Virtually Anywhere: How I Created a Virtual Law Office That Works

Anywhere. Everywhere. That’s Where You’ll Find Me.

When I was first considering solo practice, one of my main struggles was choosing a location. At the time, I lived in the New York City area but my husband and I had been talking about moving to a warmer climate for some time. Couple that with my obsession with traveling (I’m talking two months in Thailand travel not 5 days in the Caribbean travel!) and I had a hard time choosing just one place to build a practice permanently. I hadn’t quite found The Place where I could be comfortable settling down for a long period of time.

Then I discovered the virtual law office (hurrah!). Realizing that I could have an online-based, location-independent practice sent me over the moon! Not having to choose one place to settle down and not having to give up my love for travel meant the virtual law office was the only way to go. At the time, I had been reading Jay Foonberg’s How to Start & Build a Law Practice religiously, every night; it resided on my nightstand and sometimes I took it to work with me to read during lunchtime. However, there wasn’t much information about virtual law offices because it was fairly new and just beginning to be used and adopted by lawyers. I read every article I could find on the internet but I needed the nitty, gritty details. I needed to know, does this thing actually work?

So what’s a girl to do? I had discovered this amazing tool and needed to know everything single thing about it but there were little to no resources with the information I needed. So I did what every self-respecting researcher does when books and blogs don’t cut it – cyber stalking. Yes, that’s right, I used the internet to find every lawyer who was using a virtual law office and either called them up or sent an email asking about how running a virtual law office was working for them.

Enter the Virtual Law Office…. but Does It Work?

Surprisingly, lawyers are not the mean and nasty bunch you might have thought they were! Every single attorney I contacted not only got in touch and gave me lots of information, they all seemed pretty eager to discuss this new-fangled technology. The attorneys were young and old, some had US-based practices while living in Canada, others had dreams of practicing law from a Caribbean island and all of them were struggling to make their virtual law offices successful. Their main complaint was that they were struggling to obtain clients. Even a long term, successful, brick and mortar law office with an integrated Virtual Law Office was having trouble getting clients. (Insert sad face).

Not so fast! Do I look like a girl who gives up the vision of her dream lifestyle so easily? Absolutely not! So I put together the common factors that virtual law offices were struggling with and started researching what I could do differently. And I did just that. I threw caution to the wind, set up a virtual law practice and now have new potential clients registering for my online-based practice every week. Not only that, but many of them have never had any direct contact with me prior to registering.

Making the Virtual Law Office Work For Me

So I know that all of you rebellious, freedom-fighting, non-location wanting and low-overhead-loving folks want to know – how did I make it work for me? Here are the key factors that have worked for me. I hope they will help you in determining whether an online-based law practice is for you.

1. Choose a Niche: I’ve written previously about the importance of choosing an oh-so-narrow niche of law to practice. This really works wonders for marketing and it gets your narrow client base super excited about working with you. I find it to be essential to a Virtual Law Office. Its been said before but I’ll say it again: trying to appeal to everyone means you appeal to no one. This was a key that I discovered in my rudimentary survey. Almost every VLO lawyer I talked to was covering several different practice areas on their VLO. My niche is business law for Gen Y entrepreneurs. Yes, I made that up. ;) I have found that my niche loves working with me because I relate to them (since I am a Gen Y entrepreneur myself) and they also are a really technology focused bunch which means that they are very comfortable using technology to conduct their legal business. (But don’t believe the hype! I’ve heard that many older generations are using technology just as much, if not more, than us young folks. So don’t let having an older client base scare you away from having a VLO or having it in addition to your brick and mortar practice).

2. Killer Website (Part 1): This does not mean you have to spend $10,000 on a new website. My initial investment in my website was around $600 (that includes $300 for a logo), a whole lotta time and a whole lotta love. With wordpress and designer themes you could probably do it for even less. I have made lots of upgrades to my site but I still haven’t even spent $2,000 (that’s the initial investment plus upgrades) on it yet. A nicely designed website is great but that is not really what makes it killer.

What makes your website killer is engagement. Your website needs to be something to do not just something to read.

Regularly updated blog articles relevant to your client base, a monthly newsletter or free resource that client’s can sign up for and even a welcome video are great additions that will allow you to connect with potential clients.

3. Killer Website (Part 2): Nice design is key but information is even key-er (that’s not a word but it fits so I’m going with it!). Detailed information about who you are (and not just your boring bio, add some personality!), what type of services you offer, how you offer such services, how the virtual law office technology that you use works and your fees are critical pieces of information that clients want to know. And often they want to know this before they are willing to contact you. All of this information should be on your website in an easy to find place for your potential clients.

