J. Nick Augustine J.D. is the principal of ALR/PRA, Inc., a full service law practice management agency. Nick advises and assists attorneys in transition in public relations and marketing. Nick also shares recruiting and staffing experience and tips for legal job seekers.
Attorneys in transition might consider launching a virtual law practice. The virtual designation does not need to preclude your physical presence. There are several important factors to consider when launching a virtual practice. Professional responsibility risks should be heeded by any attorney practicing on their own. With some diligence, office smarts and a little work savvy, you can launch your practice without spending a fortune on office space.
First, you need a business address. In order to register with the ARDC you should have a physical address. Avoid listing your home address to protect your personal security interests. You can investigate the variety of virtual office options here in Chicago. The office space where my company is headquartered has permanent offices for rent as well as virtual options for attorneys who need an address and meeting space from time to time and otherwise work from home or on the go.
Second, you need an online presence so potential clients and colleagues making referrals can find you. Make sure you maintain a robust online presence, otherwise referred to as credentialing. It is also imperative that you appear quickly in the organic search results. There are many cost-effective and free options to list your firm name, address and contact information. If you’ve ever searched for an attorney online by name and could not find them you know what I mean. Don’t make the same mistake.
Third, consult with your professional liability carrier and your bar association so that you can obtain necessary ethics and virtual practice resources. The last thing you want to do is take a case outside your experience and skills sets. You will find that colleagues applaud you for reaching out for asking questions and preserving the integrity of the profession. Too often lawyers flying solo take the wrong cases, and when mistakes are made the profession gets a bad name.
Fourth, set up your co-counsel relationships. Virtual practitioners don’t always have the personal-injury attorney down the hall to field a question. With pre-negotiated co-counsel arrangements established, you can partner up on cases. These situations provide learning opportunities as well as referrals where appropriate. If you plan to accept referral fees, make sure you are well-acquainted with applicable professional conduct rules and those of your professional liability carrier.
Fifth and finally, consider the virtual assistant option when you need administrative help, a law clerk or a paralegal. The money saved in avoiding the extra office overhead can be balanced with the challenges you may face with a virtual law practice. I often suggest virtual law office staff and attorneys build in a level of structure with regularly scheduled video and teleconference calls. Webcams often prompt us to look our very best. We seem to take pride in our work when we look good.
Set and manage work and trust expectations as if your virtual employees are in the next room. Happy virtual lawyering.