Technology is contributing to every aspect of our lives; a lot of commercial activities, business models, communication, and even medical services have adjusted their practice to go dispersed (virtual). In addition to these, health crises, such as the global pandemic, covid-19, has also hastened the depth of these changes. In all these rapid dynamism, the legal industry has not been left out in the demand for a catchup with 21st century trends. The question is, can Virtual Law Firms (VLF) be the next generation of the legal practice, and start a new legal era?
Reviewing the meaning of Virtual Law Firm, “A virtual law firm is a legal practice that does not have a brick-and-mortar office, but operates from the homes or satellite offices of its lawyers, usually delivering services to clients at a distance, using technological means for communication. Most have a central function responsible for the accounting and administrative side of the practice.”
In light of these, this work seeks to extensively consider the following as it relates to Virtual Law Firms in the 21st century;
- The Rise of Virtual law firm
- Pros of Virtual Law Firms
THE RISE OF VIRTUAL LAW FIRMS
Before now, the practice of law firms has been one domiciled in the brick and mortar method. However, this is a time where working remotely is no longer an option; it is a necessity in order to maintain the sustainability for the business (work). According to Hazlewoods, more than 800 lawyers are now working at Virtual law firms. Jon Cartwright, partner Hazlewoods, also stated in alliance that “the growing population of virtual lawyers reflect the changing landscape of legal services as tech renders distance obsolete”
Virtual law firm operations date back to 1970, when Paul Fegen opened professionally, a Law Office Suite called Attorney Office Management Incorporated. In 1973, he began providing Virtual office services to law firms. According to data provided by lawfirmsuites.com, in 1979, 90% of Executive suites in North America Offered Virtual office services. According to Jon Cartwright, ” lawyers who may have previously set up their own firms are now realizing the major cost and time savings of practicing remotely.”
PROS OF A VIRTUAL LAW FIRMS
Although a VLF might be formed and regulated in the same traditional way to start a law firm, however, their lawyers can be self-employed consultants or even a combination between a traditional law firm and a virtual law firm. This forms further advantages of having a VLF system. These include:
Economic Related Reasons:
- Economically feasible: Most virtual practitioners are working either from their homes or from co-working spaces which consequently reduces the number of logistic expenditures from car gasoline to others like the lease of the premises, etc. which is saving about 70% from the fees that a regular law firm bills.
- Lowering the attorney’s fees: as a virtual law firm is released from the logistic and unreasonable expenditure burden, this further allows it to be more flexible when it comes to pricing strategies.
- Wide accessibility for legal consultation: As a result of lowering the attorney’s fees, this consequently allows more consultation to the VLF from SME’s and startups that cannot afford the expensive legal fees.
- The ability to use best assisting tools: VLF will be able to use better legal practice management systems, which assist in handling cases professionally and manage day-to-day workflows and business operations within their law practice.
- Reasons related to the person: working remotely has its positive effects such as:
- Better focus as working remotely can allow an attorney to custom select an atmosphere that will help them better focus on their work. The attorney who works remotely can have a variety of atmospheres in which they can work, which can inevitably help optimize their productivity.
- Less stress where remote workers are less pressured than those who have to continually see their strung-out boss and co-workers. Not having the adversity that one might otherwise have in a fast-paced and loud workplace can make for a better workday.
- Results in more energy as commuting, particularly when an employee does so for an hour or two each workday, can wear that employee out even before they get to work. The remote worker, by contrast, is much fresher and alert mostly because they haven’t already driven two hours to get to work.
- Virtual law firms are the optimal solution in times of crisis that facing the continent, for instance in the time of pandemics such as covid-19 there will be a full virtual workplace which will be much safer than traditional legal practice and at the same time will not cause any economic problems during the crisis.
Summarily, the flexibility and ease of practice has caused an influx of lawyers into the system of virtual law firms. One notably taking advantage of this is the ‘Infusion lawyers’ which is considered the first full service virtual law firm in Nigeria, with bias for Technology Law and Intellectual Property. Benefits abounds in this system. This is because clients acquisition strategy will be easier as the job market contract closer towards becoming a global village.
As novel as it may seem, Virtual Law Firms battle issues ranging from cyber security problems to data and privacy breach. Other problems faced by Virtual Law Firms include but not limited to miscommunication, productivity lapses, technical failures etc. Some Requirements that need be set in place in order for these aforementioned challenges to be tackled to build strong VLF include:
- Strong IT system that keeps the privilege and safety of the clients’ information.
- A stable Internet connection that keeps the employee chain of the firm 24\7 connected and ready to host clients.
- Awareness campaigns that maintain the sustainability of the virtual practice and teach virtual clients more about the need before it, as well as how to use the platform.
- Domestic Regulations that make VLF exist in its territory: this is the first challenge that a VLF might face if it’s the pioneer operator for the field, as there are a few countries only that have virtual practice and regulations for its law firms including but not limited to the US, UK, and Nigeria as African country.
VLF is a growing practice that we strongly need to maintain the rule of law in this tech age. It might face some challenges such as country regulations as obvious in Egypt, where there is no full virtual practice due to traditional regulations, but if the leading countries regulatory steps to grow and reinforce the dispersed (virtual) practice are followed, it is a gold mine to be maximally harnessed. It is suggested that unions, organizations and regulatory outlets in Africa should push for more reforms and inclusion of technology to enable a seamless Virtual Law Practice.
-By Moamen A. Ellithy; Cheeka McCoy Onyeka; Abigail E. Juwah
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