The COVID-19 pandemic has forever changed how potential clients seek and use legal services. A 2021 survey found that 79% of respondents would favor a law firm that offers remote legal advice–a 56-point increase in just three years.
That drastic swing makes sense. Building a virtual law firm comes with a wide range of benefits, including:
- Reaching a broader audience, which is no longer bound by the physical location in which your legal practice operates.
- Reducing your overhead by diminishing the costs associated with renting or leasing your office space.
- Increasing your flexibility to create more natural work hours for your employees, leading to better work-life balance and productivity.
- Building a better client experience through shorter, more flexible consultations.
All these benefits are only hypothetical. They come into play only when you have successfully transitioned to a virtual or remote legal practice.
Fortunately, getting there is not complex. You just have to follow a few important steps to prepare your office and staff for the move. Let’s explore those six core steps in more detail.
1. Implement Reliable, Effective Virtual Communications Systems
With any new construction, the foundation should come first. In the case of a remote law firm, that means having reliable systems in place to communicate virtually, both within your practice and with prospective and current clients.
You should have an easy-to-use phone system that your clients can easily call.
Any initial phone navigation should be quick and user-friendly, routing callers to the right place within just a few seconds.
Of course, other communications tools are just as important:
- Video Conferencing platforms are essential for internal meetings and client calls. Platforms like Zoom, Google Hangout, and Microsoft Teams all have pros and cons for legal practices. You should consider purchasing the premium versions of these platforms, rather than using the basic, free versions.
- Email remains an important tool for initial communications with clients and for documented communications, both internally and externally.
- Live chat options have become increasingly popular among virtual law firms, especially for initial inquiries that don’t yet require confidentiality or one-on-one communications.
The key among all these options is to find a virtual communications infrastructure that works for you.
Having a clear idea about what communications options your law firm will use, and when, can go a long way towards simplifying your transition to a remote law office.
2. Ensure a Smooth Digital Document Transition
No legal practice can operate without documents. Fortunately, plenty of options now exist for these documents to be handled virtually. In other words, when you go remote, you no longer have to instruct your clients to print out, sign, scan, and email documents.
Instead, look for digital software alternatives. E-signature software like DocuSign is a great start, and signatures submitted through the software are as valid as they would be in person.
Make sure that the software you choose is both easy to use and has the necessary safeguards in place to keep your documents safe and protected.
Depending on the size of your office and the volume of cases, it might also make sense to look into more comprehensive digital document management platforms.
The right tools will replace your physical filing cabinet while also allowing you to create form letters and other standard pieces to streamline your files and move all of your documents online.
3. Select a Practice Management Software Platform
You may have heard of practice management software program. These comprehensive platforms take all your daily administrative work into the cloud. That reduces the time you spend on administrative tasks and ensures that those tasks can be completed from anywhere.
Platform features will differ depending on the vendor you choose, but you can expect the same core functionality for most available options:
- Case management to keep all of your information and documentation related to a specific case in an easy-to-find spot.
- Document management or integration with your existing document management software.
- Billing processes that can be automated and make payments easier for your clients.
- Contact management to keep track of all your current and prospective clients and their interactions with your firm.
- Calendar management to help you manage your appointments, deadlines, and court dates.
- Timesheet and expense tracking to help you optimize the ways you spend your time and charge your clients.
At its best, practice management software helps everyone in the office get their tasks done more efficiently — from any location in the world. That doesn’t just optimize your time; it also ensures that more time can be spent actually helping your clients and solving their legal concerns.
4. Revise Your Policies to Reflect the Realities of Remote Work
In a virtual environment, your employees – from administrative staff to partners – will likely work differently. Your office policies should adjust to the new nature of your office, which can include any number of things:
- Structure around flexible hours to ensure you have coverage for client needs.
- Rules and guidelines around virtual meetings, from keeping cameras on to muting microphones and using virtual backgrounds that represent your law firm.
- Rules and guidelines regarding what meetings you can record, and where those recordings should be stored for maximum confidentiality and safety.
- Document and online security procedures to make sure your data remains confidential and protected from cyber attacks or inadvertent disclosures.
Your office policies should account for the nuances you face in your new environment. Don’t be afraid to adjust them over time, either. When you encounter new situations and challenges, you should add to your employee handbook to help set expectations in the firm.
