Washington Lawyer - January 2017 - 27


M

ost days, attorney Mark Taylor
navigates the complex maze
of U.S. bankruptcy laws for his
Washington, D.C., clients from
the quiet of his Clark County,
Virginia, home. A former Big
Law attorney, Taylor can now spend as much time
admiring the 50-mile views from his mountain
retreat as negotiating the hectic rush of downtown
D.C. traffic.
"Sitting in my office 70 miles west of D.C. in the Blue
Ridge and looking out over the Shenandoah Valley,
my commute most mornings is down to my coffee
pot to get coffee for my wife and me," says Taylor, a
partner at VLP Law Group LLC, a nationwide virtual
law firm with D.C. practitioners. "I am perfectly able to
serve my clients' needs from here. Technology makes
this possible, and I can get my hourly rate back to a
reasonable level for my clients."
Unlike other attorneys who telecommute a few days a
month, Taylor operates entirely from his home. He
travels to Washington and other cities when he needs
to, but he files paperwork with courts, connects with
clients, and researches the finer points of bankruptcy
law from his virtual perch in the mountains.
All of this wouldn't have been possible for Taylor a
mere decade ago. The technology didn't exist and
public attitudes, especially those of clients, wouldn't
have accepted the idea that attorneys could
successfully serve their clients from the comfort of
their homes or vacation cottages. Today, that notion
seems quaint, and has been replaced with the
realization that the law can be delivered virtually -
and effectively - almost anywhere.
A dynamic vehicle for legal services, virtual law firms
can be both cheaper for clients and more efficient for
attorney partners. Websites, conferencing systems,
mobile technologies, and document management
tools to serve clients are ubiquitous these days, and
they allow for confidentiality and productivity in
equal measures.
While there remains some debate about what exactly
constitutes a virtual law firm, the American Bar
Association (ABA) has tried to define e-lawyering as
using the Internet and Web-based technologies to
communicate and work with clients and colleagues

to "produce documents, settle disputes, interact with
courts, and manage legal knowledge."
Despite the attractiveness of the virtual work to some,
the number of converts remains small. The 2015 ABA
TECHREPORT surveyed attorneys about virtual law
and found that only 5 percent of total respondents
described their practices as virtual, a drop from 7
percent in 2014. Some 11 percent of solo practitioners
said they had a virtual practice in 2015, compared to
10 percent the year before. There was a significant
decline in the number of small firms, however, that
described their work as virtual, dropping from 8
percent in 2014 to 4 percent in 2015.
The adoption of virtual practices, albeit slow, has
ensured that both firms and lawyers can address
billing rate pressures, reduce costs for clients, and
inject a measure of freedom into attorneys'
professional lives by leaving behind traditional
practices. It also guarantees a level of financial
autonomy that is rarely found in conventional
practices where partners are expected to take on
financial and leadership roles.
"Increasingly, the big firm model is broken," says Brent
Fewell, chair and founder of Earth & Water Group, a
D.C.-based virtual law and consulting firm. "I'm
surprised that more companies and clients aren't
pushing back on that. The virtual model presents an
opportunity for lawyers who are burned out on the
big firm model and want to try something different,
who want to win back their former clients, and who
want to still practice and experience an improved
quality of life."

FINANCES FIRST
Going virtual has become a legitimate route for many
lawyers who have felt a conflict between the Big Law
business model and client concerns about hourly
rates and time on task. As hourly rates have escalated
in the last decade, particularly in the years after the
Great Recession, many clients have been priced out of
the large law firm market, taking their business to
firms that had less overhead and cheaper rates. Some
partners felt that, given billing practices, there was
little they could do but watch those clients walk out
the door.
"I had worked with big firms, and my clients had
concerns over increasing rates," says Fewell. "I had,

frankly, lost a number of clients and lost opportunities
because rates were so high in my old law firm. I
wanted to work with clients and was precluded from
working with them because of rate structures."
The same was true for Taylor, who had watched
hourly rates climb every year at his old firm. "I had
access to a particular type of client and particular type
of work, and those clients have access to a whole
Rolodex of attorneys with a variety of different rates,"
says Taylor. "My initial conception of the virtual law
firm was to get my rate back to where the market
really is, then I figured I could bring back a lot of work
that had left me."
And it worked for Taylor and other attorneys who
took the virtual route. The flexibility of the virtual
practice allows attorneys to not only generate savings
through reduced overhead and online tools, but also
to initiate alternative billing options, such as fixed fees
or standardized billable hours. No longer tied to the
pressures of a big law firm to generate a $1 million
book of business, attorneys also could price their
services to better fit their clients' bank accounts and
their own.
"Our platform is really beneficial for anyone with a
$400,000 to $800,000 book of business," says Fewell.
"It's very attractive because they can keep their hourly
rates reasonable, and they get to keep most of that
income. Big firms pay 40 cents on the dollar. The
virtual platform allows you to keep 80 percent or 90
percent of your earnings."