4. Flat Fees: Yes, its true. I have drunk the Koolaid. I use flat fees in my practice and I also include information about where pricing for my services start on my VLO. I could give you a whole lecture about it but Jay Shepherd already has. Just know that when signing up for services online, client’s want at least an estimate of your pricing before they engage. They don’t want to spend time connecting with you only to be quoted a fee that is far too much. And hourly rates do not reveal your pricing. Telling me your fees are $325 per hour does not at all inform me of how much money I am going to have to part with to work with you. In my opinion, flat fees are essential to a successful VLO.

5. Market, Market, Market. If you want online-based clients for your VLO, you have to go where they are and let them know you exist.

Most clients aren’t going to do a Google search for a VLO in their town. This was another key misstep of struggling VLO’s. They just assumed if they put the website up, clients would come. No, they will not. You must go out and find them.

The way I have done this is by having a strong social media presence; to learn my social media formula check out this video. In addition, to social media, I create free content for my client base both on my blog, on two columns I write (this is one of them) and by guest posting on sites that my clients frequent. I have also enjoyed a decent amount of press and get asked to be interviewed or be a resource for other content-creators pretty regularly. The point is that my clients see me online all the time and practically everywhere they go (okay, not nearly everywhere but you get my point) which allows me to stay on their minds so they think of me when they have legal needs. And it all starts with an engaging social media presence.

So there you have it, folks. This list is how I have established a location-independent, online-based practice. Any questions? :)

All opinions, advice, and experiences of guest bloggers/columnists are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the opinions, practices or experiences of Solo Practice University®.

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22 comments on “Virtually Anywhere: How I Created a Virtual Law Office That Works

  • Rachel,

    You’ve done an awesome job cultivating a strong reputation online through social media that has helped to quickly build your client base. A lot of that involves having really good writing skills and commitment to cranking out content on a regular basis. Any suggestions for how business virtual lawyers can improve their writing skills, especially for blogs, and fit that into their busy schedules? Are you using any form of document assembly or automation in your virtual law office to streamline some of the business setups that you do to free up more of your time for writing/social media?

    • Thanks, Stephanie!

      Content cranking is time consuming but it really works for me because I love to write. One huge turn off that I have seen among blogging lawyers is writing like you would for a legal brief. No one wants to read that. I think its important to infuse some personality into it. Express who you are in your writing and tell stories about real people. Also, one thing that helped me was advice I received from Susan that there is no pressure that every article has to be long and information heavy. You can have a short article that just expresses one key point. And for those who don’t like to write, try video posts or podcasts. Lastly, you can also have staff members do the research for an article and maybe put together a draft but I am not a fan of ghost writing. Blogging is a way that potential clients and clients get to know me, if someone else is writing, then they aren’t getting to know me. As Susan says, “you are the product.”

      I don’t have a document assembly process I’m using but I do have a checklist for different work I do. Following the checklist keeps me moving and prevents me from just staring at the screen blankly.

  • Great points, Rachel.

    One of the things that I impress on others who contact me about setting up a virtual law practice is that just having a website is not going to draw in clients. You’re going to have to find other ways to drive clients to your website, such as by blogging, engaging in social media and marketing.

    Just like building a traditional brick-and-mortar firm, building a web-based law firm takes time, patience, and lots of hard work. Just having a static website, no matter how beautiful, is not sufficient.

    • Well said, Rania!

      And for those that don’t know Rania, check out her VLO website. She’s got a great site with plenty ‘o content and its very user friendly and informative. I also like that the fresh content appears on the homepage drawing people in. :)

  • I am just trying to figure out how you scale this, especially in a practice area that requires client contact. My thought is to create kind of a concierge service for divorce clients, where a project manager-type employee and I visit a client wherever they want. Most of the communication then goes online and the legal services are coordinated by the project manager, who has a list of tasks and assigns them out to virtual assistants, lawyers in India, me, whatever works best. So it’s a virtual-focused practice but not to the degree that yours is. How can I make this work when I’m tied to court dates? And how do I expand to other geographical areas when I can’t be in court or at a client’s house in both Austin and Dallas at the same time? This is what I’m thinking about while I should be studying for the bar!

    • Mike,

      You can totally create that type of practice if that’s what you want. Remember, you are in control. You can accept cases that fit your schedule and where you are willing to travel and not accept cases that don’t fit you. Having a semi-virtual model for a litigation practice is definitely doable but you can’t be in Australia because you need to show up to court.

      Scaling in a service business (and probably any business) requires having help but I wouldn’t focus on how to get there yet because it will probably lead to overwhelm and become a stumbling block. Just decide what you want your lifestyle to look like and build a practice based around that.

      And remember building a business requires testing. Test out your ideas and see if they work. If not, you can always pivot and change course as needed until you find what clicks. This is what I did. :)

  • Who did you hire to do the website and logo? I’ve asked a couple friends (web designers for a living) and both quoted me around $800. Also, is the VLO software you use easy to integrate into your site by yourself or do you have someone do that for you?

