Sounds awesome. How do I get started? Before you hang that virtual shingle, do your research! All states are not created equal. Each state has specific rules regarding virtual work and the legal practice.
Three Things to Research Before Opening a Virtual Law Firm
- Step 1: Bona Fide Office Requirements. Start by researching to determine if your state requires that your firm have an actual, bona fide physical office space. Each state differs on what constitutes a bona fide office so don’t just assume that a bona fide office requirement in one state will have the exact same requirements in another state. Some states simply require a physical address located within that state. Other states require a brick and mortar law firm where attorneys are physically present a certain number of hours per week.
- Step 2: Scope of Services. You also need to consider the scope of the services that you are offering virtually. For instance if you are providing limited scope or “unbundled” representation, which refers to services in which you limit the attorney-client relationship to only providing assistance with parts but not necessarily all of the client’s legal matter, then you will need to look to the practice and ethics rules of your state to ensure that you are in compliance. As an example, some states do not permit ghostwriting when you are merely assisting with the drafting of a document. In those states, you would need to disclose your assistance to the court or somewhere on the document.
- Step 3: Choosing Your Law Practice Management Software. Law practice management software is a great tool to utilize in improving efficiency in any law firm. Many law practice management offerings include a client portal option. It’s imperative in a virtual law firm to utilize a client portal. It is one of the most distinctive features of a virtual practice.
There are several other things you will also want to consider when choosing your law practice management software. Make sure it is user friendly and secure. Most providers will allow you to try a trial subscription of the service, which also gives you access to tutorials and articles on its’ features.Take advantage of those. It will also save you a lot of time if your law practice management software offers intake and document automation. Other considerations include whether the software allows for online payments, what communication tools are available for internal and client communications, do you have the ability to exchange documents, and is there a method for conducting conflict checks.
Choosing a law practice management system that is best suited for your firm is the priority. Research what integrations are available with the law practice management software. If the software does not provide a certain feature but it integrates with a service providing that feature then that software may still be a good fit. Also, you may already be using certain services that you prefer. If the software integrates with the services you already use it will be even easier to transition to a virtual practice.