Perfect timing makes practice: Setting up virtual firm during COVID | Joshua Goldberg
Friday, July 02, 2021 @ 11:42 AM | By Joshua Goldberg
The decision came to me after the first nine months of the COVID lockdown. On the first day of lockdown, I had just started a new job at a large law firm.
In the nine months I was employed there, I worked completely remotely; I did not see one client or any of my colleagues in person. But I got the same amount of work done as if I had been in a physical office. I was able to build relationships too, even without being able to grab a drink after work with my colleagues. I realized that if ever there was a time to start my own practice, this was it.
On Nov. 2, 2020, I opened my doors. I started with zero clients — a daunting and stressful way to open a firm. Slowly, however, I built up a book of business and I’m now at 100 clients. I hired a law clerk and an assistant who work with me from their own homes, and everyone benefits from the arrangement.
We are accomplishing just as much as we would if we were in a physical office and everyone has the freedom to structure their workday in whatever way works best for them. They don’t have to work 9 to 5, as long as urgent matters are completed on time. And as far as I’m aware, they’re enjoying their jobs and their life far more than if they were stuck spending more of their days cooped up in a stuffy office.
Despite the success of my current model, we are contemplating a physical office for in-person meetings only. It will likely be a shared office, not a traditional one.
Virtual hearings are here to stay
Since the pandemic began, courts have pushed forward with videoconferencing sessions for hearings, pretrials, trials and case conferences. This has also opened the door to examinations for discovery by video, which is now the standard.The legal system and its culture are thankfully becoming more open to the idea of practising law remotely.
Before the pandemic, it was almost unheard of to do something as basic as an examination of discovery through videoconferencing.
In fact, I remember one case many years ago, where the firm I worked at debated whether they should incur the enormous expense of flying someone in from the Dominican Republic for a one-hour deposition (the alternative was to send a lawyer to the Dominican), even though video was an option. Had the case not settled, we probably would have flown the witness in!
I’m confident that the courts will continue to embrace virtual hearings when the pandemic is over since it reduces the time and expense involved in in-person hearings. It will especially help with the backlog in civil and criminal court cases.
Clients also benefit from a judicial system that is more accessible. Videoconferencing increases access to justice for the public, as trials are scheduled faster. And being able to do discoveries from home makes clients more comfortable and relaxed.
Building your brand
I have also found building an online presence a much more effective way of building up my practice. We currently run several social media accounts that are very active. My firm’s website includes a blog that offers extensive information on client-oriented topics, because I wanted to answer the questions that people don’t even realize they should be asking. And I try to anticipate what people don’t understand about the law and legal system. For many clients, this may be the first time they have been involved in a legal proceeding.
Not all sunshine and roses
All that being said, it’s not all sunshine and roses. And opening a firm during a pandemic is not for everyone. There’s a lot of risk in doing it the way I did. And risk leads to increased stress!
Anyone starting their own firm has to be ready to invest a lot of time on the business side of things. There are many things you need to focus on, like creating a logo (which is harder than it sounds),branding and your presence online.
In my opinion, branding is a critical aspect of running a firm, so no matter what, it’s very important to have a good website at the least. Clients are going to check you out before signing up, and you want them to think your firm looks good and respectable. And all this non-law stuff means a significant investment of time and money.
Another hurdle of opening a virtual firm was the number of administrative tasks, such as mail. Having my team offsite made these issues more challenging. However, once we figured out the best process to deal with each issue, it was fine, but anyone opening a firm is going to have to be ready to spend time on these somewhat tedious things.
Despite the challenges, I don’t regret opening my own virtual firm for a minute. I’ve never had so much fun with work. My firm is like my child and I’m happy to put in all the time that’s needed to nurture it and make it grow!
Joshua Goldberg, of Joshua Goldberg Law, has practised litigation, primarily in the area of personal injury, disability and insurance law. He mostly handles motor vehicle accidents, occupiers’ liability and disability insurance claims but has a small practice of general litigation files. Goldberg had previously spent several years in China, where he learned to speak Mandarin Chinese.
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