Sunday, April 06, 2008

Work/Life Balance Reform and the Virtual Law Office

The following is a post I wrote for MsJD about how a virtual law practice could be used as a way to provide attorneys with more flexible work/life balance. The essay was in response to an essay contest hosted by The Project for Attorney Retention and MsJD.

A small part of the work/life balance reform in the legal profession is taking place quietly through the use of secure, web-based technology. Virtual law offices provide an alternative method of practicing law that permit flexible work hours and can be used to create a better work/life balance for legal professionals. I chose this alternative and for the past two and a half years I have practiced law from home with a completely virtual law office powered by Virtual Law Office Technology, LLC (VLOTech).

In the interest of full disclosure, VLOTech is a company that my husband and I founded based on the positive response we received from other legal professionals nationwide to the concept of a completely virtual law office and the flexibility it offers. The technology is a secure, web-based, software as a service (SaaS) hosted program that generates online client development and permits an attorney to practice law anywhere he or she may access the Internet. The technology assists legal professionals so that they may build a better work/life balance for themselves by modifying their practice to fit personal and family needs.

Finding a better work/life balance was my motivation to start a completely virtual law practice. I chose to practice law from home so that I could spend my days caring for my young child but still continue to build my career as an attorney. To provide a brief description of my virtual office, my client files, data, billing, invoices, accounts receivable, other accounting and administrative tools, calendars and data management tools are located in the backend of the virtual office online. I have a central point in the virtual law office where all of my cases are organized and it shows me the status and priority for better time management.

On my client’s side, they have access to their own homepages through my virtual law office where they may view all of our online communications, pay me online, download and upload documents, and update client data, among other features. I have 24 hour policy of responding to my clients online. My clients are located across the state, most of them I’ve never met or spoken with in person. My flexible work hours include the time during my child’s nap, in the early morning and evenings or whenever else it is convenient for me and my clients to get work completed. My clients appreciate that I am available to them during non-business hours because that is often more convenient for them as well.

Through the use of VLOTech, blogs and other web-based technologies, the legal professional today may create alternative working arrangements that can be adjusted and refined as circumstances in his or her personal life require. I have used these to fashion a work/life balance that meets my current needs as a parent, a wife, a daughter and an attorney. I have found wonderful mentors online through law blogs, the ABA’s Solosez and my state bar’s practice group listservs. In five years from now, my work and family life needs will be different, but an effective use of web-based technology will allow me to adjust the hours which I devote to my law practice and return to a more traditional attorney work schedule.

Many baby boomer law partners will realize the importance of work/family life balance as they begin to care for their aging and elderly parents. At some point in our lives, most of us will be contributing to the care of a family member, either financially or with our time and either by chose or imposition. Legal professionals of both sexes are not immune to this fact of life. Recognizing this, rather than fighting against it, would benefit the legal profession with both higher retention rates among young attorneys and with peers who were less vulnerable to depression and alcohol abuse.

Other attorneys who are adopting these technologies in their law practices have seen the potential for the virtual law office concept to reform the work/life balance in the legal profession. Its usefulness is not limited to young female attorneys who want to take the time out to raise a family and continue to have a career. The technology could be used by more experienced attorneys who need to take a couple months or a year off from a firm to care for an elderly parent or ill spouse. Apply the same concept to legal assistants and paralegals who could use the technology from their homes or other remote location in conjunction with a traditional law office and continue to be productive members to their employers while managing law office administrative tasks, client intake, accounting and other functions found in the virtual law office software. The web-based technology permits the attorney to control his or her law practice in a more flexible manner that maintains productivity and makes the management of clients and a law office more efficient.

VLOTech and other web based, software as a service technologies that are available today should be put to work to help the legal profession reform the work/life balance. If the level of productivity remains high, quality legal work is produced and client development is strong, then there should be no reason why virtual law office technology should not be considered to implement a better work/life balance and improve attorney retention.

The crux of the divide between baby boomer attorneys and fresh law school graduates is not about “putting in the time.” It’s about letting someone else other than your law firm control how you allocate your time and prioritize the people in your life. Technology is quietly allowing legal professionals to arrange their lives and their careers so that at different times in their lives they may adjust to meet a careful balance that changes a little for each of us, each year of our lives. I’m excited to be a part of this quiet reform and I hope that it continues to spread and provide more unique law practice alternatives for the members of our profession.


Kristin Callan said...

Kudos! The world is going virtual and employers need to be more flexible than ever before. We're seeing the virtual trend in accounting as well. We are a group of accountants that just founded a similar virtual platform for accounting practices. said...

Thanks for your comment, Kristin, and congratulations on also finding a way to leverage technology in your own profession.