Today’s digital age has taken the practice of law leaps and bounds ahead of where it was just a few years ago, making virtual law firms more and more common. And there’s no turning back. Despite this, there are still many misconceptions about what a virtual law firm is and how it operates. This article dispels 10 of the most common myths we hear when it comes to practicing at a modern law firm. But first… let’s get into the definition of a virtual firm.
What is a virtual law firm?
Put simply, a virtual law firm or distributed law firm allows its attorneys and non-legal team to work remotely using legal technology to accomplish any task that you’d find within the practice of law.
The reality is it’s a little more complex than that. “Virtual Law Firm” is a relatively new term that is often used to describe all types of modern law firms. At its core, a virtual law firm aims to give attorneys more autonomy over where and when they practice law. The best virtual law firms use modern-day technology to create a platform for a decentralized, efficient, and profitable firm. Attorneys regain control over their practice with higher takeaway pay thanks to decreased overhead costs and a tech-forward environment.
It’s no surprise these benefits have led to virtual law firms’ increasing popularity. The flexibility and cost-effective business practices just make sense. On top of that, clients receive top-tier services with more tailored fee arrangements when using a virtual law firm. All these benefits leave some people assuming they’re too good to be true, but we’re here to share why modern law firms really are as good as they sound by busting 10 myths we hear from the traditional side of law.
What are the myths about a virtual law firm?
Myth #1: A virtual law firm attracts low quality attorneys
Virtual law firms are decentralized, which means they can accommodate and recruit top tier attorneys from anywhere in the world rather than being limited to a single location. This creates a full-service law firm with attorneys across jurisdictions, many with international experience.
Virtual law firms are not for everyone as they do require a level of entrepreneurial drive and self-motivation because of the remote environment. This ends up an ideal situation for attorneys that have experience at senior levels, whether that’s in house or in Big Law. Because the work product has to speak for itself without the chandeliers and lavish offices as a distraction, attorneys at virtual law firms really do put their best foot forward.
At Practus, 45% of our law firm attorneys have worked at AmLaw 200 firms while 20% of our attorneys with in house experience worked at Fortune 500 companies. They spent years honing in on their craft before deciding they needed more autonomy over their law practice and joining the virtual firm environment.
Myth #2: Attorneys at virtual law firms are lonely and disconnected
The best way to bust this myth is to share a quote from attorney, Andrea Shaw:
“I’ve felt more connected joining Practus (a virtual law firm, in the middle of a global pandemic) than I did when joining my previous law firm.”
Connecting with each other online is not a new concept. Most of us connect more with people online than in person these days; it’s the same for attorneys at virtual firms. The biggest difference is virtual law firms have the technology infrastructure designed to make relationship building and working together easier than ever.
Whether you’re connecting with attorneys outside your practice area on a complex legal issue or working with attorneys within your same field, connecting is as simple as a video call or quick instant message in the chat.
Myth #3: Virtual law firms don’t have a work culture
When virtual law firms make it easy to connect with each other, they’re also setting the foundation for a law firm culture. Many attorneys coming from traditional law offices are leaving a less-than-ideal law firm culture. For that reason, innovative virtual law firms are committed to creating a culture designed to promote lawyers practicing at their best while leaving behind bureaucratic distractions.
Sure, there isn’t the traditional water cooler talk, but we have virtual coffee chats and happy hours instead. You can use these to connect across practice areas, time zones, or even continents. Of course, simply having the ability to connect doesn’t create culture.
While I can’t speak for all virtual law firms, I can say Practus makes choices every day to continue developing our firm’s community and culture. We intentionally invested in this aspect of our firm because we wanted to be a law firm attorneys would want to join… and stay for years.
This culture is woven into the very fabric of Practus. It shines through during our annual celebrations, intra-firm referrals, and our hiring practices. Our law firm’s culture is different because we care. We’ve laughed together, support each other in times of need, and celebrated individual and team successes. I could give you plenty of examples of how we practice what we preach, or you could check out our blog about virtual law firm culture.
Myth #4: Brick-and-mortar office spaces don’t exist at a virtual law firm
Virtual law firms don’t have centralized office space, but they actually do have offices! The difference is that attorneys choose whether or not they want a brick-and-mortar office. So, what does that actually look like?
Attorneys that want a brick-and-mortar office space at a virtual law firm choose between:
- Companies like Industrious or Galvanize offer office spaces where attorneys can meet client or work in a focused environment without the expense of a full-time office space.
- Office share with other attorneys within the firm
- Midsized virtual law firms often have attorneys in the same city that opt to rent an office space together to share the expenses and still have a dedicated space to work.
- Dedicated office space
- Some virtual law firm attorneys choose a full-time, dedicated office space where they spend most of their workdays. This is a cost that is the sole responsibility of that attorney.
