This legal guide is for other sole practitioners who want to know how to start a virtual law firm.
Choose a practice area suitable for a virtual model
Operating a virtual law firm means you work remotely, from home or cafes, or even the county law library. You don't need to meet your clients and you don't need to go to court. This won't work for a criminal defense attorney, but is ideal for an attorney who does transactional law, like forming corporations or trusts.
Find a web host
Your website is your office. You need to choose a host that is easy-to-use. Most likely, you'll be doing all the web development yourself. You don't need to know HTML, a website like Wix or Squarespace is fairly simple and lets you drag-and-drop items in your page. You'll want to pay for the premium version so that you can take ownership of the domain name, instead of having one attached to their URL.
Choose a memorable URL
Your URL is your address. www.join.law allows lawyers with a valid bar license to obtain a URL with the new ".law" ending. The most common URLs for lawyers are their surname or practice area.
Web development takes time
Once you have the web host and URL, you'll be designing your website. This is the most important aspect. You'll need to summarize everything you offer in a sentence or two at the very top so that someone who only looks at it even for a second knows what law you practice. It needs to be catchy, but not cheap. It needs to be professional, but with a splash of informality suitable for the internet. Be prepared to spend a week obsessing over the typeface and point size of fonts.
Determine your clientele
Are you bringing your own clients? Or are you starting out fresh? You'll quickly realize that the only people who are most likely to use a virtual law firm are those who are comfortable doing everything on the internet. They also work all day and don't have time to meet a lawyer in an office. This means a lot of correspondence and phone calls will take place in the evenings and on weekends.
Ethical considerations, Part I
You have to be able to determine the capacity of your client. This generally means you need to video chat with them or talk to them on the phone. This rules out elderly clients and the infirm. You may also want to avoid dual representation over the internet, so no married couples or families.
Ethical considerations, Part II
Delivering work product to your client has to be kept confidential. This can be by hardcopies and express delivery, or through encrypted email. You need to research the ways to safely deliver electronic data while also minimizing the risk from hackers. Thomson Reuters Firm Central offers a way to securely deliver work product to clients, or alternatively, you can use an email service that provides encrypted emails that require a password to unlock, such as protonmail.com.
Well, you're already on avvo.com. That's step one. Also consider advertisements on Facebook and Google and other search engines.
Clients will probably need to pay you online. Paypal and Square are great methods of receiving payments. You can link them to your IOLTA (or other attorney's fiduciary account) until the fees are earned and then transfer them to your business account. Upfront flat fees ensure that you are paid for your labor, but you'll also need to devise a cancellation policy. For this, consider setting an hourly rate and tracking time spent on a client matter for the purpose of calculating a refund while also keeping your quantum meruit.
Last, but not least, you'll need to get a city business license for wherever you are based. You'll also need a county Fictitious Business Name statement if you operate under a trade name, such as your URL, instead of the Law Office of X.
You'll also need an IRS Employer Identification Number and you'll probably want to consult a tax preparer about how to plan for quarterly self-employment payments. There're state and municipal taxes too.
Additional resources provided by the author
The Continuing Education of the Bar program for the State of California has a good mp3 set called "How to Run a Virtual Law Firm".
Our Rating is calculated using information the lawyer has included on
their profile in addition to the information we collect from state
bar associations and other organizations that license legal
professionals. Attorneys who claim their profiles and provide Avvo
with more information tend to have a higher rating than those who do
What determines Avvo Rating?
Experience & background
Years licensed, work experience, education
Legal community recognition
Peer endorsements, associations, awards
Legal thought leadership
Publications, speaking engagements
This lawyer was disciplined by a state licensing authority in .
Disciplinary information may not be comprehensive, or updated. We recommend that you always check a lawyer's disciplinary status with their respective state bar association before hiring them.