One of the problems with a label like “virtual” is that, as Lee Rosen points out, clients don’t care about the label. They may like your fees, or the fact that they don’t have to come to your office, but they could probably care less whether you call yourself a “virtual” lawyer or not.
If anything, as I ranted at Small Firm Innovation last week, calling yourself a “virtual” lawyer gives the impression that you are a pretend lawyer. I’m pretty sure not many people want to hire a pretend lawyer.
Carolyn Elefant points out some other reasons why the number of virtual lawyers may be falling, but I think the main reason fewer lawyers are going all-in on virtual lawyering is because it doesn’t really matter.
I’m not talking about the technology, here. Offering online-only legal services can be really good way to serve some clients. As Scott Greenfield writes, virtual law practice tools are just that: tools. Serve clients “virtually” when it suits those clients’ needs and you can do it ethically and responsibly. But don’t try to force other clients into that mold that doesn’t fit.
I see a parallel in alternative fees. Several years ago, you couldn’t go to a conference without encountering a seminar on “alternative fees,” and law bloggers were writing about alternative fees constantly (I’m as guilty as anyone). You don’t hear so much about them now. That does not mean lawyers aren’t using alternative fees. It’s just that enough lawyers have added alternative fees to their toolboxes — without giving up on the billable hour entirely — that it’s no longer interesting to talk about them.
Lawyers — humans — are always looking for The Answer to their problems, whether it’s a successful law practice or an expanding waistline. There is no Answer, though. Law practice is hard work. Clients and money will not fall into your lap just because you call yourself virtual. You will not suddenly become organized if you purchase practice management software. You will not become a better lawyer just because you buy a scanner.
Technology is really cool and gives us awesome shiny things like iPads and robot vacuum cleaners. But technology is a means, not an end. It can help you serve your clients better, but it cannot make you a better lawyer. And just because something is high-tech, that does not mean clients will pay for it.
So keep virtual law practice tools in your toolbox, in case you have clients who need you to use them. Just don’t make the mistake of thinking that all clients need them.