There are now over 800 lawyers in the UK working for ‘virtual’ law firms as advances in technology help drive the rise of a new business model in the legal sector, shows new research by Hazlewoods Legal team.
A ‘virtual’ law firm is a decentralised legal practice where lawyers work remotely and use shared services provided by a central hub, as such they are at the top-end of the gig economy. ‘Virtual’ firms have central services responsible for functions such as compliance, accounting and administration.
This decentralised business model means ‘virtual’ law firms have lower fixed costs, and lawyers therefore tend to be paid a higher proportion of the fees they make than in traditional firms where they are likely to be salaried. These firms do not have to pay rent on expensive office space nor do they have to employ as many support staff, such as paralegals, assistants and on-site IT staff.
Hazlewoods says that practising through a ‘virtual’ law firm also allows individual lawyers to avoid much of the compliance and administration burden they would have to bear if they ran their own firm. As the majority of compliance and administrative work is dealt with centrally, lawyers have more time to focus on fee paying activity.
The mobile and decentralised format of these firms enables lawyers to be flexible in how much work they take on and what hours they work. This can provide a better work-life balance which may be important for some lawyers who may have had enough of constant high targets, or maybe have other commitments, such as a young family.
Hazlewoods says that advances in modern IT has also been key to the development of ‘virtual’ law firms as data can now be managed securely and efficiently regardless of geographic distance. This also helps lawyers to collaborate on cases and have all the information immediately available to them whether they are at home or on the move.
Technology also enables ‘virtual’ law firms to deliver services to clients through secure online portals which means entire firms can operate largely from mobile devices. Using these portals, lawyers can assemble documents, communicate securely with clients, and handle their billing and administration.
Hazlewoods adds that growth in the legal profession in recent years has not been uniform, with innovative offerings often acting as major growth drivers. Some firms, for example, have set up ‘on demand’ services providing temporary in-house lawyers, including:
- ‘Agile’ by Eversheds
- ‘Lawyers On Demand’ by Brewin Leighton Paisner
- ‘Vario’ by Pinsent Masons
Jon Cartwright, Partner in Hazelwoods’ Legal Team, says; “The growing population of ‘virtual lawyers’ reflects the changing landscape of legal services as technology renders distance obsolete.”
“Lawyers who may have previously set up their own firms are now realising the major cost and time savings of practising remotely. In their ideal scenario, ‘virtual’ lawyers can make more money in fewer hours whilst working at times that suit them.”
“As well as providing a better work life balance, many virtual firms are ‘sector-agnostic’ and are happy to work with lawyers with any specialism. This freedom has become a key reason for the growing popularity of ‘virtual’ firms as lawyers are allowed to follow their own path.”
“The decentralised nature of ‘virtual’ firms means they can also charge lower fees should they so choose and this is widening access to legal services at a time when clients may be more price conscious.”
“The emergence of the ‘virtual’ firm is part of an ongoing diversification of legal services and traditional firms are starting to follow suit through launching their own online platforms.”
This article was first seen in The Law Society Gazette and The Brief.