In association with LawWare: A lot of lip service is paid to setting up virtual law firms. However, what is the reality of working in a virtual firm and do the benefits outweigh the drawbacks?

When COVID-19 forced many law firms to send their people home, remote work’s time had really arrived.

The rush to give employees access to all the tools they’d need to work from home all came very suddenly. Yet, once everyone settled down, which quickly became apparent to many office-based firms is that employees could be productive and focussed when not in the office.

Once the pandemic is over, will firms go back to “business as usual” and require that everyone work onsite? I have my doubts that things will be that straightforward.

Virtual law firm benefits

It comes as no surprise that remote work brings a plethora of advantages for law firms. Let’s take a look at the key ones.

Freedom to work from anywhere

A key benefit of a virtual law firm is that it allows you to tap into a talent pool that was formerly unavailable when location was paramount. Being able to commute easily to the office used to be a limiting factor. Remote working changes that. Whether you are in Dundee or Dunedin, you can still get the work done.

In addition, remote working is one way to avoid high-rent and high-mortgage areas. That’s especially true for many firms where high cost city living was a prerequisite for your career.

Work/life balance

Hand in hand with remote working comes flexible working. Solicitors can start and end their day when they choose – as long as this does not interfere with the work being done on time.

This is invaluable when dealing with the needs of your personal life. Whether it’s the school run, doctor’s appointments or having to be at home when the central heating boiler needs fixing, the flexibility of homeworking addresses these needs. But remember your clients – their work / life balance needs you to be able to speak to them, provide updates and reassurance when they need it.

Less commuting stress

According to Lloyds Banking Group, the average UK commuter spends 492 days of his or her working life getting to and from work. That works out roughly at just over an hour each workday.

That’s just one side of the coin. An hour of commuting each day is linked to higher levels of stress and anxiety.

Research also shows lengthy commutes to be associated with health issues such as raised blood sugar, higher cholesterol and increased risk of depression.

Money savings

According to Lloyds, people across the UK are spending an average of between £67 and £90 each month on commuting costs. That means you can save between £800 and £2,000 a year by not having to commute. You could say a virtual law firm puts money back in your pocket.

Reduced business overheads

Personal savings are one thing, but business savings also come into it. You can save on overheads, office costs, transport subsidies, business rates and a host of other things. Whilst you may still need to maintain some form of office environment, costs should dramatically reduce.

Increased productivity and performance

Given the right home office working environment, you can enjoy fewer interruptions, less office politics, a quieter noise level, and fewer meetings or more efficient ones. More time and fewer distractions generally lead to increased productivity. That’s a win-win for employees and employers alike. Executed well, remote working can allow solicitors and law firms to focus on what really matters – performance.

Too good to be true?

I could add reduced environmental impact and a host of other benefits to this list but hang on, let’s take off the rose-tinted spectacles for a moment. If you are seriously thinking about going virtual, you need to ask yourself a few difficult questions:

  • Does your printing and mailing need to be centralised?
  • How do you manage and motivate staff?
  • How do you onboard and properly train new staff?
  • How do you retain staff, build a business culture, set standards and maintain them?
  • Are you tied into a long lease for your premises?

Cost savings and flexible working are one thing, but is the lack of a physical presence in the High Street going to help or hinder?

The key question

Before getting carried away with the romance of remote working, you need to take a long, hard look at all these issues. However, the key question to ask is not what is good for you but rather what do your clients want? If the heart and soul of your legal business used to be a High Street presence that involved face-to-face relationship building, virtual working could put you on a sticky wicket.

Conclusions

In an ideal world, I would work from a home office in my favourite place – Granada in Spain. I’d be up early for my tostada, cafe and cognac. Lunching on tapas and relaxing in the sunshine in the evening after a day’s work.

Reality check: that’s not going to happen any time soon.

Virtual operation is probably best suited to sole traders, small firms and specific legal work types. Perhaps a halfway house solution involving reduced office space and partial remote working may suit others. The bottom line is working remotely can give employees the time and environment needed to make healthy choices. However, it has to be your clients’ needs and the effectiveness of your business that come first.

The Author

Mike O'Donnell, marketing manager, LawWare

If you would like to find out more about both the benefits and the practicalities of setting up a virtual law firm, please contact us on 0345 2020 578 or innovate@lawware.co.uk

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