January 31, 2014

Launching a Virtual Law Firm

Chad E. Burton

When running a business, you should always look forward while remembering past lessons and current circumstances. As lawyers, we have an interesting perspective that is beaten into our heads from the first day of law school: We always look to the past for precedent. In other words, how we operate on a day-to-day basis relies heavily on the way things were done in the past. You take existing court cases and laws and apply them to your facts at hand. On occasion you get to be creative and push new solutions, which, not surprisingly, are largely based on the past.

The common mantra is that you need to be running your firm like a business. This is true whether you’re a solo, small firm, mid-size firm, or big firm. The larger the firm, the more this mindset has been in place for years.

It gets interesting at the solo and small firm level. Many lawyers are not trained and educated on business processes. So, you either need to go and seek outside help or do it yourself. When starting a firm on a limited budget, lawyers tend to gravitate toward the latter: self-help. This is not a bad thing. It just ups the learning curve and the fun of getting started. The hope is that we recognize our limitations on running a business and eventually get help when resources exist.

So, how does the concept of the “virtual office” fit into all this? The virtual law firm is an emerging business model that helps lawyers think differently about how to operate their practice. It is a forward-looking mode of delivering client service. It runs counter to lawyers’ training on looking backward. This is a fascinating dynamic that we will explore in this piece. In particular, we will look at the concept of virtual law firms, how to launch one, different means of collaborating in such an environment, and the technology behind virtual firms.

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