If you’re an attorney who has embraced the work-from-home lifestyle, you’re not alone. Many legal professionals have found they’re as efficient (or more) working from home as they would be in a conventional office, while saving significantly on overhead.
And then there are the many benefits and possibilities beyond work. For instance, one of our clients recently decided to take full advantage of a remote lifestyle and become a virtual nomad. All that was holding her back was her existing office setup—so she reached out to Equivity for help. We were able to ensure her legal operations were automated, self-regulating, and cost-effective, making it easy for her to start traveling.
Whether you have a similar ambition, or simply want to improve your efficiency or bottom line, now is the time to consider how you can become less reliant on a physical law office. Here are six steps you can take to achieve that goal.
1. Evaluate your current operations.
Are you ready to hit the road? Transitioning to a virtual office is not as daunting as it might seem. To get organized and on track, start with the following questions:
- Who handles your incoming calls? If you already delegate some or all your client communication to a virtual receptionist service or other solution, you might be ready to transition. If you don’t have assistance, consider using a virtual receptionist company, such as Ruby, which can handle calls, schedule meetings, and manage other time-consuming communication tasks 24/7.
- Are you satisfied with your current intake process? Collecting and storing all the necessary information for screening potential clients can be a job in itself. Managing your leads, following up with potential clients, and keeping your existing clients happy can be too much work for one person. Some virtual receptionist services, such as Ruby, can perform intake on your behalf while improving client satisfaction. Other options include virtual paralegals and virtual legal secretaries.
- Do you have an efficient file closing process? Take your close-file checklists and go paperless. After that, evaluate which parts of the process can be automated or passed off to someone you trust.
Make sure to adjust your internal procedures as needed. Whether that means creating or redoing intake questionnaires or drafting templates for close-file letters, optimizing and streamlining your systems is crucial for remote office success.
2. Use virtual paralegals to make your clients happy and your practice more profitable.
Retaining a virtual paralegal should be a key consideration as you seek to grow your virtual practice. Virtual paralegals are not just a way to save time, but a way to serve more clients and generate profits.
Much of the work attorneys perform—while legal in nature—is routine, and can be completed using forms, templates, or automations in applications like Clio. The right virtual paralegal will have experience in the attorney’s practice area and can assist in generating these legal documents. Instead of managing every aspect of a client’s case, you can service more clients and focus on the work that requires the legal judgment for which your clients are paying. Clients in turn can benefit from lower overall costs because they pay a paralegal rate for some tasks, rather than the full attorney rate, and you can continue to earn fees on the time worked by your paralegal, by billing out your paralegal at higher rates than the cost to you.
When charging clients for paralegal rates, you should keep the going paralegal rates in mind. For reference, NALA conducts a utilization and compensation survey every two years with this information. As of 2016, these rates averaged around $100–150 per hour, which is 2–4 times the current cost of hiring a virtual paralegal. And remember: in a remote working setup, the law firm does not have to provide the costs of office space, equipment, or other overhead that it would otherwise incur.
3. Incorporate helpful platforms, software, and other digital tools.
Technology can support us at every twist and turn in our business efforts. While navigating these options can be overwhelming, once the software or apps are implemented, they can make life much easier.
Think about using software for:
- Billing and client payments
- Document signing and e-signatures
- Lead generation and lead management
- Email marketing
- Virtual meetings or conferences
- Digital advertising and social media advertising
- Customer support and review collection
You can set up your chosen software or outsource that step to an expert, potentially saving time and hassle. As a result, you’ll keep your internal processes organized, your clients happy, and your practice profitable.
4. Use best practices to manage your virtual law firm.
Now that you have your remote team in place, you should implement processes for managing it. Not only is supervision required by the professional rules of responsibility (Model Rule 5.2 and 5.3) but implementing such procedures can yield substantial benefits, including greater efficiency and improved insights into team performance.
Here are some suggestions for implementing management procedures:
- Track staff availability. Don’t wait for an attorney or staff member to raise their hand and say that they are available for work. Have a system in place that tracks the number of hours that staff members are available, the number of hours a week they are currently working, and what they are working on.
- Schedule recurring meetings with your staff. There are nuances that can be lost in translation when using emails for professional communication. At a minimum, conference calls should be regularly scheduled to allow people to raise issues with relevant decision-makers. Another solution is video conferencing. A video call encourages participants to be present, attentive, and engaged, rather than passively listening.
- Use virtual task managers. Practice management software such as Clio allows you to automatically checklists for multiple users. To keep track of long-term commitments, be as detail-oriented as possible when creating your task lists.
- Promote communication across your remote workforce. Because remote employees do not have physical spaces in which to interact, your firm should provide a virtual forum for asking questions and creating a sense of cohesion for your firm. Several applications have instant messaging or social media-like functionalities that can make it easier for employees to interact. Examples of such applications include Zoho, Teams, and Slack. These tools provide a common space to share firm-wide updates, tap the collective wisdom of the team, and poll staff about everything from their level of engagement to tools would assist them.
