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The Future is Now for Attorneys with Virtual Law Offices

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Traditional professions like the legal industry aren’t immune to the transformative power of technology, which is why virtual law offices are a hot trend for solo lawyers and small firms that want to compete against their larger rivals. In fact, virtual law offices have been identified as one of the top trends reshaping the legal industry.

But exactly what is a virtual law office and how does it work? Learn more about it from Tolar Systems on today's blog.

Traditional professions like the legal industry aren’t immune to the transformative power of technology, which is why virtual law offices are a hot trend for solo lawyers and small firms that want to compete against their larger rivals. In fact, virtual law offices have been identified as one of the top trends reshaping the legal industry.

But exactly what is a virtual law office and how does it work? How does it benefit firms, clients and attorneys? And how can you create a virtual law office for your firm?

What’s a Virtual Law Office? The Basics

A virtual law office allows attorneys, support staff and other employees to work remotely, while communicating and collaborating effectively with clients, business partners and others using technology. The trend depends on the fact that today’s workers are increasingly tech savvy; they also exhibit a growing preference for working remotely. In fact, surveys indicate the vast majority prefer remote work with up to a quarter of workers already working remotely at least part time.

The law, of course, tends to resist trends unless they can be shown to be beneficial and low risk. Virtual law offices are no exception to this conservative approach. Yet, but the trend is still taking off, with more attorneys working remotely in 2017 than ever before.

Virtual law offices are a bit different than simply working from home, however. A virtual law office isn’t just a home office, for one thing. It’s a complete professional office that can be set up in a home – although it doesn’t have to be. Unlike working from home, a virtual law office is not subject to the limitations normally associated with working from home. Communication and collaboration – even client meetings – are still possible using cloud-based communication and productivity tools.

Employees cite work-life balance as one reason why virtual law offices are catching on, while firms cite the ability attract younger talent (who express a strong preference for remote work) and the ability to cut costs for office space. Some firms, in fact, are choosing to become entirely virtual – operating solely in the cloud and out of employee’s home office spaces, conducting meetings via audio and video conferencing.

A virtual law office isn’t necessarily a fit for every attorney or firm. Litigation firms, for instance, may find that working from home isn’t compatible with the need for frequent, in person meetings. But for many law professionals – particularly those in more solitary practice areas such as real estate or corporate counsel – a virtual law office may be just what your business needs to succeed. So, how does it work?

Virtual Law Office Requirements

A traditional law office might have a telephone, computers, printers, mailboxes, meeting spaces, reception, administrative staff and paralegals. In a virtual law office, there is a technology equivalent to these tools, team members and spaces.

With mobile devices, a connection to the internet and access to cloud technology, attorneys no longer need to be physically present in a professional office. Collaborating with your support team also becomes independent of your physical location as long as your administrator or paralegal has the tools needed to work independently and connect with you no matter where you are. Meetings and time-sensitive conversations can be facilitated by using audio or video conferencing tools – or even messaging applications like Slack – to quickly address any issues and then get back to focusing on work.

All that is required is a computer, secure internet access and the know-how to make all the disparate technologies work.

Making a Virtual Office Work

b2ap3 small Information Technology Dollarphotoclub 95169229 1What technology is required to make a virtual law office work? Secure access to the internet and a mobile device or computer are the must-haves. You’ll also need access to a variety of cloud-based software and applications to work productively, such as:

  • Skype or VOIP software to receive and place calls. In a virtual office setup with multiple employees, Skype can allow employees to take calls anywhere, while giving a unified and professional appearance. You can transfer calls as needed, or use an automated attendant. You can even instant message quick questions.
  • Video/Audio conferencing application that allows employees to stay in touch with clients and internal team members. Today, clients themselves often prefer to meet via conference line as it means they don’t need to take time off work to meet with you.
  • File management systems like Sharepoint that allow virtual workers to securely save, share and manage files in a centralized location. Tools such as Docusign are also useful in a virtual law office for getting document signatures on contracts.
  • General productivity software like Word, Excel, and Powerpoint for daily tasks.
  • Printers and other devices that allow documents to be generated as needed.

Other Considerations

Making a virtual law office work isn’t just about having the right technology. It’s important to keep the needs of clients at the forefront, particularly with regard to security of sensitive information. This is both a technology as well as a human issue. Here are a few tips for a smooth transition:

  • Understand your clients’ needs. A virtual law office that doesn’t deliver on client expectations won’t succeed, so make sure you fully understand what your clients actually expect from your firm. Do they really expect the cherry-paneled office, or do they mainly expect you to deliver top-notch legal expertise? Do they expect private, in-person meetings or do they prefer to meet via teleconference? How tech savvy are your clients – will they be able to keep up with your transition to a virtual law office? Or – perhaps more likely – are you lagging them when it comes to technology adoption?
  • Establish security guidelines. Virtual law offices are great but top-notch security must be a top priority to ensure client data is protected and reduce risk to the firm and its clients. Setting and enforcing appropriate security guidelines, such as where and on what devices applications are to be used, how they are to be secured, how each virtual office should be set up – is critical.
  • Set and communicate expectations. Managing people when they are working from a remote location can be a challenge, so set expectations up front. Make sure employees continue to keep regular hours, know how to get help if they need it and understand when their physical presence is required.
  • Get the right help. Virtual offices depend on technology to work, so if that technology isn’t secure or reliable, it will create a serious business problem. If your organization lacks the technological expertise to manage your virtual workers’ needs, a managed service provider like Tolar Systems can help to ensure that your workers have secure and reliable access to the tools they need to be successful.

Setting up an efficient virtual law office that serves clients and supports your business requires not just technology expertise, but knowledge of how to apply that expertise to meet the unique needs of the legal industry. Tolar Systems can help. We have the technology and legal expertise your organization needs to develop and implement standards, identify the right technology and tools, and manage those tools over the long term to ensure your clients and your business thrive. Contact us today to learn more.

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