Are e-Lawyers just a fad or is the legal sector’s new trend that’s here to stay?

We’ve spoken before about the rising star of ‘gig economy’ – recruiting external sources to work on projects and portfolios – but we’re not sure anyone predicted law firms going virtual on us. Though everything has gone virtual lately, so maybe they did!

For those not in the know, virtual law firms take the age-old concept of providing professional legal advice and turn it digital, meaning you could have a lawyer’s opinion from the comfort of your own home or office. Well, if you can get your clothes and your groceries online, why not your legal advice?

According to Legal Futures, solicitors have found that virtualising their practices can lead to improved productivity; increased flexibility; and better cost-efficiency. Put another way, “Solicitors are turning increasingly to virtual law firms to remain competitive, control costs and elevate their level of service to clients.”

An interesting development in the legal sector, we’ve decided to outline the pros and cons of utilising the services of- or even working for- a virtual law firm:

They’re mostly people working solo

In 2015, MyCase confirmed that most of the “lawyers who report that their firm is a virtual law practice” were solo lawyers, whereas firms of 10-49 people were deemed least likely to identify as such.

Pro: Too many cooks spoil the broth: having one person working for you means you have far less of a ‘project-driven’ mind set on your case. Individuals tend to care more about the case itself, and less about getting it done as soon as possible so they can get their paycheck.

Also, due to the lack of passing the case around, your lawyer will know your story from beginning to end: they’ll know all about you as a person or company, and they’ll always know where they are on your legal schedule.

Con: On the other hand, what do you do if all of a sudden your lawyer gets inundated with requests? With just one person working on your case, there’s the likelihood that if they take on more of a workload, they’ll have less time for you and your needs. The last thing you need is a lawyer who keeps pushing you to the bottom of the list.

There’s minimal in-person interaction between lawyer and client

Nowadays we rely on email far more than phone, and on phone far more than in-person meetings. This is a strong foundation for the virtual law firm industry – they’re just taking it that little bit further.

Pro: No more rushing to meetings, no more running around and no more wishing the chat was over so you can get back to other work. The ‘virtual’ aspect allows you to get on with the rest of your day, going through your checklist: it frees up a lot of time for you to get things done!

Con: If you can prioritise your list of things to do, so can your virtual lawyer: everything coming through technology means that there’s a lot more scope for your email to get lost, for your phone call to go ignored and for your queries to remain unanswered.

Screens mean that people can take a lot more for granted, while being held less accountable. Make sure you get efficient replies from day one, and don’t let that slip.

They’re low-hassle to set up

According to Legal Solutions, “a virtual law office needs only a laptop, smartphone, and tablet, as well as a practice management system that integrates documents and drafting, research, communications, calendars, accounting, and other functions”. It’s not a short list but imagine how much easier that is than starting up a whole physical company!

Pro: You have genuinely talented people starting up who maybe couldn’t beforewhereas before virtual, lawyers would have to scrabble around getting the cash together but it’s now a lot simpler.

This means that the legal sector is now appealing to talented, knowledgeable legal experts who maybe just couldn’t afford to go it alone back in the day. With this organic approach, they can get to the crux of what they want their business to be, and could even become industry leaders – with just a few clicks of a button!

Con: Where there’s good, there’s badSo you have those skilled, industry-leading professionals who take legal expertise to a whole new level but how are you going to differentiate between them, and the people who just started up because they could?

With digital trickery available to anyone, it would be incredibly difficult to distinguish who’s out to help you and who’s just out to make money. Be wary of ‘directors’ who have no other mention of past achievements available to you, as they may just be looking to capitalise on your genuine need for legal advice.

As the virtual law firm industry is still so new, it’s difficult to say how it will fare in the upcoming years. However, we’re excited to see where it can go, and how the legal sector could perhaps benefit from this truly innovative trend.