Lawyers detail the benefits of running a virtual law firm

Before COVID-19, virtual law firms were not widely accepted. But as the world shut down during the pandemic and firms still needed to serve their clients and pay their bills, the industry had to change.

Like many business owners, Meredith Hill, owner and principal of The Hill Law Group, an estate planning and small business law firm based in Bethesda, was forced to take her company virtual during the pandemic. But she realized quickly that her clients actually loved the new normal.

“It was easier to meet and communicate with them, and many clients appreciated not having to worry about driving and parking,” Hill said.

Hill dove headfirst into research, sorting out which programs and software would make her virtual office run smoothly. Even after the work world began to open back up, she kept her office virtual.

Clients could upload documents to secure systems, and office staff could keep track of client materials through legal management software such as Clio, MyCase or PracticePanther. Communications could be done via teleconferencing. Hill has continued to rent a physical space, but she said most of her clients prefer virtual over in-person meetings.

The move to virtual was also well-received by Hill’s staff. Parents appreciated the flexibility to be more present in their children’s lives. The balance of work and life became, well, better balanced.

“My team loves being virtual. They love the flexibility and not being required to come into the office every day. They love being able to travel and take meetings where they are – and clients are none the wiser,” Hill said.

A desire for a better work-life balance was one reason that Sahmra Stevenson, founder of S.A. Stevenson Law Offices in Columbia, started her own firm in 2016. She had been working for a small firm in Washington and was unexpectedly laid off.

“My quality of life was low. I was working over 12 hours a day and drinking every day. My health was taking a toll. I needed a change,” she said.

Stevenson realized she could continue to run her practice without being chained to a desk. Traveling was part of her medicine, she said, so she decided to make working from anywhere part of her lifestyle.

She created Wills on Wheels and Access to Justice and began to meet clients where they were. She discovered clients were more comfortable speaking with attorneys in their own homes.

When the pandemic hit, Stevenson was already equipped to handle everything virtually. The only difference was that signings were moved to the driveway and consultations were done over Zoom.

Hill and Stevenson agree that nearly all legal practice areas can be conducted virtually, except for criminal law or anything that requires in-person representation in court.

Pre-pandemic, Stevenson was so successful at running her practice virtually that she even wrote a guide for attorneys looking to do the same. Her “Remote Lawyer Pocket Guide” and “Office Without Walls Pocket Guide” are designed for attorneys looking to embrace technology and shed old ways of running a law firm.

“I created the guidebooks with the idea that attorneys can change how we work and how we live, and that the quality of services gets better for clients,” Stevenson said.

If her guidebooks aren’t enough to persuade attorneys to consider a change, perhaps Stevenson’s example will.

“I traveled to four countries and 10 cities in 90 days, all while my office was running and work was getting done,” Stevenson said.

Office Without Walls Pocket guide link:

MSBA members can download for free.

Upfront costs to start virtual firm (if starting from scratch): $2,500

Necessary items:

  • A good scanner (Stevenson recommends a Fujitsu)
  • Client management software: Clio, MyCase
  • Data storage system
  • Remote team management software: Slack, Monday

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