I think the first time I heard the term “virtual law practice” was about ten years ago. I had just launched my own law firm in Spring 2006 and was poring over a number of books and blogs about how to best organize my office and be more efficient.
With the explosion of the Internet, I naturally explored online tools to help with my effort. Unfortunately, Jay Foonberg’s How to Start & Build a Law Practice didn’t help much in this regard. One of my first valued resources was and is Carolyn Elefant’s MyShingle blog, wherein she tackled many of the same solo issues I was experiencing. Stephanie Kimbro later popularized the concept in her book, Virtual Law Practice: How to Deliver Legal Services Online. Now, I stay up to date with legal tech on Sam Glover and Aaron Street’s Lawyerist blog.
“Virtual law practice” sounds quaint now in relation to how far the world of business has come in using technology, such as artificial intelligence, automation and bots. For a time, “virtual law practice” carried with it the connotation of a lawyer who had taken his or her law practice entirely online and provided low flat fee services by means of an online portal that clients would use to generate legal documents tailored to their needs. I think this definition is far too narrow.
Eliminating the traditional brick and mortar office paradigm as the nexus for conducting work has many benefits, not the least of which is greater productivity.
Jason Fried, founder of Basecamp and business management thought leader, addressed the problem with the traditional office in his book Remote: Office Not Required:
“Offices have become interruption factories. A busy office is like a food processor, it chops your day into tiny bits. Fifteen minutes here, ten minutes there, twenty minutes here, five there. Each segment is filled with a conference call, a meeting, another meeting, or some other institutionalized unnecessary interruption.”
It’s hard to be creative or productive when you can’t concentrate on a task long enough to complete it. Have you ever noticed how your computer slows down when you have too many tabs open on your web browser? Well, our brains are similar; if you’re juggling too many things, it won’t be long before they all come crashing down.
Jason Fried identified three ways you can implement a “Remote” mindset in your office, even if you don’t eliminate the office entirely:
- Provide private areas for individuals to retreat to when they need the space to be creative and time to think.
- Schedule silent time: an afternoon without meetings, conversations, knocking on doors, or emails, just employees working in a quiet environment on the tasks they’ve been assigned.
- Offer the option to take work outside the office. Fried suggests starting slow, providing the option to work away from the office one day per month, advancing to twice a month, then once a week. “It may not work for everybody but most people will probably find they got a lot more work done the day they were away from the office,” says Fried.
Whatever your approach, find ways to incorporate uninterrupted blocks of time for concentrating on creative work (such as writing, research or strategy) in your law practice. This will help you avoid, or at least minimize, the busy work and help you to get more done.
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