Tips & Tricks

Building Your Virtual Firm

By Dan Lear
December 19, 2018

Listen, I’ve been shouting here for a while on the LAWCLERK blog about the power and opportunity that technology and the internet offer lawyers of all stripes today. But maybe we haven’t talked basics.

So, how can you build the firm of tomorrow, today? What are the pieces? Where do you find them? How do they fit together?

There’s a lot here, but one of the biggest and most intimidating pieces is human capital: the people or resources you need to build something that scales in the modern world. With that in mind, here are some simple building plans for the modern virtual law firm.

1. Reception

One of the first questions you might ask, particularly if you’re coming from the safe confines of a “larger” firm is “Who is going to answer the phones?” OK, yeah, that sounds a bit Mad Men-esque, but still, if you expect a fair number of inbound calls (say you’re doing personal injury or another high volume practice) you’ll never get any work done if you’re answering the phone all day. I recently spoke with a lawyer who has built a legal ethics practice with a nationwide presence. He left a large firm and started out on his own. While he didn’t expect a significant volume of calls, one of his first questions for the virtual reception service he was working with was “What do you do with sales calls from vendors?” Their answer: “We make them go away.” He was hooked. Options for virtual reception abound. A few examples with which I’m familiar include Ruby Receptionist, Smith.ai, Answer1, and PATLive. All offer differing pricing plans and capabilities, so do your homework to be sure you get the one that works for you.

2. Legal Assistant

This may overlap some with the reception service. But, depending upon the direction you go it’s worth exploring especially for those practices that heavily utilize assistants. I’ve experimented some with virtual assistants mostly at the low end of the market. In my experience competence and sophistication seems to scale with cost. You get what you pay for. I’ve used “per-hour” personal assistant services and gotten mixed results. I’ve bought per hour or credit WordPress assistance and, mostly, been satisfied. I’ve not tested legal-specific virtual assistance programs. I hesitate to recommend any specific services because those that I used weren’t great and I haven’t heard from others about specific services they like. That said, there is a wealth of information on how to find, hire, and work with a virtual assistant online. My quick search revealed, as could be expected, that sites like UpWork or VANetworking perform well and, more surprisingly, that mining your Twitter network or looking on Craigslist also came highly recommended. I was also intrigued by Zirtual, but haven’t tried them.

Also, want to give a quick shout-out for my favorite hack in this department, x.ai. For as low as $8/month you can get a virtual robot assistant that schedules meetings for you. Some prior users have had mixed results but I’ve had the x.ai robot assistants Amy or Andrew schedule hundreds of meetings for me over the last year and I don’t think that the error rate has been any higher than it would have been had I had a human assistant or just been working directly with the party or parties on the other end. I’m a big fan.

3. Legal Help (Paralegal and Lawyer)

Finding qualified contract legal help is hardly a new problem. Freelance lawyers and others have been advertising in bar magazines and other similar ways for some time. But (again, as I’ve mentioned here a bunch) the internet has blown a gaping hole in the walls of cost and access and there are now countless opportunities to find quality affordable legal contract help. On the paralegal front a quick Google search for freelance paralegal services reveals a number of services ready to deliver well qualified paralegals to your virtual office door. But things get really interesting on the lawyer front. Of course, there is Axiom or Flex by Fenwick for BigLaw but what about for the rest of us? Axiom isn’t really banging down the doors of small firms. What would one look for in an outsourcing provider, at least when getting started? One thing would be a limited obligation: you don’t want to be stuck with some company or some outsourced resource if it’s just not working out. Finding a resource that offers per-engagement pricing and transacting seems like a smart first step. That would make it easy to predict and control costs. Ideally, you also want to resource that offers a breadth of expertise as far as practice area as well as experience. Finally you want something that scales permitting you to start small and grow to achieve your grand ambitions. Not surprisingly LAWCLERK does all of these things: LAWCLERK doesn’t require long term contracts and the hiring attorney always gets to choose their freelancer (we call them Lawclerks); all LAWCLERK engagements are priced at a fixed fee on a per-transaction basis; the LAWCLERK platform has Lawclerks from across the country, with a wide variety of years in practice, and practice areas; and with the new LAWCLERK “Teams” feature you can build a flexible virtual team of preferred freelancers that you know and trust, allowing you to scale up and down as needed. Also, on the paralegal front (as I’ve written here) while all Lawclerks are lawyers they are hired as paraprofessionals. So, if the price is right, you can get the expertise of a lawyer at paralegal rates.

Building a virtual law firm isn’t easy. It’s just as hard (maybe harder because it’s a newer thing) as building a “bricks and mortar” firm. But it’s not complex. The building blocks are all available - in fact, they’re probably easier to find, procure, and put together than they’ve ever been. With human (and robot) capital just a few clicks away and tons of online guides, like these, getting up to speed on where and how to begin is pretty easy.

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