The key to virtual law firms vs. traditional law firms is that attorneys choose to have this an expense. If they don’t want an office space, then they keep those savings and pass them along to their clients or use them to expand their team.
That being said, the majority of attorneys at virtual law firms choose to primarily work out of a home office. When you join a virtual firm, you’re also joining a group of people with experience in setting up the ideal home office, meaning you’ll get guidance and advice for making a smooth transition into a home office if it’s your first time.
Myth #5: Virtual law firms don’t offer administrative support
One of the best reasons to join an established virtual law firm is the administrative support they offer. You’ll find virtual firms are backed with IT, marketing professionals, accountants, HR, and financial specialists to keep the law firm running smoothly while you focus on practicing law. At Practus, the first hire was actually our CTO to ensure our firm had the necessary support before hiring additional attorneys.
Virtual law firms have the benefit of being able to recruit across the country, so firms bring together the most innovative and skilled candidates nationwide instead of being limited to one location. Each virtual firm has a different level of support, so you can choose a law firm with the level you need.
Myth #6: Virtual law firms aren’t as profitable as traditional firms
This is the myth that is the easiest to bust. The virtual law firm model decreases overhead expenses while increasing potential revenue. Without the expense of an office, the law firm’s financial model becomes lean and efficient. These savings are usually passed onto the attorneys, which means you keep more of what you earn compared to traditional firms.
Partners’ compensation structures include intra-firm referrals and take-home pay rates higher than you’d find in a traditional firm. While most traditional firms operate on a 60/40 split of revenue, Practus partners take home 80% of the revenue they generate at the firm – you can take a look at what your potential earning capacity would be using our compensation calculator.
Myth #7: Teamwork doesn’t exist at virtual law firms – you might as well be a solo practitioner
Solo practitioner firms and virtual law firm both require an entrepreneurial drive because of the self-management it requires to work remotely as an attorney, but they’re pretty different when it comes to intra-firm dynamics. One of the biggest differences is the ability to work with other attorneys within the same firm.
Clients with complex legal issues often need attorneys licensed in different states or attorneys across practice areas. Virtual law firms make it easy to enter into joint representation and work as a team, increasing the capacity to take on these challenging legal issues.
It’s common to see teamwork from different attorneys at our firm. Sometimes, they’re referring an existing client. Other times, they’re looking to bring on a new client and need a robust legal team. And occasionally, they’re looking for a personal reference for a loved one. The virtual law firm model makes it easy to create a solid team of attorneys thanks to communication tools and document management systems supported by best-of-breed software.
Myth #8: A virtual law firm is merely a collection of attorneys
Sustainable growth isn’t possible unless it’s strategic. It is true that there are firms out there where attorneys are essentially operating under the firm name with little to do with each other, but that’s not a model that can last throughout the years.
A strategic group of attorneys that can support each other is necessary for a virtual law firm’s success and culture. Building teams with diverse skill sets and backgrounds that complement each other is the best way to make sure client matters are handled with top tier legal services. By removing the barrier of location, virtual firms can strategically grow their teams to meet workload demands and hire people with unique perspectives. This often includes candidates that might otherwise face unnecessary barriers of entry.
Myth #9: Virtual law firms can’t handle complex legal issues
This is one of the myths that we actually hear quite often, and it’s simply not the case. The ability to recruit candidates from across the globe coupled with technology infrastructure allows virtual law firms to handle complex legal issues in a more comprehensive way than many traditional firms.
An added benefit of crafting your virtual law firm team is that these attorneys are used to working in an innovative environment. Many of our partners have clients in the technology and digital asset industries, handling novel issues for their clients or acting as outsourced general counsel.
Cultivating a team of independent, motivated, and visionary lawyers representing a variety of practice and specialty areas is one of Practus’s core values, and that’s what leads to our firm being able to handle complex legal issues.
Myth #10: Technology isn’t advanced enough to have a fully virtual law firm
The ability for attorneys to work from anywhere in the world has been around for years, but many law firms have been slow to adopt it. Virtual law firms that were ahead of their time and launched pre-pandemic have used the recent development in technology to build upon their existing infrastructure instead of playing catch up.
Most of us experienced what it was like to work remotely at some point throughout the last couple of years; imagine if you could work from home with the best technology to support you. That’s what it’s like to be a virtual attorney. Practus was founded in 2018, so we’ve had time to improve upon our technology and hone in on what works for a virtual law firm. You can read all about our progress over the years in this blog. Technology is there to make our lives easier, so why wouldn’t we implement it within the legal sector?
Where can I learn more about virtual law firms?
A virtual law firm is a great way to get the best of both worlds – the autonomy of working from home with the support of a team. If you’re interested in learning more about Practus, please feel free to email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. If you’re wanting to learn a little bit more about virtual law firms first, follow our social media pages, check out the virtual law section of our blog, or dive deeper into our website here.