5. Create a Cutting-Edge Website and Legal Marketing Strategy
With your backend structure in place, it’s time to think about exactly how you want to present yourself to potential clients. That process begins and ends with your website.
For any virtual business, the website acts as the front door and lobby. It’s crucial for both first impressions and in-depth information that your audience needs to decide whether they should work with you.
It needs to be professional, user-friendly, and easy to control and update on your end.
A great website also means optimizing it so that your law firm can be found easily in online searches. That process of search engine optimization (SEO) is especially important for virtual law firms.
Law firm SEO is nuanced and requires optimizing your content and user experience. But its potential return on investment (ROI) is significant, which makes sense considering that 96% of people use a search engine when looking for legal advice.
Beyond SEO, your law firm can also benefit from a number of other tactics to complete your legal marketing strategy:
- A strong social media presence, including channels like Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn, and Twitter. Each of these networks offers paid and organic options to drive awareness and engagement among prospective clients.
- A legal content marketing strategy that places value above promotion. By creating relevant content for your audience, you can enhance your SEO while at the same time building credibility and filling out your client funnel.
- A mobile content and marketing approach that accounts for the expectations and preferences of your audience, who are increasingly using smartphones and tablets to browse the internet and find the information they need.
Each of these is an important piece of the larger legal marketing puzzle. But they can all play a role in building and improving your SEO, enhancing your online presence, and making your website easier to find for prospective clients and other audiences.
6. Work With the Right Partner to Manage Your Virtual Law Firm Marketing
Looking at the above steps might be daunting at first. Moving your law firm into a virtual environment requires significant planning and effort. The good news: you don’t have to be on your own.
In fact, finding the right partners is a crucial piece of the equation. That’s especially true with a complex topic like SEO, which might otherwise overwhelm the larger process and impede your long-term success.
Working with a reputable legal SEO company can be a great asset to your transition. By asking the right questions before hiring a law firm seo company, you can ensure that the partner you choose can help, instead of simply offering empty promises.
Those questions also help you select a partner who doesn’t just focus on a narrow piece of the puzzle, but manages your entire legal marketing efforts.
If you’re ready to take that step, let’s talk! Our experience in the legal industry might just be the perfect fit for your law firm as you transition to a virtual practice.
Ethics Rules to Keep in Mind When Transitioning to a Remote Law Firm
Now that we’ve discussed the steps it takes to move your firm into a virtual environment, it’s crucial to address an attorney’s ethical duties as they relate to a remote law practice.
Due to the widespread transition to remote work during COVID-19, the American Bar Association (ABA) issued guidance in December 2020 clarifying that attorneys may practice law remotely, so long as they practice the law of the jurisdiction in which they are licensed.
Additionally, if attorneys practice law in a different jurisdiction from which they are licensed, they must ensure that the remote jurisdiction authorizes them to do so.
Moreover, they must not hold out to the public that they are authorized to practice law in the remote jurisdiction (e.g., by establishing a business address or advertising their services in the remote jurisdiction).
The ABA issued additional guidance in March 2021 to address ethical issues surrounding the operation of a virtual practice. Here are some key considerations to take into account when practicing law remotely:
- In order to fulfill the ethical duties of competence (Rule 1.1), diligence (Rule 1.3), and communication (Rule 1.4), attorneys should have a plan to keep clients informed and ensure their case is moving forward, which we discussed earlier in steps 1-3.
- Lawyers who practice virtually must take reasonable precautions to safeguard confidential information (Rule 1.6). This can include using secure internet access, using strong passwords, implementing a data breach policy in the event of being hacked, encrypting information, and disabling the listening capacity of any devices used outside of the law practice.
- A managing attorney’s duty of supervision (Rule 5.1) isn’t affected by the conversion to a virtual practice, even though it may be more challenging to supervise remote workers.
Accordingly, managing attorneys should implement policies to ensure that all employees of the firm are adhering to professional standards, addressing issues such as the use of secure methods of communication and storage thereof, resolving conflicts of interest, maintaining deadlines, and tracking client funds.
It’s crucial to remain updated on your state’s Rules of Professional Conduct and any clarifying guidance issued by your state’s Bar or the ABA, even when practicing law remotely. By following the steps outlined above and diligently following legal ethical rules, you are well on your way to establishing a successful virtual law practice.