THE WEB-BASED PRACTICE
Virtual law firms have embraced technology with a
gusto that separates them from even their tech-savvy
Big Law counterparts, many of which frequently enlist
technology to improve service delivery and cut costs.
By eschewing elegant office spaces, virtual firms turn
to secure portals for client transactions, employ
Webinars and discussion boards for training, and use
online chat rooms for client meetings.
Internet tools and technology not only keep clients
happy - they are essential for the daily operations
of virtual firms. Cloud-based software and storage
services such as Dropbox, iCloud, and Google
Docs are vital and preferred by most e-lawyers.
Electronic invoicing, fillable online forms,
Internet-based fax services, encrypted email systems,

* WASHINGTON LAWYER * JANUARY 2017 27


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Table of Contents for the Digital Edition of Washington Lawyer - January 2017

Washington Lawyer - January 2017
Contents
Your Voice
From Our President
Our Membership
Career & Professional Development
Practice Management
Calendar of Events
Government & Gavel
Feature: An Inside Job
Feature: Investment Planning for Lawyers
Feature: Making the Virtual Leap
Feature: Lawyers Have Heart
Member Spotlight
Global & Domestic Outlook
Worth Reading
Media Bytes
Partners' Perspective
Ask the Ethics Experts
Attorney Briefs
Pro Bono Effect
Community & Connections
Last Word
Washington Lawyer - January 2017 - Washington Lawyer - January 2017
Washington Lawyer - January 2017 - Cover2
Washington Lawyer - January 2017 - 1
Washington Lawyer - January 2017 - Contents
Washington Lawyer - January 2017 - 3
Washington Lawyer - January 2017 - 4
Washington Lawyer - January 2017 - Your Voice
Washington Lawyer - January 2017 - From Our President
Washington Lawyer - January 2017 - 7
Washington Lawyer - January 2017 - Our Membership
Washington Lawyer - January 2017 - 9
Washington Lawyer - January 2017 - Career & Professional Development
Washington Lawyer - January 2017 - 11
Washington Lawyer - January 2017 - Practice Management
Washington Lawyer - January 2017 - 13
Washington Lawyer - January 2017 - Calendar of Events
Washington Lawyer - January 2017 - 15
Washington Lawyer - January 2017 - Government & Gavel
Washington Lawyer - January 2017 - 17
Washington Lawyer - January 2017 - Feature: An Inside Job
Washington Lawyer - January 2017 - 19
Washington Lawyer - January 2017 - 20
Washington Lawyer - January 2017 - 21
Washington Lawyer - January 2017 - Feature: Investment Planning for Lawyers
Washington Lawyer - January 2017 - 23
Washington Lawyer - January 2017 - 24
Washington Lawyer - January 2017 - 25
Washington Lawyer - January 2017 - Feature: Making the Virtual Leap
Washington Lawyer - January 2017 - 27
Washington Lawyer - January 2017 - 28
Washington Lawyer - January 2017 - 29
Washington Lawyer - January 2017 - Feature: Lawyers Have Heart
Washington Lawyer - January 2017 - 31
Washington Lawyer - January 2017 - 32
Washington Lawyer - January 2017 - 33
Washington Lawyer - January 2017 - Member Spotlight
Washington Lawyer - January 2017 - 35
Washington Lawyer - January 2017 - Global & Domestic Outlook
Washington Lawyer - January 2017 - 37
Washington Lawyer - January 2017 - Worth Reading
Washington Lawyer - January 2017 - Media Bytes
Washington Lawyer - January 2017 - Partners' Perspective
Washington Lawyer - January 2017 - 41
Washington Lawyer - January 2017 - Ask the Ethics Experts
Washington Lawyer - January 2017 - Attorney Briefs
Washington Lawyer - January 2017 - Pro Bono Effect
Washington Lawyer - January 2017 - 45
Washington Lawyer - January 2017 - Community & Connections
Washington Lawyer - January 2017 - 47
Washington Lawyer - January 2017 - Last Word
Washington Lawyer - January 2017 - Cover3
Washington Lawyer - January 2017 - Cover4
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