Law firms of the future—virtual lawyers

Law firms of the future—virtual lawyers

According to new research, there are now over 800 lawyers working for ‘virtual’ law firms in the UK. Advances in technology has paved the way for so-called ‘virtual lawyers’, a group of self-employed lawyers harnessing remote IT access and flexible working hours to provide competitive fee arrangements to clients. We speak to a range of legal experts about the advent of the ‘virtual lawyer’ and what impact this might have on the legal market.

Defining the ‘virtual lawyer’

For Mark Harrison, managing partner at Flexlaw Solicitors, a virtual lawyer is one who is able to provide a full service to clients but at a lower cost because of their reduced overheads. ‘Virtual’, he says, doesn’t necessarily equate to second best, but usually indicates the lawyer ( through the use of technology) is going to have a degree of remoteness from the client on a day-to-day basis.

Having said that, remoteness is not a defining feature, and Harrison says virtual lawyers can meet ‘face-to-face’ when needed with routine work ‘actioned by email and telephone’ and marketing via digital investment and social media.

In terms of law firm set-up, Tariq Mubarak, managing director at Matrix Legal says the law firm could be a dedicated virtual law firm, sometimes referred to as a ‘dispersed law firm’, or could be a ‘traditional law firm, where the virtual lawyer happens to work remotely’.

He adds ‘this arrangement is akin to barristers and chambers’ with virtual lawyers usually remunerated on a profit share or ‘pay-as-you-bill’ basis, ie they share a percentage of their billing with their umbrella law firm.

Placing greater onus on the technology aspect, Chad E Burton, chief executive officer at CuroLegal, says the virtual lawyer is simply a lawyer who ‘leverages technology to run a modern law firm outside the traditional brick and mortar setting’.

This, he adds, typically means lawyers have established a cloud-based tech ecosystem in which their firm can easily interact with clients across the globe. In this set-up office space is leveraged where/when needed but is secondary to delivering legal services.

Virtual versus traditional

Burton says virtual law models are by definition ‘lean’ in nature which provide for

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