The COVID-19 pandemic has changed the way attorneys work. The ability to work remotely is no longer a nice-to-have option for law firms. Instead, it’s become the sine qua non of operating a firm in the new normal.
Distributed law practices are gaining popularity due to the flexibility they provide attorneys. These “virtual firms” can have brick and mortar offices, but are equipped with infrastructure that enables lawyers and administrative staff to work from anywhere.
Distributed firms are part of the NewLaw trend that’s gained momentum with the proliferation of cloud-based tech in the legal space. Law firm collaboration software, like cloud-based legal practice management and video conferencing tools, make location independence possible, and is the foundation of lean practice management.
While virtual firms are necessary during the pandemic, the advantages they afford attorneys will outlast this global crisis. Keep reading to learn the benefits of agile practice management for distributed law firms, including:
- Access to more affordable talent thanks to location independence
- Increased efficiency with cloud-based legal practice management software
- Higher profitability thanks to little overhead
- Increased staff retention because of work-life balance
1. Agile law practice management unlocks access to more affordable talent
Distributed law firms come with many opportunities to save on payroll.
First, when your team can work from anywhere — instead of in a downtown office in your state’s priciest city — your firm can spend less on salaries. Let’s say a firm needs to hire an attorney who is barred in New York. A Big Law firm would likely have its headquarters in New York City and would be limited to hiring lawyers who live in the New York City metropolitan area, which has a tremendous cost of living. Hiring an attorney in the New York City area would cost the firm more than $120,000 according to salary data from Glassdoor.
A distributed firm, however, would have the flexibility to hire an equally talented attorney who lives in a part of New York state that has a lower cost of living. The firm could then pay the attorney a salary that is competitive in their local market, rather than a New York City salary. For example, the average salary of a lawyer based in Buffalo is about $88,000, according to Glassdoor. By hiring an attorney who lives in a more affordable market, the firm could save $32,000. Because they’re location independent, distributed law firms can hire experienced attorneys for a fraction of the cost of traditional firms with centralized offices.
Another benefit of agile law practice management is being able to expand your team on an as-needed basis, which comes with cost savings. Distributed firms have smaller core teams of partners and attorneys on staff than Big Law firms do. When these boutique firms get cases that they can’t handle on their own, they hire freelance attorneys to collaborate on larger cases. By maintaining a lean practice day-to-day, and expanding the team as needed, distributed law firms have more control over their payroll costs.
2. Law firm software enables efficiency at distributed firms
Lean practice management wouldn’t be possible without technology that enables remote collaboration.
For starters, cloud-based legal practice management software helps the entire firm hover as close to 100% utilization as possible by streamlining admin work. For example, integrating Matter365 with your existing Microsoft Office 365 suite transforms Office into an all-in-one practice management tool.
Video conferencing software, cloud file storage, and collaboration software make it possible to work with fellow attorneys and counsel clients from anywhere — reducing the need for costly office space and enabling better work-life balance.
3. Agile practice management for distributed law firms maximizes profitability
Some distributed law firms forego an office and work entirely virtually. These firms save considerably on overhead expenses by not paying for expensive real estate.
Agile law practices let attorneys and administrative staff work from home, rent private offices, or work from coworking spaces — options that are more affordable than the traditional law firm model of leasing expansive office space in a prime location. And even if these firms opt to maintain a headquarters, they can lease less space because working from the office is optional.
But how do these attorneys meet with clients without an office? Meetings can take place virtually, at rentable conference rooms in coworking spaces, or at clients’ offices.
By letting go of traditional expectations for what law firms should look like, distributed firms save significantly on overhead, which helps increase their profitability.
4. Work-life balance increases staff retention
Between 2016 and 2017, attorney turnover at private law firms almost doubled. Turnover is becoming a costly problem for the industry. In fact, turnover costs Big Law $9.1 billion each year. This figure accounts for things like productivity loss and time spent on hiring and training replacements.
A lack of work-life balance is one of the top drivers of turnover in the legal field, especially for female attorneys and attorneys of color. By transitioning to a distributed law firm model, your practice can retain talent more easily, and stop wasting money on turnover. The flexibility that agile law practice management affords attorneys and administrative staff makes it easier for them to prioritize work-life balance than the traditional firm model.
Higher profitability is another factor that attracts attorneys to come to and stay at distributed law firms. When the firm spends less on overhead, there’s more to go around to partners and attorneys. By being able to offer their attorneys higher salaries and a workplace culture that prioritizes work-life balance, distributed law firms can beat high turnover and retain talent more easily than centralized firms.
The bottom line: Agile, distributed law practice management is here to stay — Make sure you’re reaping the benefits
Distributed law firms have been around since before the COVID-19 pandemic. While the pandemic made working remotely indispensable to law practices, distributed firms aren’t just a passing trend — they’re here to stay.
A distributed organization makes it possible for firms to afford the best talent, increase efficiency, reduce overhead, and increase staff retention. How can your firm afford not to make the transition towards a more flexible, lean practice?