Today’s Wall Street Journal has an article entitled Legal Advice…on a Budget featured in a special report section about small businesses. The article discusses how some law firms are offering fixed fees and discounts for start-ups. Firms that they profiled for the article report growth in small business clients who are attracted to the service.
The article mentions that some law firms will insist on these fixed fee services being conducted by phone rather than in the law office while others will require email. The article lists some of the precautions of offering limited or unbundled legal services, but states “[s]ome entrepreneurs, however, say that they don’t mind, since they’ve gotten used to dealing with customers that way to save time.” Exactly.
Virtual law practice is not specifically mentioned in this article, but fits in perfectly with the trend in law firms offering small businesses flat monthly fees. Unbundled small business legal services is a popular offering of virtual law offices, including my own. For almost five years, I’ve been providing unbundled, fixed fee legal services on my virtual law office to small business owners. These clients tend to be grateful for the convenience and fixed fee pricing and many have become recurring clients who come back to their online case files to request additional legal services as their start-up takes off and they require additional forms of legal services. I start with fixed fee billing for the LLC or S-Corp setup and then often will use a combination of fixed fee and billable hour depending on the scope of the project.
Many of the small business clients that I’ve encountered are tech-savvy and prefer to use technology to communicate with me rather than making an appointment to come into an attorney’s office. And many of these start-up clients are working a regular full-time job while they are getting their start-up off the ground. The efficiency and potential cost-savings of a virtual law office are right up their alley and the fixed fee billing is something they can budget.
I was glad to see this alternative form of legal services and billing covered in the WSJ. Still waiting for them to give us a report on virtual law offices and unbundled legal services delivered online. Those of us operating virtual law offices continue on our own to educate the public about this alternative to traditional legal services. It would be great if more small business owners knew it was another option to explore that could take them beyond unsecured email and phone communications with a law firm.