Law Firms Are Already Virtual. It’s Time to Embrace It.

By Brandon Vogel

Building a Virtual Bar Center

The next generation of clients may not call their lawyers, but will happily jump on a computer or use their device to communicate.

Sarah Gold of Albany (Gold Law Firm), co-chair of the Law Practice Management Committee, explained that “it’s not necessarily a bad thing; it’s just different.” Lawyers who embrace virtuality are halfway to growing their practice.

Even after the coronavirus pandemic is over, Gold doesn’t see things going back to the way we were. She prefers to think forward and “not dwell on what it used to be like because it will drive you crazy.

“You are probably not going to be taking as many in-person consultations as you used to and that’s fine as long as you have the technology and the wherewithal to back it up,” said Gold. “Things will still need to get done and you need to figure out a way to do this.”

Initially planned before the coronavirus pandemic, Gold’s program, “Ten Tips to Help Grow Your Practice” focused on what lawyers need to thrive now with an increased emphasis on an attorneys’ website and virtual presence.

Client communications

Gold advised that if you don’t have a website, “Get on that right now!” If you have one, what does it say? You need to be able to identify on your website what your clients are looking for. Gold’s website clearly states that she is open for business during the coronavirus crisis and what key services she provides. She also affirms that she has the remote technology available to serve her clients, including videoconferencing and digital notarization tools.

On the other side, Gold reminded the audience to check how their law firm appears on Google. “What Google says about your business right now may or may not be true,” said Gold. “It’s really important to go to Google My Business.” Are you still open? If so, are your hours the same? Are you by appointment only?”

She explained that a business may be listed as temporarily closed because the building itself is closed. “You don’t want to give clients the wrong idea,” said Gold.  She noted that Google is not allowing reviews currently, but a business owner can still set up ads and track performance.

Some lawyers are texting with clients, still “a new concept as far as businesses are concerned.” Gold herself lets clients text her through services that don’t allow clients to receive her cell phone number. Through Skype, clients can send her SMS messages that go right to her phone.

“Sometimes, it’s much easier for that quick question,” said Gold. “As your clients start coming of age, it’s kind of an expectation.”

Gold has been able to take on new clients during this pandemic. “It is important to know where your clients are and come to them where they are. At the end of the day, they are still expecting to have that consult. You are going to have to rethink what that client consult is and provide those options to your client,” said Gold.

Gold foresees that when the economy reopens, “Things are going to open up with a bang.” Being in contact with clients now will help.

“You don’t have to send a touchy-feely email that says ‘We are thinking about you through this difficult time.’ Keep your messages simple but clear,” said Gold. “Clients are looking for you for reassurance; provide it. Being that voice of reassurance and wisdom can go a long way.”

The right technology

As lawyers have moved to remote work, they may have discovered that their current technology could be better. Gold suggested that lawyers come up with a wish list of software and hardware to help you with your practice. “To do the research now takes a lot of time off your plate,” said Gold. Webcams, she noted, are very hard to find and retailing much higher than before the coronavirus.

Gold recalled when she started her solo practice, she was looking for a law practice management (LPM) software that was ultimately “a unicorn, something that didn’t exist.” For better or worse, LPM  software pops up like mushrooms in the dark, she said.

“Some of it is a matter of trying to figure out what you need and what you don’t need. Make a list of what you’d like (time tracking, client intake, document management),” said Gold. “Don’t be afraid to do the demos. When you do the demos, don’t get pushed around by the pricing.  Play hard and fast with what you are willing to pay.”

Understanding what your practice is and what it isn’t is important.

She discussed that some programs work well for family law attorneys and trusts and estates attorneys but not everyone. Changing practice management software can be difficult, but not impossible; most programs can be migrated.

Gold also discussed that some lawyers still prefer checks over credit cards for client payments.

“Right now, getting paid is better than not getting paid,” said Gold. “Clients want to be able to make that payment.”

She recommended that lawyers use a third party to handle credit card transactions to reduce liability issues.

“There is nothing better than getting an email that your client has paid you right after you have sent that invoice,” said Gold.

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