I’ve been preparing materials to teach a course on virtual law practice for Solo Practice University (SPU). Lawyers USA just published an article about SPU here. I hope some of my blog readers will join me for the virtual law practice course.
One of the topics I’m covering at the beginning of the course has to do with taking the leap from a traditional law practice management method into a virtual law practice. In helping others make the decision to go completely web-based with their solo or small firm or to add some virtual component to their law practice, I’ve been thinking about why I left my position as an associate in a small, traditional law firm to go solo with a VLO.
It’s been three years since I opened my web-based virtual law office, Kimbro Legal Services. In 2006, I hung my virtual shingle using the beta release of the VLOTech virtual law office software. As with any business, after a couple years you realize that your goals and expectations have changed from when you launched, but I’ve been pleasantly surprised by the support I’ve had from other attorneys and from the great public response over the past three years.
Reasons why I initially formed my virtual law practice:
1. The birth of my first child. I wanted to work from home and spend as much time with her and my family as I could. Childhood is a short time and I didn’t want to miss it.
2. From my experience in the small firm, I noticed that there was a clear market need for individuals of middle income and moderate means to be able to conveniently access and afford legal services. Yet many of them were going to their office supply store and buying legal kits or purchasing LegalZoom documents online. They weren’t consulting an attorney for the guidance they needed because they were 1) afraid they couldn’t afford it, or 2) were just too intimidated to sign a traditional engagement letter with an attorney and put up a sizeable retainer.
Those were my main reasons for opening my VLO. Three years later my reasons for practicing with a virtual law practice are the same, but I have some added observations and experiences that reinforce my decision.
1. Clients want this. The general public response to the VLO in the past three years has been amazing. My clients appreciate the convenience and accessibility to legal services. They have their own homepages on my secure VLO where they can drop me a note at any time, upload and download documents, fill out online forms, pay their invoices, review their invoices, etc. I think the ability for them to access their own case files and review our work together helps them to feel more in charge of their legal needs and more connected with me as their legal representation.
2. Client revenue has come in from across the state. I have not had the collection problems that I was warned about by other attorneys when I first opened my solo practice. I expected it to be a big hassle and in three years I’ve been limited to two or three small collection issues that were not that difficult to resolve. Clients receive their invoices online. They pay me online. We set up recurring billing or payment plans. Maybe it’s the convenience of the invoice being online or maybe it’s being able to pay by credit card. Whatever the reason, ease of collections has been a pleasant surprise.
3. Attention to customer service results in client loyalty They don’t really teach you this in law school, but running a law practice requires business skills. I stopped trying to act like an attorney and instead focused more on being a good business owner. This has made all the difference in the world. I relate to my clients on personal levels through our dialogue on the VLO. I take the time to address all of their concerns and questions with patience and it has resulted in a growing client base for my virtual law practice.
4. Virtual law practice in some form is the way our profession is headed. If you haven’t already, read Richard Susskind”s End of Lawyers?: Rethinking the Nature of Legal Services. The traditional law office will not cease to exist, but it may find ways to incorporate a virutal law practice component to address the needs of its clients and to facilitate attorney online collaboration. In the past three years, I’ve been overwhelmed with the number of attorneys who support web-based virtual law practice and who see it’s benefits for the public as well as the legal profession. It’s a growing trend in our profession that would be foolish to ignore.
As I’m working more with other attorneys through VLOTech to set up other virtual law practices, I’m spending less time on my own VLO. Fortunately, we just opened up a new VLO in North Carolina where I can refer some of my online clients and we are in the process of launching another VLO, a multi-attorney firm in NC, this week.
Three years may not seem like a long time to have been in business, but considering the novelty of the concept when I started and how popular virtual law practice is becoming now, I’ll give myself a birthday pat on the back for taking the leap.