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Going virtual, paperless: Is it really that scary? | Jo-Anne Stark

Tuesday, October 05, 2021 @ 1:03 PM | By Jo-Anne Stark

Jo-Anne Stark %>
Jo-Anne Stark
Dear Jo:

I’ve been a lawyer for many years and want to change the way I practise. I’m considering leaving the firm and starting a solo firm. I find the prospect a bit scary — I’ve relied heavily on support staff to manage administrative and billing matters over the years — so the prospect of figuring out all the back-office workings is a bit intimidating. I’m also not sure about the costs involved to set everything up as a solo practitioner. How can I make this transition simple and cost-effective?

Although October is the month we associate with all things spooky, running a virtual and paperless practice need not be frightening at all! I think the most difficult part of this transition is making the decision to take the first step. When I first launched a virtual paperless law firm a number of years ago, it was like taking a leap into the unknown. Back then, lawyers simply didn’t run practices without filing cabinets full of paper files — and they certainly didn’t meet with all their individual clients from afar using only videoconferencing! However, I trusted that the technology was finally at a place that it was not only possible, but far more practical for those of us wanting to adjust the way that we practise law and who wanted to create more balance in our lives.

By 2019, I was actively coaching self-represented litigants after testing a coaching model for a couple of years. My clients were very grateful for the services I was able to provide — and for the lower rates I could charge! But this didn’t happen overnight …

The first part of the process was getting an updated website and social media pages set up and running. After that, all it really took was a new laptop and subscriptions to a cloud management system and to videoconferencing — both were user-friendly and cost efficient. My existing cell phone had a virtual business line added to it — eliminating the need for a second phone or landline. This system allowed me to set up a way to meet with clients living anywhere that I was licensed to practice, and the clients loved the convenience! In addition, I could work anywhere, without the need for an office or staff. All the client files live in the cloud, safe and secure. 

Lawyers often ask how I could have set up a practice in about six weeks, which operates at a cost of under $200 per month; it is entirely possible. This system is simple to use and works seamlessly — from booking appointments, to recording my time and work, to invoicing and collecting fees. Most of this can be easily accessed from my phone as well — further proof that you can be mobile and run a practice from anywhere! I can bill clients with the click of a button, and payments are received, processed and accounted for, all automatically in the background. The payments land in my operating account and the invoice is registered as having been paid. 

As a legal coach and consultant, my clients often do their own work and I meet with them regularly to give guidance and support along the way. By using basic technology, I’m able to conduct the meetings and provide that direction to clients in a way that is more convenient for them and for me. Running a solo practice has never been easier — the pandemic has shown the legal profession that it is entirely possible to work remotely, without paper files and a public office; making the transition requires some planning but it is not something that will break the bank!

Jo-Anne Stark, B.Comm., J.D., CLC, is the founding president of the non-profit Legal Coaches Association and author of Mastering the Art of Legal Coaching. Find her on LinkedIn.

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