You’re looking to start a virtual law firm and you’re wondering about the practical steps involved in doing so. After all, it’s a relatively new concept and the majority of established firms are brick and mortar-based.
So, first of all, what is a virtual law firm?
A virtual law firm is a business where the attorneys serve clients virtually using technology-based solutions including video conferencing, cloud software, client portals and online payment software.
Benefits to Starting a Virtual Law Firm
There are many benefits to running a virtual law firm with few downsides as we’ll see as we go through the tips to starting your practice. But let’s go through some of the benefits quickly:
- You can reach more clients by accepting cases across your state (or beyond).
- Save time by reducing commutes.
- Save money with a home office or smaller commercial space.
- It’s more convenient for many clients since they don’t have to travel to your office.
- It forces your firm to be more innovative.
- Virtual and remote work can be more attractive for employees and help you find better talent.
If you’re interested in exploring these benefits at greater length, check out our article on reasons to have a virtual law firm where I explain how you can take advantage of these benefits and enjoy the powerful synergies of going virtual.
Can lawyers work online?
The short answer is yes.
The ABA’s Committee on Ethics and Professional Responsibility published a formal opinion describing that a practitioner can operate a virtual law practice provided that they take appropriate steps and make reasonable efforts to protect client confidentiality, fulfill their ethical duties and CLE obligations.
7 Tips to Start your Virtual Law Firm
Here’s a quick overview of the tips to use to start your virtual practice:
- Create a business plan for your virtual law firm
- Build processes and systems for your practice
- Launch your firm’s website
- Get the right software and tools
- Develop a digital marketing strategy for client acquisition
- Have a professional office space
- Get a virtual office address
In this article, we’ll go over our top tips you can use to start and build your virtual law practice. By the end, you’ll also see a clear path to remote work for lawyers and running a virtual firm.
1. Create your Law Firm’s Business Plan
I’m a big believer in the saying “if you fail to plan, you’re planning to fail” and I believe this step is more important for a virtual law firm than its brick and mortar counterpart.
With a virtual law practice, there are fewer examples of firms from which you can take inspiration in adopting or copying elements from their business models. It’s easier to copy the business operations and practices of a traditional firm with a physical location. But many of those practices won’t apply to a virtual practice.
Take the time to outline your virtual law firm’s business plan. SBA.gov has a good resource on writing a business plan which is worth using as a guide to writing yours.
2. Build Processes and Systems for Your Virtual Law Firm
Your processes and operating procedures are paramount to staying on top of things. If your law firm is going to serve clients virtually, it’s important to get crystal clear on how that’s going to work.
Here are some examples of processes that you need to detail in terms of standard operating procedures, which will help you identify the systems which need to be put in place:
- How clients book appointments (with whom and the types of appointments)
- Intake process
- Filing motions
- Client management cycle
- Billing and collecting payments
- Hiring process
- Getting client reviews
List out all of the processes and operations as if you were going to write an operating manual for your practice. Identify the key processes that are more important to define. Especially the important processes that you’ll implement during the early days of your virtual firm when you need to make your new practice appear as professional as possible to clients.
3. Launch your Law Firm’s Website
A firm’s website is critical to its business in the modern age. A study found that 74% of legal consumers visit a law firms’ website to take action. When it comes to a virtual law firm, that number is much closer to one hundred percent.
A law firm website can serve numerous purposes and functions, from acting as its “digital storefront” and brochure where it lists the attorneys’ qualifications, legal services and contact information to being the business’s primary client-generating tool, hosting a client portal, CRM and integrating its payment gateway.
Getting your website to look professional and function the way you want it to is even more important for a virtual law firm. If you need a law firm website, we offer bespoke one of a kind sites as well as affordable custom websites. Get in touch today to get a quote on your new website.
4. Invest in Software Suites and Tools
Once you have written your business plan and defined your business-critical processes, systems and procedures, you’ll need to identify and purchase the software and technological tools needed to fulfill and support these systems and processes. There’s no shortage of software and tools out there to choose from. And everyday, new products, services and solutions are being created.
