As a newbie to the world of virtual law services and the concept of an office with no walls I have simultaneously enthralled and overwhelmed. The possibilities of owning your own business, providing the services to the clients that you have targeted, working from the comfort of your own home, and all the freedoms implied by a virtual office are more than enticing. However, as a lawyer by profession and training and a blogger/internet resident by hobby can quickly get you bogged down in the minutia. Before you even begin, you have to decide on how grounded in the cloud you want to be. Fighting off paranoia can only go so far when you consider the ethical issues of your profession. However, a virtual office based is not so true to form if the entire operation is based off of your home computer’s software. Once you’ve figured that balance out, the real fight begins. Depending on your budget, desire to control all your content, and good ol curiosity, there seems to be two extremes building your virtual space.
The first option is to “third party” the entire office from the beginning. Hire a web designer with coding experience. Hire a coder or a service to develop and maintain your virtual space and office management tools. Services providers range from Jennifer Kimbro’s incredibly robust and on point Virtual Law Office to more generalized companies like RocketMatters.com. (I split the different using Clio which seems to be splitting the difference)Hire an SEO specialist to develop traffic to your site, buying ad space accordingly. Purchase voip software and hardware with at least minimal PBX or call center capabilities. If your office management software doesn’t cover billing, invoicing, etc., then you need to purchase some accounting software, i.e., QuickBooks and the like. The problem with all of this is overhead. Whether you have the capital or not, chances are you are not well versed enough in all the software options to prevent overlaps and overspending. And so you stop what you are doing and trying trimming the fat which takes time and energy.
The other option is the time and energy, but cheap tact. If you don’t have the cold cash lying around or the bank is not so keen on your business plan, this may be your only alternative. And so you go. Teach yourself webdesign. Teach yourself coding sufficient to build a system with web based apps like Zoho Creator. Teach yourself SEO concepts sufficient to build into your webpages. Use Windows Explorer, some freeware encryption software and Excel (or Open Office Calc if you are feeling really cheap.) Build a twisted network of cell phone landline, multiple skype lines and free virtual PBX systems into a maze of that only you can understand. Spend hours in forums, reading tutorials and watching horrid youtube “howtos” trying to determine what information is of any quality, and voila, six months later you have built a system that will be upgraded as soon as you earn a steady $200 a week.
If you couldn’t tell, I have gone down both these paths, using curiosity as my excuse for good ol’ “I’m scared that I won’t make it. Maybe I should check again.” So what is the real answer in the is babble. What will make you have a successful and functional virtual law office. START SIMPLE. Find a cheap web page solution with Word Press, Blogger (or whatever it is called these days. Do some quick research on SEO concepts. Tell your friends and colleagues what you are doing. Get going on Facebook, Twitter and the like. Claim your profile on Avvo. Get the office management software that you can afford and manage right now, and fill in the blanks with creative schemes for keeping track of things. AND GET THINGS GOING. Trust me, none of these details that seems so important will ultimately get you want you need, clients, because at the end of the day getting clients for the virtual office is no different than getting clients for the brick and mortar office.
Don’t forget that you are not alone and their are many people braving the virtual frontier of online legal service and building a web presence for your solo practice or small firm. Reach out to the community members, read their blogs, and start building on the support that is already there.