In previous newsletters, I’ve mentioned that I’ve been writing a four-part “Virtual Truth” column for the American Bar Association’s GP Solo eReport. As the practice of law evolves, many lawyers wish to re-tool their law practices to account for new technologies. On the other hand, clients are increasingly embracing alternate law firm models, including virtual law firms such as ours, because of the advantages offered in efficiency and cost savings. Below, reprinted with permission from the American Bar Association, is the first half of my final column, which offers tips for working well with clients in a virtual environment. These tips apply to any business seeking to adopt a more technology-driven business model. The second half of the column will be provided in our November newsletter.
- How can a virtual law firm best address initial client perceptions?
- How should in-person client meetings be handled?
Clients generally assume that an attorney practices from a brick-and-mortar office. In all likelihood, an attorney practicing virtually will seem radically different to clients due to their past experience with attorneys, as well as their preconceived images of law firms based on what they have seen on television and in the movies. In contemplating how to set up your virtual practice, consider how you might effectively communicate to your clients that you work virtually, and arrange your in-person meetings in such a way that your clients will be delighted and impressed with your innovative business model, rather than confused.
Tip #1: Explain the Virtual Model to your Clients Proactively and Positively
To increase the likelihood that your clients will understand and appreciate your virtual practice, your communications regarding your office set-up need to be up-front, consistent, and clear, starting with your website and initial consultation and extending through the course of the attorney-client representation. As an example of a frequent misperception, Victor Virtual, an attorney practicing virtually from his home, is having an initial telephone consultation with Polly Potential Client. Polly likes Victor, and wants to retain his services. Victor says, “Thank you Polly. I’ll forward a legal services agreement over to you for your review and completion. Please send it back to me, and then I’ll get started on your work.” Polly responds, “Thanks Victor. I’ll fill it out, and then I’ll drop by your office. I’ll give you the agreement and the check for the advance fee deposit, and then hopefully you’ll be available so we can talk about my case.”
In this ideal case, Victor’s website clearly indicated that he operated a virtual law firm so as to minimize this type of misperception. Nonetheless, many potential clients either do not look at a lawyer’s website or do not review it carefully enough to notice. Also, for many clients, the concept of working virtually is so foreign that it requires additional explanation beyond a website description.
In the example given above, Victor might reply, “Thank you Polly. I don’t know if you had a chance to peek at my website, because it describes how I work virtually. Let me explain to you what that means.” Victor should then summarize his office set-up, so that Polly has a clear understanding prior to retaining his firm. In addition to describing his office, Victor could briefly explain to Polly, in positive terms, why he chose to set up his office virtually. For example: “I wanted to make my services more affordable for my clients, and I’ve found I‘ve been able to reduce my fees since I don’t incur needless expenses such as rent.” Or, “I’m an environmentalist, so I wanted to promote a green office environment by setting up my office to minimize paper and reduce car trips.”
Embrace this discussion as an initial step in developing a strong attorney-client relationship. In my Seattle practice, I’ve had countless potential clients who were intrigued by my set up, but I cannot recall ever having a potential client decide not to work with me upon discovering that I work virtually. A successful attorney-client relationship is built upon trust, so a potential client should be informed of your virtual set-up before retaining you and, ideally, understand its advantages.
Recent Updates from Sherry’s Blog
Throughout the month, Sherry Bosse Lueders, who is Of Counsel with my firm, blogs on timely and interesting topics from a legal perspective. Here are a couple of recent posts:
In this post, Sherry blogs about what NPR’s This American Life episode, “It’s not the product, it’s the person,” can teach business owners about articulating what sets their business apart.
Your estate plan should reflect your values. Have you considered incorporating socially responsible investment strategies into your estate plan?
As mentioned in our last newsletter, Sherry and Stacey appeared on the NW Real Estate Connections radio show with David and Patricia Wangsness on September 17th. They were discussing real property issues as they relate to estate planning and probate. If you missed it, here’s a link to the podcast.
On October 2nd, I attended the annual Nellie Cashman Awards, proudly supporting our client, a finalist for the award, Blue Danube Productions.
As always, I would love to hear your questions and comments.