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The Virtual Law Practice

A lawyer conjuring images of justice

For years, several industries have experience digital disruption. This began in technology-focused sectors first, but then spread rapidly to other areas. Media and entertainment giants were among the first to make the shift. This was then followed by retail and real estate sectors. Today, even healthcare organizations and networks are embracing remote health technologies to deliver their services. (Read more about how remote technologies have reshaped freelance healthcare staffing in this Bold story!)   But one industry has been slow to adopt such practices…until now. Thanks to the pandemic and changes in customer attitudes, virtual law firms are finally emerging. And the advantages of using these firms’ remote lawyers is noteworthy.

Law firms that have enabled attorneys to work independently and remotely didn’t just appear. Some have been present since the turn of the century. But what has changed is the way both attorneys and clients perceive such services. In the past, virtual law firms were considered lower in quality or lacking the potential of brick-and-mortar firms. This all changed during pandemic lockdowns, however, and today, remote lawyers are flourishing. Not only are the legal services just as professional, but they are often less expensive for clients. For these reasons, many believe virtual law firms are indeed the way of the future.

“The fact that the virtual model has worked well for lawyers and traditional law firms will certainly increase the interest from lawyers in joining a distributed model or beginning their own.” – Lisa Smith, Legal Consultant, Fairfax Associates

Different Options for Remote Lawyers

When it comes to the various options for remote lawyers, a few different models exist. Naturally, an attorney could go it alone and establish his own virtual law office. But in these situations, there’s no one to share overhead costs, and attracting clients can be difficult. Instead, remote lawyers often choose to either go with a law firm that’s either distributed or virtual in nature. This simply means that remote lawyers can work from home or wherever they choose over a virtual network. But typical expenses are shared by a community of other attorneys who prefer to be independent and remote themselves.

In both instances, attorneys get to enjoy some notable advantages. Like traditional law firms, remote lawyers can reduce their expenses by distributing them across the entire community of remote attorneys. But unlike traditional law firms, their ability to charge less and keep a higher percentage of the profits increases. Because virtual services tend to have fewer overhead costs (like physical real estate), operating expenses are reduced. Not only is this favorable for lawyers who prefer this type of remote work arrangement. It’s also beneficial to their customers who often pay less for the same services. This is why virtual law firms have such an appeal.

“People are working remotely and companies are looking for talent, so it is an all-out talent war with the best people getting the best offers.” – Raad Ahmed, Founder and CEO, Lawtrades

Virtual Law Firms – A Distributed Model

While law firms that offer remote work generally share many similarities, different approaches do exist. One approach, often referred to as a distributed model, pursues virtual law services in a more traditional manner. In other words, member attorneys fall under one firm despite its virtual nature. Common expenses to the firm like insurance, accounting, software, and marketing are shared by all remote lawyers. But individual expenses (and revenues) are assigned to the attorney themselves, and business processes improved. The biggest cost savings in this type of model involves the lack of real estate costs. Plus, this model also feels more familiar to attorneys and clients alike.

(Dive deeper into the improvement of business processes the smart way in this Bold story.)

One notable company that has taken this virtual law firms approach is FisherBroyles. Founded in 2002, the firm was way ahead of the curve. By stripping down overhead and eliminating physical offices, FisherBroyles operates on about 20 percent of gross revenues only. That means remote lawyers can keep roughly 80 percent of their billings. In addition, these same member attorneys enjoy a network of colleagues with whom they can collaborate. FisherBroyles currently has nearly 300 member attorneys with annual revenues at $136 million. And in addition, legal services tend to cost about two-thirds the price of traditional legal services.

“As working from home continues to be accepted in the marketplace, we expect more and more growth.” – James Fisher, Founder and Managing Partner, FisherBroyles

Virtual Law Firms – A Marketplace Model

Because distributed models utilize remote digital services, they are certainly considered virtual law firms. However, many now conceptualize true virtual legal services as being more grounded in digital platforms and operations. Understanding this, another approach to virtual legal services involves an online marketplace. Here, clients wanting legal services can locate, select, and work with remote lawyers to meet their specific needs. These types of marketplace law firms provide attorney profiles, matching algorithms, project tracking, and even payment systems. In essence, this is more of the “eBay” approach to virtual legal services.

A judge's gavel around a bunch of digital icons
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There are some notable companies currently in this type of space as well. Lawtrades launched in 2016 with this type of law services platform for remote lawyers. Since that time, the company has grown significantly, and it has gained quite a following. There are more than 1,000 remote lawyers and legal professionals with profiles on their site. Likewise, Lawtrades has over 80 regular clients of whom many are major companies like Doordash and Pinterest. Like the distributed model, the marketplace approach also enjoys lower overhead and boasts lower pricing. But it also allows clients the ability to target the precise legal services they need more quickly. In the last year, Lawtrades has seen 200 percent growth as a result.

Better Late Than Never

It’s evident that the legal industry certainly wasn’t the first to embrace a virtual model of practice. In fact, it may be among the very last. But that doesn’t mean the industry won’t flourish now that they have decided to go digital. Virtual law firms offer major advantages to clients and remote lawyers alike. It took a pandemic and global lockdowns to help stakeholders to realizes this. But now that they have, it’s quite likely this trend will continue to expand throughout the legal environment.


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