As lawyers increasingly use web-based computing, virtual law practices–once a rarity–are becoming more commonplace. Virtual law practices are law firms that do not have a brick-and-mortar offices, but instead are operated from lawyers’ homes or satellite offices. Legal services are typically delivered to clients using Internet-based technologies such as law practice management software with built-in client portals.
In most cases virtual law firms provide transactional law services. One of reasons for their rising popularity is that technology makes it much easier to launch a solo practice given the minimal up-front investment required to launch a virtual law firm. All that is needed is a small amount of savings, a laptop, a smartphone, and an Internet connection.
Using these tools and cloud computing, lawyers can launch a virtual law practice using web-based services and smartphone apps in lieu of fax, copy, and answering machine systems. Similarly, instead of hiring full-time office staff, lawyers can rely on virtual assistants and/or receptionists.
Virtual law practices offer lawyers increased flexibility, allowing them to practice law from just about anywhere, as long as they have Internet access. But not only are virtual law practices convenient for lawyers, their clients also benefit.
This is because web-based technologies allow lawyers to communicate and collaborate with clients using online web portals. Web-based online portals also give virtual law practices a competitive advantage over more traditional law practices by providing clients with 24/7 access to information–something legal 21st century legal consumers are beginning to expect.
There are many different types of lawyers who have successful virtual law practices. But regardless of their practice area, the choice to hang a virtual shingle instead of practicing from a physical law office is often made by lawyers seeking to practice law on their own terms.
For example, one attorney chose to launch a virtual practice because he and his wife enjoyed traveling. So, they packed up their family and moved to Mexico for a while, where he hung his virtual shingle. Since he was able to establish a thriving law practice, through which he handles transactional matters such as estate planning and small business formation for clients located in the states in which he is licensed, they now have plans to extend their time in Mexico.
Another lawyer operates a successful, full-time virtual law practice in North Carolina. Originally from Texas, she relocated to North Carolina due to her husband’s job and handles estate planning matters for clients located in Texas, the state in which she is licensed. She originally hung a virtual shingle while living in Texas so that she could practice part-time and still have time to care for her children. But as her firm grew, she gradually transitioned to a full-time practice and has been practicing law virtually for over 6 years.
Another attorney with a virtual law practice relocated because of his wife’s career. Before they had kids they decided that one of them would stay at home and when the time came, he made the choice to be a stay-at-home-father. Instead of leaving the practice of law, he established a part-time virtual law practice handling estate planning matters for his clients. This type of practice makes it possible for him to care for his children children during the day and perform client work on weeknights and weekends. Down the road he plans to transition to a brick and mortar office while still handling some cases virtually.
So the idea that web-based computing will change the practice of law isn’t a dream — it’s a reality. Lawyers are using technology to create law practices that give them increased flexibility and greater control over their practices and their lives.
Don’t believe me? Check out our infographic below, based on statistics from the American Bar Association’s 2014 Legal Technology Survey Report. By all accounts, virtual law firms are on the rise. For starters, 7% of lawyers had virtual law practices 2014, compared with 5% in 2012, and 3% in 2011.
The most common type of lawyers with virtual practices were solos in 2014 at 10%, followed by 8% of firms of 2-9 attorneys, and 3% of firms of 100-499 attorneys. The most common practice areas for virtual law firms? According to the survey, they were contract law (10%) and employment/labor law (8%).
According to the report, most lawyers with virtual law firms provide legal services to clients using secure web-based client portals–and the number of lawyers using client portals has increased every year: In 2014, 32% of all lawyers offered their clients access to a secure client portal compared with 25% in years 2013 and 2012, and 20% in 2011.
The most popular software for solo lawyers who use secure web-based client portals? MyCase–with nearly 1/3 of solo lawyers reporting that they prefer MyCase’s built-in client portal above all others.
You can learn more interesting statistics about lawyers with virtual law firms from our infographic below and to learn more about how to deliver legal services online, make sure to watch a recording of our virtual lawyering webinar with Steph Kimbro, a well known expert on virtual law firms and elawyering.
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