Considerations for Virtual Law Firm Offices

Rent is one of the largest expenditures for law firms, sometimes accounting for up to 10 percent of their gross sales. It’s also not uncommon for workers in large cities to commute to their offices for more than an hour. Most clients today are more interested in efficiency and affordable prices than in the grandeur of their law firm. For this reason, companies are choosing a different way of working: virtual offices.

Marcia Watson Wasserman, Founder and President of Comprehensive Management Solutions, Inc., is the consulting COO for boutiques and midsize law firms, helping numerous lawyers build and maintain virtual offices. She joined the Law Firm Marketing Catalyst podcast to share her expertise and advice for lawyers considering making the move to virtual work.

Know who you are working with

With a virtual office, you can’t stop by a coworker’s office or meet them in the hallway. They won’t see what they do on a daily basis so you need to trust that they have the same goals, work ethic, and commitment to corporate culture as you. Marcia notes that people who worked together in a stationary company before virtualization work best because a personal relationship and a sense of trust are already established. Going virtual will find or at least spend a lot of time with colleagues you already know personally before committing to anything.

Understand your technical tools

It is impossible to have a virtual business without the help of cloud-based technology tools. To have a successful virtual company everyone needs to be an expert on these tools. Law firms are notorious for buying software and then failing to learn how to use it – that won’t work with a virtual law firm. You need remote systems and procedures that will streamline your practice and benefit your clients, and everyone needs to be familiar with them. You need to invest at least money and training time in document management software, video conferencing software, customer portals for paying bills, collaboration tools and of course encryption and data security tools.

Maintain communication

How to delegate work, how to give feedback, how to manage work between teams, when and how to hold meetings – these questions are equally important in virtual and stationary companies. However, in virtual businesses, it becomes even more important that you speak about it openly and have communication systems in place. If communication is only via email, it can easily break down. Video conferencing, phone calls, and scheduled communications are the antidotes to this problem. The virtual connection must also be supported at least annually through personal events such as retreats and social gatherings. Maintaining communication in a virtual law firm is not only important for customer work, but also for maintaining the corporate culture.

Working from home sounds great, but it’s not for everyone. Some people feel lonely working remotely. Others get distracted or lack the motivation to work when they are out of the office. Just like lawyers, support professionals need to have the right personality and skills to work virtually. Another aspect that you should consider with the support staff is the wage and working time laws at your location. Most support staff are not exempt, and you need to consider oversight, insurance, and the myriad of issues that arise when staff work remotely. Management problems don’t go away when the support staff is out of sight.

Use the time to network

Virtual work doesn’t mean staring at the computer all day at home. Most of the work can be done from your home office, but networking can still be done in person. Join organizations, go to meetings, and attend events to keep in touch with your job and your co-workers. Virtual work also offers more flexibility to meet customers and attend events important to their industry. You will get to know your customers on a deeper level, which they will appreciate, and it will get you out of your home office – a win for everyone.

If you can’t go completely virtual, start small

Not every company is good at virtual work, but many companies can use some of its elements to their advantage. In large cities in particular, more and more companies are using co-working spaces or opening small external offices that are more convenient for lawyers to reach. With more lawyers working away from the main office some days a week, the next logical step for some firms is to encourage office sharing. It is a huge cultural shift for partners to share an office, but it can offer huge savings in space and costs, and this concept usually doesn’t put off young employees.

© 2021 Berbay Marketing & Public Relations National Law Review, Volume X, Number 196

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