Legal update: Number of solicitors at ‘virtual’ law firms breaks through 2,000 level for the first time

More lawyers prioritise work-life balance as growing number of firms demand employees return to the office

The number of lawyers at ‘virtual’ law firms* has increased in the past year**, breaking through the 2,000 level for the first time ever rising from 1,909 in 2022 to 2,042 in 2023.

The growth in lawyers at virtual firms, over the last year, has been partly triggered by lawyers deciding, post COVID-19, that they do not want to return to the office full time and instead have opted for self employment under the banner of a virtual law firm.

The last year has seen more law firms asking employees to spend more time in the office. Some, for example, have made payment of bonuses contingent on meeting targets for number of days in the office.

Working for a virtual law firm can offer more flexible working arrangements and put the lawyer in charge of their working patterns and location.

In the longer term, the rise in numbers at virtual law firms has also been affected by a reduced desire amongst younger lawyers to follow the ‘traditional’ career journey to partner in a traditional sense and then retire. Virtual law firms are seen to offer an alternative to some that provides the opportunity to combine hybrid working arrangements with greater control over schedules and caseloads.

Ian Johnson, Partner, says: “The rise of flexible working as an accepted part of the legal profession has been a real boon to virtual firms’ recruitment.”

“The virtual model has been proven to work by the growth of some firms over the past few years. Firms like Keystone, Setfords, Gunnercooke and Excello Law scaled their businesses quickly and are now an established part of the legal landscape.”

“The idea of working remotely most or even all of the time is no longer an unusual one for lawyers – it’s one that appeals to an increasing number of all types of professional.”

“Some younger lawyers see virtual firms as offering the benefits of partnership – such as the potential for a bigger share in the income they generate – without many of the pressures that come with in traditional partnership.”

Some law firms are now incorporating aspects of the virtual operating model into their existing structure. Examples of this include firms such as Taylor Rose MW who offer a ‘Consultants programme’ targeted at experienced solicitors looking for greater work-life balance.

Says Ian Johnson “Some of the more traditional firms are now paying attention to the success of virtual firms and adopting elements of their approach. We expect to see more firms start to do the same if they believe it can help with recruitment and retention of talent.”

*A ‘virtual’ law firm is a decentralised legal practice where lawyers work remotely and use shared services provided by a central hub. Central services provided can include capacity for functions such as compliance, accounting, and general administration. Most virtual law firms have their lawyers as self-employed consultants rather than direct employees.

**Year-end October 31 2023

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