Here’s a list of the essential software tools and packages your virtual law firm is likely to need:
- Office productivity suite (e.g. Microsoft Office or Google Workspace)
- Law practice management software
- Case and legal research software
- Billing and accounting software
- Customer relationship management (CRM) system
- Video conferencing software
- Phone or softphone system
- Online appointment booking system
There’s a lot more that could be added to this list, including team collaboration and automation software systems. However, I wanted to keep it to the main essentials. Your virtual law firm’s plan and required processes and systems will help you determine any additional software that you need. At this point though, you should have a better idea of what your software and technology stack will look like (as well as the firm’s day to day operations)!
5. Create a Digital Marketing Strategy
By definition, a virtual law firm operates digitally. So, most virtual firms will employ a digital marketing strategy to generate their ideal clients and cases. There are numerous ways to market your virtual law firm online. Here are some of the top tactics you can incorporate into your firm’s digital strategy:
- Law firm SEO
- PPC Ads (pay-per-click)
- Pay-per-lead or lead generation services
- Email marketing
- Social media
- Content marketing
- Video marketing and evergreen webinars
You can create a strategy that incorporates one or multiple channels from this list. As a digital marketing agency for law firms, we specialize in several of these, which we offer to firms that are a good fit for what we do. If you’re looking for an inexpensive, homegrown approach and are comfortable rolling up your sleeves to do it yourself, a combination of social media, webinars and video marketing is something to consider. If you’re looking for a turn-key marketing strategy and system which is more hands-off, then the other tactics on the list make more sense.
Law firm marketing is very competitive and finding the right agency with a proven track record of results is equally challenging. At Zahavian Legal Marketing we helped a law firm 2.5x leads in 12 months and generated 47% more leads for another firm in just 2 months. Book an intro call with us to find out how we can help your firm get more clients and better cases.
6. Have a Professional Office Space
Some virtual businesses overlook having a professional office space. Whether your virtual law firm operates from a commercial building or from your home, investing in a professional office space is important.
When you have virtual meetings with clients and other professionals, your background on video will illustrate what type of environment in which you’re working. This contributes dearly to your firm’s image, especially if clients won’t be visiting you in-person. Your office space should be well-lit, aesthetically pleasing and quiet.
While this might sound expensive, remember that operating a virtual law firm where clients don’t have to visit you means that you need a significantly smaller office space. So while the cost per square foot might be higher to achieve the professional look, sound and feel, there’s less square footage in which you must invest.
7. Get a Virtual Office Address
Building off of the last tip, having a virtual office or a virtual address can be important for various reasons. If you primarily work from home, there are certain situations in which you might want to have a physical fallback office location.
Here are a few reasons to consider getting a virtual office:
1. Having a professional and commercial office address.
A professional office address that isn’t your home address can be beneficial for many reasons. First of all, when it comes to sending and receiving mail, you might not be comfortable giving out your home address to any and everyone you do business with. Additionally, if you’re going to implement a digital marketing strategy for your virtual law firm, building your online and web presence with a residential address has its limitations.
2. Having a place to meet vendors and business partners.
There are numerous virtual office providers that offer a range of packages and services, from purchasing a simple virtual address to short-term leases for virtual office space and solutions in the middle such as renting a conference room by the hour. While your firm might be going virtual, some meetings, such as with other local professionals, might make sense to have in person. You might not want to have these meetings at your home. For these types of interactions, a virtual office space membership can give you the flexibility to book a conference room for an hour or two at a moment’s notice.
3. Networking in a community of other virtual business owners.
If you plan on working from home, a lot of the time, you might enjoy getting out in the world and mixing a social element into your work routine. Additionally, there’s a lot of value in networking with other like-minded business owners to learn about new innovations happening in the world of virtual businesses. You benefit from this with a virtual office membership that offers a co-working space.
Opening your Virtual Law Firm
There are many characteristics that brick and mortar firms share with their virtual law firm counterparts. However, there are many differences between the two models, too. Take these key tips into consideration when deciding how to shape your unique and innovative virtual law practice for the next generation of legal services.