How To Practice Law Virtually

How to Practice Law VirtuallyThis week we welcome back guest writer Hillary Vaillancourt to talk about how you can achieve success as a lawyer with a virtual practice.

I once worked for a law office (very briefly) where when I spent an evening in the ER, sick, pregnant, and absolutely miserable, I offered to work from home. One of the managing attorneys told me that it was impossible for a new attorney to work remotely and grow as an attorney.

Well, since the Coronavirus pandemic shut down law offices in several states, lots of firms are finding out that it is not only possible but sometimes advantageous to have attorneys work from home. Yes, there are special considerations.

After that job didn’t pan out, I started my own virtual law practice. Here are some things to consider if you, too, would like to strike out on your own, virtually speaking.

Overhead

While working remotely has many advantages, perhaps one of the best is the low cost of overhead. After law school, one of my classmates was interested in starting her own practice. She polled several Boston-area attorneys about their experience starting their own law firms.

Every last one of the attorneys my friend spoke to warned her that it would take two to three years before her firm might be profitable. The biggest reason for this long-term commitment was the high cost of overhead, particularly rent.

But, as a virtual law office, my practice is based out of my home. This means I don’t have an additional expense for an office. I also don’t have an additional expense for a phone. My practice consists of mostly estate planning, which is relatively low-stress, and low-drama. I don’t mind giving out my personal number to my clients, and I’d rather have one phone than try to keep up with multiple phones or multiple lines.

There are also tax advantages to a virtual practice. Your phone, home office, utilities, internet, and other expenses may be tax-deductible, because they go to support your business. The rules for tax deductions in these situations differs, of course, among the states, so be sure to consult with a tax professional in your jurisdiction.

Even though you don’t necessarily need a separate number (although, you may want one if you plan to practice more contentious areas of law like contested divorces), separate office, or other separate expenses, you will still need to plan to cover your bar dues, continuing legal education courses, malpractice insurance, a website, an email address, and office supplies.

Starting a practice years ago meant shelling out huge sums of money on pricey office real estate, furnishings, and utilities. Fortunately, these days, starting a virtual practice does not require nearly as much capital to get started.

Security And Confidentiality

A virtual law practice does have many advantages, but one very real concern is security and the ability to maintain confidentiality.

By the nature of being a virtual office, many sensitive documents and correspondences are stored or shared online. I have clients text me personal information, email me confidential information, and we generally exchange signed documents via email as well, including the retainer agreement and estate planning documents.

But, it is critical to know that attorneys are now held to a high standard for maintaining confidentiality of information online. It is no longer an excuse that a third party hacked into an email account. Rather, most jurisdictions feel that it is common knowledge these days that personal information can be accessed online. Therefore, attorneys must take extra precautions to ensure the security and safety of confidential information.

When establishing your virtual practice, be sure you consider how you can keep client information safe. There are tons of options these days to do so, and it is your responsibility.

In-Person Meetings

One of my favorite aspects of running a virtual practice is not having to pay for separate office space outside of my home or commute to an office. I’ve worked jobs before where I had to commute an hour each way to an office. It takes a toll and takes away time I’d rather be spending with my family.

However, there are times when I do need to meet with clients in person. As a virtual practice, you have options for in-person client meetings.

First, you could plan to simply meet clients at your home office. For a law firm like mine that focuses on estate planning, this can be a welcome change for clients who would rather not meet in a sterile conference room. However, again, if you plan to practice an area of law that’s more contentious, you may want to consider other ways of meeting with clients.

Today, many places offer shared office spaces for an hourly rental rate. Many courthouses also offer this type of service. This can be a great option for when you want to meet with clients outside of your home, need to ensure privacy and confidentiality, but don’t want to have to pay for regular office space.

Lots Of Advantages

There are many positive aspects of running a virtual law practice. And, throughout the recent Coronavirus pandemic, it has become clear that operating remotely is not only possible but can be really successful.

Just be sure to consider what overhead you really do need, how you plan to protect your client’s confidential information, and how you plan to meet with clients if you don’t wish to entertain them in your home.


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About Hillary Vaillancourt

Hillary Vaillancourt is a lawyer and writer at The Vaillancourt Law Firm, LLC. She has experience in a wide variety of matters including food law, education law, real estate law, family law, criminal law, contracts, and estate planning. She earned her JD from New England Law|Boston and is licensed in Virginia.

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