Before Covid-19 online law firms were often viewed with intrigue, but not taken seriously.
“That model would never suit us” – “Our clients are different, they would only ever meet us in person”- “We couldn’t possibly have all our appointments online”.
And “the cloud?! Oh well, that’s not secure”.
Then, almost overnight, there was little other choice.
Lawyers who wanted to continue to serve had to adapt, and quickly.
Suddenly lawyers were asking – what’s that technology you use? You have an online law firm don’t you? How do I start? What do I do?
Lawyers started using video conferencing software for appointments, and then realised that if they could do appointments and emails online, and they had an online client portal for documents then, was there any necessity for a bricks and mortar space again or at all?? If staff can work remotely and online, and clients can be served that way too, well…
Online law firms began over 10 years ago. In 2015 there were less than 50 virtual law firms worldwide. In 2020 I can only guess; perhaps there is a new one set up every week, every day now even. Some have hundreds of lawyers behind the scenes whilst others (like me so far) are a one woman band. Some have full service offerings, whilst others specialise in particular areas.
The benefits of online law firms are obvious – less overhead costs, computers, printers, filing, IT, maintenance, and the elephant in the room, that expensive real estate. The ability to engage lawyers with skills that suit your firm who literally live anywhere, and can work from anywhere and may even already have a broad client base has got to be invaluable. A flexible, lean machine that allows for more profitability.
As more employees have tasted the flexibility that is remote working, they will demand change from employers. The ability to create a better work-life balance, has been high on the agenda for many employees for years; Mums in particular who need flexibility over further financial reward. And the attraction of fancy real estate and fancy dinners is pretty hard to sell to young new recruits in a lock down. What’s more, being virtual means that small businesses can compete for these recruits, particularly as they often let the lawyers keep a high proportion of their costs.
The benefits to clients of online law firms are less immediately apparent, but they are numerous. More affordable solutions, a better quality of service, quicker service, and the ability to compare prices and skills easily. Fixed cost, flexible and valuable online legal solutions. The online law firm is by nature customer centric. It focusses on the client experience. It tweaks and tweaks and seeks feedback consistently.
As much as 2020 has been a horror, it has forced change in the legal profession, and ensured that law firms adopt technology so that they can best serve their clients changing needs. It has also meant questioning a business model of hourly billing and time sheets where many clients fail to see value and many lawyers burn out with unrealistic targets.
In the last 10 years the online law firm has gone from unicorn, to mainstream. It is hard to know how exactly brick and mortar law firms are going to compete. The legal profession is not immune to tech trends although in many respects it has acted as much.
Perhaps this is not the beginning of the end of bricks and mortar law firms, there is certainly still a place for face to face. It helps us to feel valued, and communication, trust and understanding are enhanced. There is group morale of gathering in person in a community, and there is beautiful learning through osmosis where young lawyers get to hang out with the wise. But we are able to encourage this in other settings. There is the flexibility for lawyers without a particular office space to still meet each other and clients face to face in co-working spaces, conference rooms, cafes or even more familiar settings like homes.
Now it’s in the hands of clients to decide what legal services they value. What do clients consider to be legal expertise? How do clients prefer their legal services to be delivered? And what results do clients want? It is our clients that will determine what direction the legal profession goes, and online law firms are best positioned to cater for their needs.
Of course, now that you know I run an online law firm, if you’d like to find out more, please contact me here or keep exploring our website.