Five steps to running an effective virtual law firm

All law firms have been forced to work remotely since March. While lockdown is slowly easing, many practices have discovered the benefits of virtual working and are not hurrying back into the office. Bernadette Bennett, commercial manager for legal at Moneypenny, gives her top five tips for creating an effective ‘virtual’ law firm.

Organised desk with computer, coffee mug and pot plant

Three months of lockdown have been the catalyst for major operational change within the legal sector. With teams working from home, new technologies and tools being rolled out and workforces adapting to the new normal, agility has been key.

The firms that have continued to operate successfully and stand the best chance of thriving in future are those that put robust plans in place to adapt to the changing needs of employees and clients.

Now, with lockdown measures beginning to ease but the requirement for continued social distancing remaining, many law firms have decided against rushing back to the office in their droves. Rather, they are recognising the benefits of running a virtual office and for many, FaceTime will continue to be the new “face time”

Here are my five tips for law firms to looking to go virtual.

1. Communicate effectively

Firms looking to make virtual working more permanent post-lockdown will first need to formalise any ‘quick fix’ solutions they put in place during the initial stages of the outbreak. For example, a skeleton office-based team taking messages or giving out mobile numbers may have provided a temporary fix for clients, but it’s not an appropriate long-term solution.

Lawyers need sophisticated telephony systems, call answering support and other tools, such as phone system mobile apps, outsourced switchboards and live chat in order to be efficient and provide a positive client experience.

These solutions give firms the means to roll-out a virtual office, while maintaining their professional image and ensuring they remain accessible to clients. When firms have an agile workforce with the right tools, there’s the possibility to reduce office overheads without damaging client service levels.

2. Keep culture at the core

Lockdown has been a catalyst for firms to try new tools and platforms to maintain their workplace culture. The return on investment will only continue to grow.

Without the usual daily face-to-face interactions and camaraderie, it’s important to develop a workplace culture that can still function when employees work remotely. It requires two things – communication and collaboration.

Supporting effective interaction, regularly checking in with staff and encouraging teamwork will enable firms to make the shift to a virtual office while maintaining a happy, engaged workforce. A happy workforce equals happy clients.

3. Virtual front-of-house

Embracing the virtual office creates an opportunity for law firms to rethink their relationship with the workplace. In time, the traditional reception space and function might be replaced with more virtual solutions such as ‘check in’ kiosks for visitors, complemented by off-site call handling teams to manage the switchboard.

With the right technology in place, receptionists can continue to provide critical support to companies, handling enquiries virtually and delivering the same level of experience that clients are used to.

Calls can be diverted using digital switchboard solutions, while telephone answering services can provide the overflow support required to deal with spikes in demand or likely changes to working hours.

With live chat technology, the public can communicate with businesses online and receptionists can handle messages remotely. A virtual office requires a virtual front-of-house experience.

4. Turn to the experts

Research carried out pre-COVID-19 revealed that 70% of businesses planned to increase their use of outsourcing in 2020, 35% significantly.

The pandemic has served to accelerate these decisions, and organisations are seeking the support of professionals to help them streamline processes, save costs and enable employees to focus on core business objectives without the distraction of tasks outside of this area.

Since lockdown began, savvy practice managers have turned to experts to support them with business continuity. For some, it’s been a case of capitalising on existing relationships, but for others, new products have been investigated and partnerships formed.

5. Harness the power of digital

COVID-19 has rapidly accelerated the sector’s rate of digital transformation. Greater use of document sharing, communication and case management tools was already underway, but the enforced agility of recent months has shown firms how greater investment in digital tools is vital to business continuity.

Cloud computing to enable easy access and safe storage of files, and platforms such as Slack or Microsoft Teams to facilitate collaborative working remotely, will ensure that legal teams can get the job done wherever they are.

Moneypenny handles more than 2 million legal calls and live chats each year for more than 1,000 legal firms in the UK, including 70 of the Top 200.