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This is Not Your Father's (or Mother's) Law Practice: Expert Reveals How and Why Virtual Attorneys Practice ''Their Way''

published June 18, 2007

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( 110 votes, average: 4 out of 5)
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But this is 2007, and this archetype image of lawyer life is giving way to a visionary assortment of young attorneys who are setting up shop, not in the finest buildings on Main Street, but in the comfortable confines of home sweet home.

I am not a lawyer myself, but I work with virtual lawyers every day. I have the opportunity to see, up close and personal, how they compete with established storefront firms right from the back bedrooms of their homes. I see virtual attorneys prosper—dressed in t-shirts and jeans—from command centers equipped with little more than a desk, a PC, and a cell phone that subs for a second line.

What's driving young lawyers virtual?

What's driving this uprising? Why are so many attorneys turning their backs on the conventional practice of law? After all, not long ago, running a business from your house was considered...well...embarrassing. And for attorneys—men and women who enjoy one of the most prestigious professional degrees any human can earn—a home-based law practice was nearly unthinkable.

From where I sit, these are the reasons for the change:
  • Technology—Of course, the world of virtual law wouldn't work for a minute without technology and plenty of it. A virtual attorney may work out of a garage apartment at a worn-out desk, but one thing is for sure: there's no worn-out PC sitting on top of that desk. FindLaw can't be found without an efficient computer and the ability to make it perform.
  • The rising cost of commercial space—Prime office space—the kind you always assumed you'd invite your clients into—can be a risky expense. One virtual attorney told me, "When you can work from the peace and quiet of your house and still have a successful practice, why get bogged down with real estate?"
  • And speaking of real estate, why commit to a five-year lease if you already own a storefront presence known as...a website?
  • The desire for a balanced life—University of Houston law school professor Joan Krause said she's seen a change in law students over the last several years. Houston Chronicle legal reporter Mary Flood quoted Krause in a recent article: "It's possible that young lawyers' parents fit the typical (overworked) lifestyle, and they don't want to emulate it."
  • The yearning for mobility—One woman who presides over an intellectual property practice from her two-bedroom apartment told me it was the simple desire for freedom that clinched her decision to design a virtual career. "I'm not interested in being tied to the responsibilities of walls and floors and furniture," she said. "I don't want to hire employees who must be tended and fed with health insurance, time off, and 401(k) plans. I can work from home at a fraction of the cost and a fraction of the stress—and be where my clients need me to be, no strings attached."

Secrets of successful virtual lawyers

The nagging question is "How do virtual lawyers manage to have their cake and eat it, too? How do they pull off doing business in a bathrobe and still compete toe-to-toe with the pinstripes downtown?"

I can't tell you how every home-based attorney manages his or her practice, but I can share at least two major ways the virtual lawyers my company serves maintain images equal to those of the best brick-and-mortar firms around:
  • They employ a remote receptionist. A remote receptionist has the same skills as a receptionist who works in any business office—maybe better. Remote receptionists, also known as virtual receptionists, screen calls and announce them. They are trained to speak authoritatively by the lawyer about his or her practice, to follow instructions precisely, and to never, ever breach client confidentiality. If a virtual attorney instructs our remote receptionist to always put his mother's calls through but to never connect his brother, then that's what she'll do. If a virtual lawyer asks the remote receptionist to patch all calls through to her cell phone from 1:00 to 3:00 p.m. and then to her friend's house from 3:00 to 5:00 p.m., she'll do just that.

    But don't ask a remote receptionist to handle calls after 5:00 p.m., because virtual receptionists don't operate like answering services. They are administrative professionals who work regular office hours just as receptionists in traditional law firms do. For the record, the real star in a remote receptionist's crown is the way he or she uses our Follow-Me® communication technology to seamlessly connect calls to wherever a virtual lawyer happens to be—at home or on vacation on the other side of the continent. While all of this behind-the-scenes communications technology does its job, the caller never has a clue that the remote receptionist isn't working just outside the boss's office.
  • They have access to a remote office. Virtual lawyers may prefer working from home, but they don't like taking depositions in their living rooms or meeting new clients over lattes at Starbucks. So they rent remote offices or conference rooms on an hourly or daily basis. And virtual lawyers who need luxury business addresses to stay competitive rent mailboxes in our building where they can pick up the mail themselves or have a virtual assistant package it and mail it to them at home the same day the mail carrier delivers it.

Not every young lawyer dreams of stepping out and establishing a home-based virtual practice, but for those who do, the options can be remarkable. I know. I see it work every day.

About the Author:

Father and son team Ron and Iain Clarke own and operate Intelligent Office, a company that specializes in virtual officing and phone-reception support. The Intelligent Office "Attorney Today" program is a mix of office operational services that can be combined or used separately, often for less than $300 a month. For more information about "Attorney Today" and Intelligent Office, call Ron or Iain Clarke in Houston at 281-657-3300 or visit

published June 18, 2007

( 110 votes, average: 4 out of 5)
What do you think about this article? Rate it using the stars above and let us know what you think in the comments below.