Virtual law firms on the rise

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15 June 2010

The growing interest in so-called virtual law firms has led to one technology provider seeing a 200% increase in customers over the past year.

Virtual Practices – a Legal Futures Associate and part of fellow Solicitors Own Software (SOS) – says it now has hundreds of users for its product, which provides access to SOS Connect as a service over the Internet. Virtual Practices also offers an online and outsourced bookkeeping service.

Clients now include Candy LLP, Temple Bright LLP, Scottish-based Cameron Macaulay Solicitors and Towcester Family Law Practice, while London start-up Matrix Legal has become the latest to sign up.

Stephen Parry, business development manager of Virtual Practices, said this approach removes the need for capital investment in IT and the overheads of employing a legal cashier. “Many of these new start-ups are formed by groups of senior lawyers spinning out from larger practices. They are used to enterprise-level legal software and turn to us for the same benefits but without the upfront costs and on-going overheads of running IT in-house. Virtual Practices enables them to deliver high-quality, competitive services directly to clients by using the technology themselves rather than employing secretarial help or needing a physical presence.”

Matrix Legal, specialising in corporate and property work, handles most of its caseload via e-mail, telephone and letter, and makes use of serviced offices, instead of operating from fixed premises, to maintain competitive and fixed prices wherever possible.

Part of the impetus for breaking out on his own was the Legal Services Act, says founder Tariq Mubarak: “The Act creates greater transparency, openness and competition in the marketplace. I felt that the time was right to set up a new kind of firm where we maximise IT services to reduce our overheads, and provide top-quality client service.”

Mr Mubarak surveyed the case management options in the market over several months, including IRIS hosted services, before plumping for Virtual Practices. “The flexibility it delivers fits in with my ‘almost’ virtual business model. We also don’t need to worry about business continuity or disaster recovery as in the event of a problem we would be back in business within hours, rather than days or weeks.”

Another criterion for choosing Virtual Practices was that it is a division of Solicitors Own Software, which has remained independent despite the consolidation of legal software suppliers. “This independence is important to me,” he said, “as I have seen many instances where users were left with a defunct system, after support has been withdrawn. I have plans to grow the business either organically or by acquisition and I want to keep the virtual IT model, so the scalability of Virtual Practices was also a decisive factor.”

Virtual Practices offers a 24/7, available anywhere service, on a pay-per-user subscription basis. It is powered by SOS Connect, a complete suite of applications including document, case, matter and e-mail management, time recording, billing and legal accounts, marketing and business reporting.

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