Whether starting a practice or growing an established firm, solicitors have found that virtualising their practices can lead to improved productivity; increased flexibility; and better cost-efficiency.
Technology in a virtual law firm
In a virtual firm, solos and small firms overcome many obstacles of competing with larger firms. Contrary to a traditional law office where capital outlays are poured into fixed costs, a virtual firm revolves around technology tools and processes that minimise risk and expenses. Technological solutions support three key areas for a virtual law firm: client communication, document management, and practice management.
Using internet-based services like Voice Over Internet Protocol (or VoIP) and E-fax services, virtual law firms can replace conventional telephones and faxes without impacting their clients’ experience. An online communication portal also lets solicitors and clients stay connected by giving clients access to documents relating to their matters. In some cases, communication portals integrate with practice management systems, allowing virtual firms to deliver invoices electronically and process payments online.
Cloud-based document management systems allow firms to store all files in a digital format, centrally in a cloud-based solution independent of a solicitor’s physical location, yet accessible to the entire staff. These systems also provide collaboration features such as sharing and editing.
From task and matter management to time tracking and reporting, a good practice management solution allows a solicitor to operate efficiently by promoting organisation and mitigating redundancy in everyday tasks. Strong reporting is the most essential service a good practice management platform provides. The ability to report on Key Performance Indicators, such as productivity and time spent per matter, is crucial when calculating solvency and profitability. Modern practice management platforms include dashboards and built-in reports to give instant snapshots that characterise a firm’s performance. Virtual solicitors need to make sure their practice management software has a global search feature that searches across contacts and files, and provides the ability to do comprehensive conflict checks. Law firms looking to expand virtually should choose a practice management platform that provides instant, online updates on a variety of devices immediately upon login, seamlessly in the background.
Time tracking and billing
The ability to track time from any device or location enables firms to accurately bill for hours worked. A practice management system should include built-in timers, associating time with specific case files and compiling the time easily for billing purposes. Virtual law firms should look for practice management vendors that support the ability to export data at any time; vendors that attempt to lock a law firm into a proprietary system work against the virtual model.
The virtual law firm model
By utilising today’s technologies such as a practice management solution, online communication services and document storage solutions, a solicitor today can single-handedly manage a large majority of the tasks required to run a physical practice from any location.