While some professionals have long dreamed of ditching their offices to work from home, many others find themselves unwillingly operating a virtual law practice because of the pandemic. Personal injury lawyers operating a virtual law office (VLO) need to know how to manage a virtual law practice effectively and be aware of practical and ethical considerations.
Whether your law practice is virtual or operated from a brick-and-mortar office, effective communication with current and potential clients is critical for success. They must first be able to find you, then trust you and finally, understand you and follow instructions. VLOs prevent clients from meeting you face-to-face, which can make these tasks substantially more difficult.
Try using a dynamic website that clearly explains what your firm does and how it can help. Start using clickwrap/clickthrough forms to create automated intake procedures to speed the screening process. Find out how the client prefers to communicate and try to use that method as much as possible. Some clients live through text messages, while others rarely turn on their cellphones. To communicate effectively, you must know how to reach your clients consistently.
Operating online allows you to reach clients anywhere in the country. However, chances are you are not licensed in all 50 states. Take great care that your practice and marketing efforts do not leave you open to charges of "unauthorized practice of law." Electronic communications out of your jurisdiction can be treated as practicing law unless they fit under an exception in that jurisdiction's professional conduct rules.
Another critical ethics issue lawyers must consider when operating a VLO is security. It is good to establish a secure document portal or some equally useful tool to keep online communications and document transfers safe. Finally, personal injury lawyers operating a VLO also need to consider the jurisdiction's requirements regarding a physical address.
How can you collaborate efficiently with colleagues and staff working miles away?
Ensure everyone on your team has the technology they need to do their jobs, connect with other team members, and make sure your whole team uses the same platform to communicate. Then figure out a schedule that works best for your office hours to allow time for reviewing tasks and regular meetings. Putting documents in a system that can be accessed and edited by everyone who needs them will also help your team more efficient and cohesive.
Many law firms may return to traditional office routines as COVID concerns fade. In contrast, others may find that virtual operation allowed enough savings and efficiency to justify continuing as a VLO indefinitely. Whether your firm falls into one of these extremes or somewhere in the middle, the practices you establish during this time of virtual operation can lead to greater productivity far into the future.