The age of the nine-to-five workday may be on its way out. With the rise of the flexible office, how many law firms are now operating as a virtual one?
In a 2014 survey of legal professionals conducted by Thomson Reuters, an overwhelming 69 per cent of respondents said that the pace of innovation is faster today than it was 10 years ago. Rapid advancements in technology and communication devices have accelerated the growth of a mobile workforce.
As more and more employees look for flexible teleworking practices, and clients demand more for less, practitioners now need to look at offering adaptable practices while also ensuring that they offer a consistent, high-quality service to their clients.
The vanishing office
Technological advancements such as smartphones, tablets and Wi-Fi have increased connectivity and led to greater flexibility in the legal workforce. Many lawyers now file reports electronically, store documents in the cloud and conduct online dispute resolution, teleconferences and virtual meetings.
Does this online revolution mean that the physical law firm could become a thing of the past? Approximately 38 per cent of the survey respondents believed that 25 per cent of firms will operate completely virtually by 2044, with no office at all. Almost 60 per cent said that at least half of their employees would be working remotely by this time.
Around 43 per cent of those surveyed also reported that their existing physical legal library will “virtually disappear” by 2044 because of the increase in digital and online information sources. Could it be that the well-worn Commonwealth Law Reports are destined for a gloomy end?
The appeal of staff working remotely seems evident. A mobile workforce can:
- reduce absenteeism
- increase productivity
- enhance staff loyalty and retention
- boost employee work life balance and health and happiness.
Virtual offices could also save your firm valuable time and money by reducing infrastructure costs such as office space and parking, and resources such as paper and energy.
Making it work
In the US, Rachel Rodgers, founder of Rachel Rodgers Law Office, recommends a five-step process for setting up a successful virtual law firm. These include choosing a unique niche in market, developing a menu of services and corresponding fee schedules, and automating key processes such as scheduling and billing.
Virtual law firm, Hive Legal, winners of this years 2014 ALPMA/Telstra Thought Leadership Award have also created a successful virtual law firm, based here in Australia. Jodie Baker, Managing Director for the firm comments, “We started with a clean slate and re-imagined the provision of legal services to better connect with the real needs of clients”.
Other ways to stay competitive include developing strong marketing and branding processes, and looking carefully at how to streamline sales and new business processes. Talent is also a big driver for success, so rather than relying on traditional staffing models, virtual firms need to attract top people with the right pay and conditions in a competitive online marketplace.
The overall message for small to mid-sized firms is to think big and think differently. By at least partly mobilising your workforce and moving into the virtual realm, you’ll be ready to meet the needs of clients wherever they are, and primed to attract the business of a much wider online market. And you’ll have a much happier workforce to boot.