  • ok Rachel…I’m not afraid to admit…I am guilty of cyber-stalking you! :-) But seriously, I think you have done such a great job with generating a social media presence and I find it inspiring. Especially since I am just starting my practice and I plan to have a VLO myself. Social media is essential for a VLO especially ones that cater to more technically-savvy clients such as us Gen-Y’ers and techies that might need legal services.

    Well done! See you online!!!

    • Jo-Na,

      Ha ha! We’re guilty of a little cyber-stalking aren’t we? ;)

      Thank you for the compliments. I’m glad that I could be a resource for you. Best of luck with building your practice. And, yes, I’ll see you on the inter-webs. :)

  • Hey Rachel,

    Very informative article, as usual. I just put a virtual portal on my website. I am trying to figure out the best way to incorporate it into my litigation based practice.

    Your point about creating a narrow niche is so important. That is a major mistake that I made and continue to make simply because I am afraid to turn away clients. I also feel like in this stage of my career I need all of the litigation experience that I can get, despite the particular practice area. But I know that this reasoning is doing me more harm than good. I am in the process of creating a strategy to focus my practice on employee rights and disability law. I haven’t been able to get it much narrower than that. I am really interested in anything having to do with the employer employee relationship. But I now it’s still not narrow enough yet. Ugh!

    • Hi Valina. I’ve worked with several attorneys to help them set up virtual law practices within traditional office structures where the practice was litigation-based. I also provide free one-hour consultations to SPU members to help them in planning the set-up and continued growth of their virtual law offices. I have several case studies featured on the virtual law practice course blog here on SPU. Please don’t hesitate to use these resources.

    • Hi Valina,

      Congrats on going virtual! :)

      One thing Debra Bruce has said is that choosing a niche doesn’t mean you have to turn away other work that comes in. It just means your marketing efforts are focused on particular types of clients. I have received calls for all kinds of legal work which is very different from the work I do. You can choose to accept those cases or refer them out.

      The niche really does allow you to attract your ideal clients and cases. Try it temporarily and see what happens. You can always change your website content back if it doesn’t seem to work (but it totally will work!).

      Is there any particular types of people you want to serve in disability and employment cases? I know a firm in downtown NYC that focuses on employment law for pregnant women and I happen to know that their phones ring off the hook with more cases then they can accept. That’s one example of how you can narrow down employment law.

      Hope that helps!

  • I’m a bankruptcy lawyer and that requires some physical client contact (or at least I require some) and also showing up at hearings. I use an “executive office” (Regus) for meeting clients and handle everything else online (web, email, PDFs, etc.) and by phone. I do the initial free consult by phone. For 90% (a guess) of the time, I can be anywhere (that’s connected).

    • Hi Malcolm,

      That’s a great example of how to blend a virtual office with a litigation practice. One could also try to schedule their court dates in a cluster (one way to do this would be to file various papers in succession but you’d have to be careful not to unnecessary delay your client’s cases). I have heard of another attorney who has a US litigation practice but lives/works from overseas most of the year and has another lawyer in his practice attend court hearings which, of course, is agreed to by the client at the outset.

      My point is that in various litigation-based practice areas, bankruptcy being one of them, a lawyer can find a way to be mostly virtual if desired.


  • Rachel,
    Great content and advice.
    I have been doing the same thing
    however, as a member of the ReZoomer crowd it has taken me a bit longer. Your article and subsequent advice in answer to questions is spot on.
    I was wondering about a virtual office presence.
    I will get this piece complete by summers end.
    Thank you for appealing to everyone, not just GenY

  • Hi Debra,

    So glad I could help! I spent lots of time researching and figuring out before I actually launched my VLO so you are definitely not alone. Hope this helps move the process along for you. And let me know if you have questions as you get ready to launch. :)

  • I’m not sure if the VLO is the right business model for us, but am interested in learning more about how it works. You have certainly given me some ideas to consider.

  • Just curious…why did you choose Total Lawyer over other online law practice management solutions such as Rocket Matter, Clio, Time Matters, ProLaw, HoudiniESQ, Advologix, etc.?

  • Hi Rachel: First, thanks for the great content. This is the best advice I’ve seen anywhere about VLOs. My little 2-lawyer shop wants to transition into a VLO. I’ve been in practice for 32+ years now, and am looking to change it up and enjoy some of those long-term travel adventures you, too, are fond of. A question: Can you think, or have you heard, of other examples of specialization, like the N.Y.C. firm you mentioned with the employment/pregnancy practice? I’d really like to finally narrow down my general business practice. Thanks, and Happy Holidays! My best, Gary

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