When is a law office not a law office? Only when the person making the pronouncement is too close-minded to acknowledge how the parameters of what defines a modern professional services firm have evolved.
The virtual law office is an entirely legitimate incarnation of the bricks-and-mortar standard. Its emerging presence has been attentively facilitated by all manner of technological developments.
What’s more, it’s a new take on an established tradition that is part of a growing national and global trend. In 2009, the Canadian Bar Association estimated that there are virtual lawyers in almost every province today. And the American Bar Association’s 2010 Legal Technology Survey reported that some 14% of lawyers currently operate a virtual law office.
In the virtual model, lawyers buck the expensive modular furniture and original oil paintings in favour of an overhead-free model. This permits increased autonomy, economy, flexibility and even environmental responsibility while delivering the same services to clients. Here, lawyers conduct their business inside a secure electronic environment, freeing them from the imperative to operate a physical office.
The benefits of making such a transition are considerable. Paramount among them are the slashed expenses the virtual law office enjoys.
This reality translates into the firm’s ability to take on more work and even pass on their savings to clients. Valkyrie Law Group, a virtual law office based in BC, was reportedly able to cut its fees by about 20% when it recently made the choice to go virtual.
Those lawyers considering practising their profession similarly need to undertake certain considerations outside of those associated with running a traditional practice. Among them? Obligations surrounding insurance requirements, document storage, and — most vital of all — the security and confidentiality of the delicate client data they’re handling.
To that end, a virtual-trending lawyer needs to secure a serious-minded practice management application or collaborative workspace, which will give him peace of mind in his rootless new endeavour.
This resident software needs to include the ability to cover off such essentials as calendaring, time tracking, expense tracking, billing and invoice generation.
Or he can explore software as a service (SaaS) setup, where software and data reside on a third party’s servers, outside the bounds of a firm’s firewall.
This choice requires a level of due diligence that might not be necessary with structured practice management systems, as server integrity needs to be paramount.
Ideally, reliable encryption tools enable attorneys to share messages and documents with their clients securely via the same kind of security systems that govern online banking, financial and other government-sprung transactions.
Still, professionals need not worry unduly about taking this technologically-enabled route. Cloud computing has advanced dramatically, each new development making it easier for professional service operations to save and manage data across geographic locations securely and efficiently.
Indeed, providers worth their salt, like 360 Visibility, can promise even more security than that associated with installed software.
With the right partner, a virtual lawyer can be virtually flawless.