- Track employee performance. Working virtually makes it more difficult to provide the sort of informal feedback that often accompanies in-office work. Making clear how you will evaluate performance and setting times to discuss that performance will aid your firm’s ability to optimize performance out of your remote workers. Performance tracking should focus on both hard and soft metrics. For example, when evaluating a remotely working attorney, hard factors to be analyzed could include the value of client accounts that the attorney has brought in, damages awards and settlements, and hours billed. Softer metrics could include work quality, team management, and development of client relationships.
Once your firm has decided on standards, make sure that those being evaluated are aware of how you are evaluating them and set aside time to do so. These can take the form of annual or bi-annual reviews, or they can be more frequent and less formal. In any case, the firm needs to ensure employees regularly receive feedback on how they are doing.
5. Refresh your marketing plan.
A common mistake law firms make is waiting for business to slow down before increasing marketing efforts. The most successful firms run marketing campaigns throughout the year, developing a healthy pipeline of clients and recurring work.
Many attorneys neglect marketing, choosing to build their practices on solely referrals. If you are one of those attorneys, you may not see the relevance of building and maintaining your firm’s online presence, especially when you are presented daily with the many other responsibilities and emergencies that come with running a law practice. But no attorney can afford to ignore their online footprint. Consumers of all services—including legal services—conduct online research before making a purchasing decision. Even if a client comes to you by way of a referral, they will almost certainly run at least a basic Google search on you before they step foot into your office.
When prospective clients Google you, you need to make sure what they find will leave a good impression. Here are a few ways you can do just that:
- Improve your website’s search engine optimization (SEO). When people perform online searches for your name or your firm’s name, you want your website to show up near the top of search results. Even if a colleague has enthusiastically recommended your firm, if you don’t show up in search, a potential client may have doubts about your firm’s reputation. You need to use the best search engine optimization practices, such as aligning your content with search intent, keeping your site mobile friendly, and improving user experience.
- Keep your website up to date. When potential clients visit your website, you can control the content they find. Make sure the information on your site is current. If your practice has changed over time—for example, if you started out as a generalist, but now specialize in small business transactional work—make sure that your website reflects what you do now, not what you did in the past. If you list favorable jury verdicts, make sure these are updated with regularity. If your most recent verdict is three years old, prospects might conclude that you’ve not accomplished much for your clients recently.
- Try content marketing. Writing about your area of expertise can be a great way to earn useful recognition online, as it not only positions you as a resource to potential clients, but as a knowledgeable source within your field as well. Write about topics of interest to your target audience. If your clients are predominantly laypeople (e.g., individuals or businesspeople), lay things out in a way that a layperson can understand them. Don’t use difficult-to-understand legal jargon. On the other hand, if you’re looking to establish yourself in the legal community as an expert in an area with the hope of generating referrals, a more detailed treatment of legal issues may be appropriate.
When you write something, make sure your audience hears about it. Make use of a regularly updated blog on your website (which will also add to your website’s SEO) and let people know about the content through your social media networks. You may also want to find guest blogging opportunities on sites that potential clients or referral sources will read.
- Stay active on social media. Not having a social media presence as a solo attorney or law firm attorney can be just as detrimental as not having a website. Being active on social media not only helps increase your validity online, but provides a platform for current and prospective clients to interact with you.
LinkedIn and Facebook are two social media networks that are particularly useful for lawyers. Outside of work, you’re probably already active on both those sites, but it’s important to ensure your law practice appears on either social network as well. Both LinkedIn and Facebook offer business pages, and you’ll want to take full advantage of these features. Create pages for your legal practice and keep them up to date just as you would your website. Use them to solicit reviews from customers, interact with visitors, and keep interested parties informed on the latest news and updates regarding your law firm.
All these tasks—SEO, website maintenance, and creating content for blogs, social media, or newsletters—is time-consuming and can require specialized expertise. Automating your marketing process and outsourcing your marketing to a professional can leave more time on your plate to focus on client cases.
6. Enjoy the benefits of your virtual law office.
And there you have it: those are the basics on going virtual. The next step is to take full advantage of your new setup. Without the overhead costs of your office, you’ll save money. You’ll also save time and have the freedom to do what you want, so explore your new independence! After all, your ability to stay productive with your caseload is not tied to your office, nor is your ability to remain connected to your clients or colleagues.
And why stop there? Working from home doesn’t have to mean simply moving your office location. In 2022, you can redefine “home.” You can be working on case files from a remote cabin in the woods, a tropical beach, a quaint European café—the possibilities are endless.
Whether you’re interested in spending more quality time with long-distance family or visiting all the countries on your bucket list, going virtual—even as an attorney—is possible, and it’s easier than ever.
Considering going virtual this year and need assistance or aren’t sure where to start? Equivity can help. Learn more and contact us at equivityva.com.
By the way, Equivity offers a 10% discount off the first month for Ruby customers! To claim the discount, get started at equivityva.com and use promo code: RUBY10