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Virtual law firms may impact on legal support jobs


Research by law firm Hazlewoods has found that more than 800 lawyers in the UK are working for virtual law firms as a result of advances in technology.


Hazlewoods says that technology is driving a new business model in the legal sector, in which lawyers working remotely share services provided by a central hub. A virtual law firm is a decentralised legal practice, which has central services such as such as compliance, accounting and administration, adds Hazlewoods’ researchers.


Practising through a virtual law firm also allows individual lawyers to avoid much of the compliance and administration burden they would bear if they ran their own firm.


“As the majority of compliance and administrative work is dealt with centrally, lawyers have more time to focus on fee paying activity,” say the researchers.


As a result, virtual law firms have lower running costs and can offer lower fixed fee costs, as in the case of online conveyancing services.


Lawyers working for virtual law firms also tend to be paid a higher proportion of the fees they make than in traditional firms, where they are likely to be salaried, say the researchers.


Lawyers working for virtual firms also have more flexibility in their jobs, offering less pressure and a better work-life balance.


However, the rise in virtual law firms could negatively impact on the recruitment of legal support staff, including paralegals, assistants and in house IT staff.


“Virtual law firms do not have to pay rent on expensive office space – nor do they have to employ as many support staff, such as paralegals, assistants and on site IT staff,” the research finds.


Hazlewoods says that advances in modern IT have been key to the rise of virtual law firms “as data can now be managed securely and efficiently, regardless of geographic distance”, helping lawyers to collaborate on cases and have all the information immediately available to them “whether they are at home or on the move”.


New technology enables virtual law firms to deliver services to clients through secure online portals – meaning entire firms can operate largely from mobile devices.


“Using these portals, lawyers can assemble documents, communicate securely with clients – and handle their billing and administration.”


Hazlewoods adds that growth in the legal profession in recent years has not been uniform, with innovative offerings often acting as major growth drivers, including some law firms establishing on demand services providing temporary, in house lawyers to business clients.


Partner in Hazelwoods’ Legal Team, Jon Cartwright, said:


“The growing population of virtual lawyers reflects the changing landscape of legal services, as technology renders distance obsolete.”


“Lawyers who may have previously set up their own firms are now realising the major cost and time savings of practising remotely – in their ideal scenario, virtual lawyers can make more money in fewer hours, while working at times that suit them.”


The Law Support Group covers all areas of recruitment – from support staff to fee-earner level recruitment – for both regional and international banking and law firms here in the UK, Europe and the Middle East.


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