Rise of the Remote Lawyer

It’s no secret that the virtual practice of law is on the rise.

by: Anjali Nowakowski

This new work style is especially prevalent among younger, more entrepreneurial attorneys, as practicing law remotely offers several benefits that firm life or in‑house life cannot compete with.

Even just five years ago, the idea of an entirely virtual practice was unheard of. The ability to interface with clients face-to-face was considered paramount in the legal profession. However, just like the internet changed everything else, it changed the practice of law.

Younger, tech-savvy clients are no longer interested in taking the time to go into their attorney’s office unless they absolutely must, especially for practice areas like tech, data privacy, internet law, or intellectual property. Most clients want their legal services like they want everything else: online, fast, and perfectly tailored to their needs.

Some practice areas, such as family law or personal injury, may not lend themselves perfectly to an entirely virtual practice. However, that doesn’t mean that lawyers practicing in these areas can’t use the principles of virtual practice to work remotely more often. Whether that remote work involves sitting at home on a couch with your laptop or traveling full-time for 11 months out of the year, these days, if attorneys want to try working remotely, they have all the tools available.

Why More Attorneys Are Turning to Remote or Entirely Virtual Practice:

Reasons attorneys pursue virtual practice are highly individual. However, there are certain commonalities, especially in newly licensed, entrepreneurial lawyers.

Better work-life balance:

Many new attorneys desire a better work-life balance than has been possible in the history of the profession before. Working 80-100 hours a week at a Big Law firm, having no time for oneself, just isn’t cutting it for young lawyers. Working remotely offers the possibility of practicing law while having the exact work-life balance that you want.

Lower overhead:

For firms that are entirely virtual, overhead costs are much lower. Without needing to pay for a commercial lease or in-person staff, more of what comes into the firm is pure profit.

The ability to work less:

Because of lower overhead, firms with a purely virtual practice can allow their attorneys to work less but earn the same amount of money. Many young lawyers are choosing to open their own virtual practices, giving them the freedom to work as much or as little as they want.

Having a niche practice, unbundled legal services:

A virtual practice allows attorneys to focus on an area they would like to practice. Not only that, remote lawyers can provide unbundled, one-off legal services to clients that need them. For example, lawyers in the commercial contract sector, specializing in digital business, can connect with clients to draft one-off documents without being a full-service legal firm.

How to Develop a Remote Practice:

You can easily develop a remote practice, whether you wish to run an entirely virtual law firm or simply work at home more. To get started with remote practice, consider the following:

Decide what type of practice you’d like to run.

If you would like a more traditional practice, like a full-service firm, decide that before you get started. If, instead, the idea of providing unbundled legal services sounds good to you, figure out how that will look. If you’re transitioning practice areas to start your virtual firm, you’ll need to get competent in your desired area before taking on clients.

Set up systems to stay in line with your state’s bar rules.

Even if you’re practicing entirely remotely, you’ll still need to make sure you stay in line with your state’s bar rules. A completely virtual practice lends itself to online advertising, but it’s likely your state has specific restrictions on what you can say in your ads. Your state may also have rules on having a physical office space, which you should know before you open your firm.

Beware of UPL

Just because you can take clients from anywhere doesn’t mean you should take clients from everywhere. Do not get into the unauthorized practice of law. Only take clients from states in which you are licensed.

Consider Getting a Coach

The virtual practice of law is very new, so you probably won’t be able to find a mentor as you traditionally would. Legal networking groups may be useful to meet people, but to have a truly successful virtual practice, you’ll need at least some mentorship from someone who has done it before. Consider finding a coach online to help you build your business.

Create Boundaries for Yourself

Maintain a good work-life balance. Once you’ve got your practice up and running, set clear boundaries for yourself so that you don’t burn out. The virtual practice of law is not going away. In fact, it’s a trend that is just beginning. More and more attorneys are realizing they can have the career they want, as well as the life they want, and virtual practice is the way to do that.