Advantages and disadvantages of working in a virtual law office

By Audrey Herrington

The idea of a virtual law office always sounds the most appealing in the middle of my weekday commute. Instead of lamenting the fact that no one in a 25-mile radius knows how to use a turn signal, I could be responding to emails, catching up on phone calls and generally doing work, not just getting to work. While working in your pajamas and spending less on gas seems like a win-win, there are distinct advantages and disadvantages to working in a virtual law office.

But first, what is a virtual law office? Virtual law offices come in many forms. The common characteristics are that virtual law offices use cloud-based technology and generally do not have a brick-and-mortar location that attorneys and other staff operate out of. Attorneys in a virtual law office usually do not meet with clients in person and instead communicate with those clients through phone, email or video calls. 

Advantages of the Virtual Model. There are significant advantages to foregoing the typical brick-and-mortar office space. For one, virtual offices avoid costs associated with rent, office furniture, office staff, IT, and maintenance. These lower overhead costs translate into a better value for clients, and a more flexible fee structure for attorneys. For attorneys that do not want to solely meet with clients via phone or email, having a virtual office gives them the flexibility to meet with clients at times that are most convenient for both the client and the attorney. When the firm is cloud-based, an attorney doesn’t need to haul a large case file around; the firm can operate on any device, 24/7. These advantages transfer into more personalized service for clients on an extremely competitive fee structure.

Disadvantages of the Virtual Model. In spite of the cost savings and convenient service, a virtual law office is not the best option for every type of practice. First, virtual firms create blurred lines between work and personal life. For attorneys who don’t have a dedicated office space at home, working in a virtual firm may impact work/life balance and make it even more difficult to leave work behind at the end of the day. Security is also an issue. Many attorneys opposed to virtual firms don’t believe that the cloud offers enough security for confidential client files. Attorneys working in a virtual firm will need to take extra steps to ensure that their files are secure, particularly when working out of shared spaces. 

The definition of a virtual law office is constantly evolving, and this evolution presents particular advantages for attorneys that desire the flexibility to work from home or spend more time on their personal hobbies or with their families. Technology offers attorneys a new chance to avoid typical overhead costs and cater legal services specifically to their clients. However, a virtual firm is not the best option for every practitioner. It is important to have the right software, resources and practice management tools to make a virtual law office a success.

Audrey Herrington is a 2018 graduate of Saint Louis University School of Law who is now working as an associate at Kodner Watkins in Clayton, Missouri. She provides insight for newly minted lawyers in the fast-changing legal field.