The Evolving Lawyer
BY Jason Bland
Establishing yourself in today's legal market is a little more complicated than a nice location and a couple of contacts at the paper.
While the world advances around them, many older law firms are slow to change. The old, oversized oak furniture and house-length conference tables are still present in many offices and some founding partners still insist that their desk need not have a computer included in its landscape.
Unlike the era when many old firms were founded, establishing yourself in today's legal market is a little more complicated than a nice location and a couple of contacts at the paper. After all, many law firms face the same challenges as small businesses and need to stay ahead of the competition.
According to the Avery Index, lawyers per capita are on the rise. Washington, D.C. is the clear winner with 276 lawyers per 10,000 residents, New York has 20, Florida and California around 11 (with Illinois and Georgia having more), and Texas comes in at 9.5. With the increasing amount of competitors, lawyers must be ready to evolve and embrace a new way of doing business.
The evolving lawyer is supported by technology. From iPads to Androids to cloud computing, lawyers are unleashing themselves from their office and staying connected on the go.
This starts with a portable email solution. Being reliant on a local email client such as Microsoft Outlook where you cannot retrieve your email away from your office is the modern equivalent to not standing upright. Portable email is as essential as a cell phone and fortunately, rather inexpensive.
Google Apps, the professional version of Gmail that comes with many options or “apps”, is the best way to enter cloud computing. Do not let the $50 per year per user fee scare you away from Google Apps. While the features make it well worth the money, law firms that have fewer than 10 email accounts can enjoy Google Apps free of charge.
Simply visit google.com/apps/ and scroll to the bottom left footer where you will find a link under “Solutions” that says “Google Apps (Free)”. That will begin the sign-up process. Through the free version of Small Business Google Apps you get email with a Gmail style interface, an email ending in your domain name, Google Docs, Google Calendar, Google Sites, and business-level security. You do have to pay the piper, so Google Adwords ads will appear in your Google Apps email just like Gmail.
With Google Apps you can control access for your staff members, remove users, setup email forwards, and easily connect to your account using Apple devices like the iPhone and iPad or an Android phone and tablet. BlackBerry users will also enjoy device support with Google Apps.
If you are worried about a bait and switch, Google has honored their free services in the past. When they originally released the free Google Apps, it included 50 accounts. Those that signed up under this offer continue to enjoy 50 free accounts today.
While your hosting company can probably get your email connected to your phone, Google Apps makes it simple to stay completely connected. In fact, you could connect to your email using Microsoft Outlook or Apple Mail, sync with your iPhone or Android phone, also connect via your iPad or Android tablet, and use Google Docs to store and edit documents, spreadsheets, and presentations on the go. You would still have access to everything online in case you have to check on something using an older computer at your in-law's house over Thanksgiving. You are only a couple free apps away from making this happen.
Now standing upright and in sync with their office, the evolving lawyer can now shed the extra wires and not be tied down to one location. After all, lawyers are competing in a society of instant gratification; nobody wants to travel far for their coffee, pharmacy, or grocery store and the same is true for having legal counsel just around the corner.
With laptop in hand, the evolving lawyer utilizes inexpensive virtual office space to meet with existing and prospective clients. For the cost of one modest regular office, a law firm can have five virtual offices in every corner of the city. In most metro areas, virtual offices will cost $100-$300 per month with mail forwarding, call answering, and limited office or conference room time. With their assistants tied into Google Calendar with the firm's Google Apps account, the mobile attorney always knows where they are supposed to be. Plus, with receptionists coming as a standard perk with most virtual office solutions, lawyers do not have to worry about someone wandering into a virtual location uninvited. They will be greeted by a friendly face and their message will be sent via email or text.
Ironically, the evolving lawyer's success is based on nomadic behavior.
Lawyers are not the only ones that lead busy lives, their clients do too. And lawyers that understand that are reaping the rewards of convenient services.
Oftentimes, clients and businesses just need a consultation. Enter the evolving virtual lawyer.
To offer virtual lawyer services, you will need to do a few things. First, check your state laws to make sure it is allowed in your state. Most regulatory bodies are so far behind on technology that the concept has not even been introduced, much less banned. However, it is still best to rule that out as a potential problem before investing your time and effort.
Second, you will need to decide on a platform. You could offer a menu of choices like Skype, Google Chat, or iMeet (check rates for various services). Some virtual clients may prefer to keep their faces to themselves and do a phone conference.
You should not force your clients to pick a solution, but rather let them pick their own medium from a menu of services like the common ones mentioned above. If they enter the video chat on technology they are familiar with (like Skype) then you will not have to waste your time on tech support going into your meeting.
Finally, you need to bundle this up into a form on your website that interacts with PayPal or another payment processor. It is not necessary to integrate scheduling into the payment process as that can be done once payment clears. Scheduling can then be arranged at a time that is most convenient for you and your client. Offering the client convenience comes with a considerable savings to the law firm. A consultation can be conducted according the attorney's schedule and sometimes even leads attorneys to reduce these types of consultation rates to encourage higher volume.
From synchronized communication, file access in the cloud, multiple office locations, and virtual consultations, the evolving lawyer stays ahead of the pack and proves to be a fierce competitor in the local marketplace. By knowing what services to use and getting the most out of available technology, the evolving lawyer has morphed into an efficient law practice with far less overhead than its predecessor, thus leaving more resources available to build a Bigger Law Firm.
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