A virtual law office, or virtual law firm, is a law practice that doesn’t have a traditional brick-and-mortar office and largely relies on technology to meet client needs. As technology has become more sophisticated, workforces have become more mobile, and the legal industry is no exception.
In a virtual law office, an attorney or group of attorneys works from home or some other remote location. This allows small and solo law practices, especially startup firms, to minimize overhead and increase or decrease personnel according to current need. Advances in cloud computing have made it easier for attorneys to securely manage data and communicate with clients without the capital expenses incurred when building on-premises IT infrastructure.
Virtual Law Offices Held to Same Legal and Ethical Requirements as Other Law Firms
Although a handful of states such as Delaware have a Bona Fide Office Rule that requires attorneys to maintain a physical office, most states have softened their laws to allow virtual law offices. For example, New Jersey removed the requirement in 2013. Although guidelines vary from state to state, virtual law office operators in New Jersey must:
- Be accessible during business hours, usually by phone and email.
- Be available for face-to-face meetings with clients at a convenient time and location.
- Follow guidelines for maintaining files and records.
- Designate a physical location for file inspection, deliveries, and service of process.
- Designate the clerk of the Supreme Court of New Jersey as the agent for service of process.
Opinions from several jurisdictions consistently state that the Rules of Professional Conduct do not impose greater or different duties on attorneys who maintain a virtual law office. However, these attorneys are held to the same ethical rules and obligations as traditional law offices, and there are some areas that require close attention.
For example, just because client information is stored in the cloud on a third party’s storage infrastructure, the attorney must act competently to protect the confidentiality of that information. As a result, attorneys must carefully screen cloud service providers to minimize the risk of a breach and ensure that all data is properly backed up. Also, attorneys must be careful to provide legal services only in jurisdictions in which they are licensed and clearly communicate their status to clients.
Technology and the trend towards flexible work schedules have made it easier to work from home and other remote locations. However, attorneys who operate virtual law offices must maintain the same general structure, organized support, and books and records to meet American Bar Association and state bar requirements.
Virtual Paralegal Services delivers flexible, on-demand support for both traditional and virtual law offices. Contact us to learn how we can help you maximize operational efficiency, meet client expectations, and adhere to legal and ethical rules.