Still, providing a wide array of legal services without the comfort of an office in the right part of town, or a receptionist, or an accounting staff? Barbarism!? It's a scary thought. Or is it?
Let's face it. Times are tough. In Los Angeles, where I live and work, despite real-estate market reports, rents, in many cases are going up. Group health insurance policy premiums continue to rise. IT costs for the mid to boutique size firms is out of hand (Does it really cost that much to maintain a server five end user terminals?). Frankly, it's expensive to run a traditional law firm. Practitioners are in a pinch. On top of all these fiscal challenges, clients call looking for a break. After all, times are tough for everyone.
The current economic climate makes everyone stop and think. Legal professionals are looking for ways to cut down on overhead for sure. Lower overhead means more profit. Lower overhead also allows one to pass some of the savings on to clients who, no doubt, feel the crunch of the recession as much as anyone.
Several years ago, the American Bar Association published an editorial in which a simple question was asked. What is a virtual law firm? The answer? It's a firm that:
- Has a stable core group of attorneys;
- Has established collaborative relationships with other, specialized law firms that possess expertise that's occasionally needed;
- Is glued together with appropriate computer and telecommunications technology; and,
- Expands and reduces personnel as needed.
This piece written almost 6 years ago holds much of the same relevance today. If anything, technology has leapt forward, making, at least, step three easier to realize if one knows how to approach it. With a good understanding of step three all of the other steps are icing on the cake, though no less important.
There are many ways in which ''virtual firms''' can take advantage of current tech- hiring contract employees who work from home via the internet, creating the infrastructure to support those employees - from billing, written e-communication, and web-based software applications (ala Google) to web-based telecommunications for a seemingly centralized office phone system to remote meetings with clients and colleagues - there are hundreds of options. It's no longer about bringing clients to you via the web. It's about managing work flow in an internet-based environment.
All of these technologies have the advantage of any time and any place access. Gone, to a significant degree, are the hassles of hardware purchases, update, upgrades and maintenance.
There are many on-line services available to practitioners, as well, that specializes in e-filing and act as a liaison between local courts and law practices. Most local courts, though this is slowly changing, still do not adhere to the stringent Federal guidelines that are currently in place regarding e-filing.
The long and the short of it - business models, like anything, need to adapt to the times. Luckily, there are many avenues for entrepreneurial lawyers to explore in the virtual and tech realm and many sources to be tapped into.
Our next piece will focus on telecommunications. To Web or Not to Web?
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Harrison Barnes is the legal profession's mentor and may be the only person in your legal career who will tell you why you are not reaching your full potential and what you really need to do to grow as an attorney--regardless of how much it hurts. If you prefer truth to stagnation, growth to comfort, and actionable ideas instead of fluffy concepts, you and Harrison will get along just fine. If, however, you want to stay where you are, talk about your past successes, and feel comfortable, Harrison is not for you.
Truly great mentors are like parents, doctors, therapists, spiritual figures, and others because in order to help you they need to expose you to pain and expose your weaknesses. But suppose you act on the advice and pain created by a mentor. In that case, you will become better: a better attorney, better employees, a better boss, know where you are going, and appreciate where you have been--you will hopefully also become a happier and better person. As you learn from Harrison, he hopes he will become your mentor.
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