Monday, March 9, 2009

Virtual Law Partners

I still like this idea, that of good lawyers practicing largely without offices, staff and associates and keeping what they earn. It is largely what I do now, albeit without partners anymore. But Virtual Law Partners has the kind of business model I like. And it is one I might consider down the road myself if they'll have me. (The story also has a bit to say about layoffs, outsourcing and other factors causing turmoil in the legal market.)

The WaPo headline notwithstanding, I don't think it is entirely accurate to say that the recession is driving lawyers into this kind of practice. Yes, it allows people like me to cut rates and yet keep more money because of low overhead. In part, yes, it is a function of good lawyers being "fed up with the traditional business model that required it to annually increase rates and billable hours to finance ballooning profits and overhead." Billing rates at many firms are simply out of control. Call it Wal-Mart discounting if you want, but for much of the work I do you should not be paying bet the company billing rates.

But there's also a quality of life factor to consider:

Besides saving money for clients, Willard said the firm is good for his home life, too. At his previous firm, he said, he worked 60 to 85 hours a week to keep up his billable time. Now he works 40 to 50 hours and has more time with his wife and two young daughters.

He said he has the ability under the new arrangement to work less and make more money. Because overhead is so low, he keeps 85 percent of what he generates, he said, instead of 30 percent.

"I can go to my daughters' piano lessons and tae kwon do practices," said Willard, who kept 90 percent of his clients from his previous firm. "I have clawed back a significant part of my life."

Bingo. Thanks to technology, you'll never know from where in the world I am working unless I tell you. Much as I enjoyed my time in downtown Chicago, there are definite advantages to doing what we do. For instance, I am having a very busy day today. But when I take breaks, instead of eating I will hit the weight machines next to my home office, or maybe the elliptical. And my commute is roughly 300 feet, including one flight of stairs. In short, I have three hours more a day to do what I want rather than what I have to do.

Okay, you get the picture. Back to work.

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