The Practical Advantages of a Virtual Law Firm
By Jacqueline S. Vinaccia
In January 2019, I left my position as a partner at a traditional law firm and moved to Vanst Law, LLP, a virtual law firm. Working at Vanst provides me the advantages of a traditional law firm and the freedoms associated with a solo practice; it has made me infinitely happier in my practice. This in turn has made me a better lawyer and service provider to my clients.
There are common misperceptions about virtual law firm models, and law firm strategists voice skepticism about such firm models. I’d like to answer some questions about the criticisms through my personal experience and based on recent research conducted by American Lawyer and reported in Law360.
Large law firms have been (and remain) the norm in most of the country. Yet, a plethora of research shows these models do not work for many groups of attorneys, women and minority attorneys especially. While the conventional wisdom is that the depth and breadth of the law firm model will raise the profile of the firm’s individual attorneys, I did not find that to be true when I worked in one of the nation’s largest law firms. Instead, I found a cutthroat environment where clients I made contacts with and brought into the firm were stolen from me. I was working in an environment where it was assumed that because I was a mother, I was not a good investment for the long term. As such, the internal referral network passed me by. My efforts to advance my career and the profile of my litigation team were minimized to the point that I gave up and left the firm.
I was much better off at my next firm, a smaller boutique firm. I grew my business without fear of my partners stealing my clients and was encouraged to develop business consistent with the firm’s profile. I was compensated about 47% of my total origination, which was good, and I realized I could do better. So when the opportunity to join Vanst arose, I took it.
Some law firm strategists suggest that a virtual firm is nothing more than a compromise between a firm and going solo. There is some truth to that. However, when I hear such skepticism, I question how many virtual firms have actually been analyzed. Vanst is not the first; though it is one of the latest to jump on this bandwagon of challenging the traditional firm model to create a model that works for more attorneys.
I challenge the assumption that a solo attorney keeps 100% of her collections while I pay 30% of mine to my firm. There is no question that pocketing 70% of my collections is netting me greater compensation than the 47% I received at my prior firm. I also buy a full suite of services with that 30% of my collections, including robust legal software, 24/7 IT services, billing and collection services, marketing and website services, continuing business development, accounting, administrative support, and management of the firm. We also have the usual benefit package available to a small firm. While I could procure these services on my own, I doubt they would be cheaper and the amount of time and headache saved is invaluable. This time-savings then allows me to focus on lawyering and earn more money.
What I don’t have to do working in a virtual law firm is attend lengthy partner meetings, concern myself with personnel issues, day-to-day management of the firm, and physical overhead costs. I don’t commute to work every day, and I don’t miss a workout because I am running late to get into the office. Other than court hearings, my schedule is entirely my own.
I could easily be a solo practitioner. However, that would deprive me of the camaraderie and quick consult availability of my partners, the internal assistance network, and the vast referral network I enjoy from my fellow partners. I also take pride in our challenge to the established system creating a model that works for outstanding lawyers who are not given the opportunity to shine in the tradition firm model.
Recent research conducted by Law 360 shows that traditional large law firm head count growth has been 1 – 2% and revenue growth has been 1.2 – 4.3%over the past five years. Virtual firms have grown in head count by 15 – 30%, and revenue of up to 50% in the last five years. The largest virtual firms are showing growth well in excess of those numbers. The research also shows that virtual firms perform deep and meaningful legal work and are attracting major partners from big law firms. While the virtual law firm is a model that is relatively new to the legal world (less than 20 years old), it is one that has been proven to work for many attorneys and their clients.
Vanst Law is proud to be on the vanguard of this challenge to the traditional law firm model to provide an alternative option to the excellent attorneys that I call my partners, and the quality of service we provide our clients as a result.
Jacqueline S. Vinaccia is a litigation and trial lawyer, and attorney fee auditor. Litigation is stressful and expensive. Ms. Vinaccia’s tenacity, coupled with her compassion for clients, prompts an honest assessment of litigation strategy, value, and cost to ensure her clients’ receive a smooth trial experience. She assists clients with their litigation needs before judges, juries, mediation, trial and appellate court.