If we were already living through the digital age, the last 12 months were the virtual microcosm within digital. Every industry in the world capable of going virtual and remote has done so to varying degrees of success. Law is not the exception: while cutoffs have been common, many firms and professionals found remote work much more comfortable and effective. Work from home may have started as the only way to survive for many but it has since created new grounds for clients and lawyers.
Client expectations had been growing for some time with tolerance for inefficiency and inaccuracy dwindling spectacularly. Law firms had to find creative ways to reduce costs and generate value. So, on the eve of 2021, is it time for you or your law firm to think about going virtual?
Benefits of staying virtual
The vanished need for having a super fancy downtown office dramatically changes the industry. Lower overheads mean significantly higher profits or lower prices for your clients meaning your rates will be more competitive. The reality is that many firms will stay remote creating a major competitive advantage over those that stay traditional.
Enhanced hiring reach
For so long we were trapped in a system of having to hire locally or recruiting graduates who were expected to up sticks and move. Unfortunately, it drove some talented attorneys out of decent firms’ grasp. Virtual offices make working from anywhere possible and the pool for hiring increases majorly.
Improved quality of life
A profession in law demands a certain type of person. It requires long hours, intense commitment, and a relinquishing of some relationships. Remote work changes everything. Lawyers, paralegals, and staff have reduced commute time, improved their schedules and flexibility, increased time with family, and — last but definitely not least — made us some more free time. Overall, lawyer mental health and professional well-being are the ultimate winners here.
More openness to technology
Law demands expertise and efficiency in communication and document management, but it has never been very tech-demanding. Keeping a remote office means you raise the bar of minimum tech-savviness for workers and clients, which in turn opens new doors in terms of leveraging from new tech tools. Many of the mistakes made out of resistance to change become distant memories as virtual offices reduce the barriers to communication, along with many of the trivial interruptions caused by the collocating in one office.
Some clients prefer to be served remotely
It’s not just about efficiency and workers’ well-being — some clients are realizing they want to continue working with law firms remotely. Coming to such realization was harder before since law firms had traditional ways of serving their clients, and remote work was often not on the menu. Now that the wall of prejudice against virtual legal services is down, more law firms and solo practitioners might find more clients willing to move online.
Drawbacks to the virtual office
Less in-person time with clients
Trust plays a huge part in the legal profession. Face to face communication is the best route to establishing trusting relationships as clients can meet you, read body language cues, and be welcomed to your offices. It’s been that way for ages. This is the cost of virtual offices, but it can be mitigated by maintaining a location with meeting spaces.
Creating a barrier to technologically averse clients
Knowing your target market will help inform the decision to stay virtual or not. If you deal with an older or less technologically inclined clientele, you may discourage them by existing solely virtually. The digital transformation may intimidate or alienate many and it bears remembering who you specifically serve.
Blurred jurisdictional lines
For the same reasons as it is a benefit, the lack of geographic barriers can be a concern. Unfortunately, states and countries tend to require different certifications to practice meaning you may be able to attract clients from elsewhere but not serve them in some cases.
Confidentiality regulations need to be met
All firms are subject to constitutional and ABA requirements regarding information security under ABA Rule 1.4. Confidentiality and security are an extra consideration that needs to be satisfied in order to safely practice law remotely. With services moving fully to the cloud, additional risks may arise.
So, should my law firm go virtual?
Many law firms will find themselves between a rock and a hard place with regard to the virtual office. Inevitably some will stay fully virtual exemplifying the many attractive benefits, while others will revert to the offline norm. Disruptive change alters industries, sometimes beyond recognition, but one could expect to see a hybrid of the virtual and traditional offices to come to the fore. The benefits of working from home are too attractive to ignore but the old norms are not lost on experienced firms yet. Still, if WFH has been going on great for you, you might want to stick to it and search for virtual law firms after the pandemic is over.