the biggest pro about virtual offices is low overhead. This reduces pressure on billable hours and increases your work-life balance. If you’re mostly out of the office, sometimes you’ll wonder why you even rented an office in the first place.
More competitive fees: perhaps you can be more competitive with your fees because there is less demand upon covering your monthly overhead. Clients always enjoy saving money, and a happy client can go a long way.
Flexibility with your career and hours: Working from home gives you added flexibility. There’s no commute time, which means you have more time to work and for your family. You can work and be at the house to meet the plumbing contractor, and you can (at least somewhat) be productive when staying home to nurse a sick child (or pet or spouse).
Forces you to become technologically up-to-date: Virtual work only works when you use modern technology – project management software, electronic review systems, office chat, webcams, etc.
What are the downsides of virtual offices?
Lacks the “traditional” office feel: they lack the traditional setting and features such as your firm name on the door, physical address, receptionist, conference room, file room, etc. Some people need a real office because of the kind of clients they support. Also without a “real” office finding a place for an in-person meeting can become tricky.
Working from home: Some people cannot put aside their home distractions and need a different place to work. With a traditional office, you can push aside those distractions and get to work.
No impromptu discussions: This can be a blessing if you have someone who likes to fritter away time talking about their weekend, but sometimes random office chat generates good ideas that can be missed when you work in a silo.
Is a virtual law office for you?
First, you don’t have to go all-or-nothing. You and your colleagues can work at home sometimes and come to the office sometimes. Then you can get the best of both worlds. Second, even if you do work from home most of the time you can rent office space by the day. The cost is higher per-day but the overall cost is lower if you don’t use the space all the time. And you don’t have to commit to a large CapEx or long-term lease.
If you are considering a virtual law office, or even just considering allowing some of your team to telecommute a few times per week, I highly recommend the book Remote, which addresses a lot of the potential problems with virtual offices and telecommuting.
Jason Long is a 2015 graduate of the Oklahoma City University School of Law.