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  • Rachael Sheahan, Esq.

How To Start A Virtual Law Firm.

Updated: Feb 26

By Rachael A. Sheahan, Esq.

How to start a Virtual Firm according to popular opinion?

The long list of steps to start a virtual firm might look something like the collapsible list below but wouldn't tell you anything you don't already know, and it isn't very helpful. For the inside "how-to", scroll down to see which steps I found most important, the mandatory legal services, and what I wish I would have done differently. This is Rachael's "How to Start a Full-Service, Virtual, General Practice Law Firm; the Best Way".

  1. Research the legal regulations and requirements in your state or jurisdiction. Make sure you understand any and all laws that you must comply with when starting a virtual law firm.

  2. Create a business plan. Outline the services you plan to provide, your business goals, and the resources you need to make those goals a reality.

  3. Choose a business structure. Decide whether to operate as a sole proprietorship, partnership, or corporation and then register your business with the applicable government entity.

  4. Obtain malpractice insurance. Malpractice insurance is essential for any law firm and should be acquired before you start taking on clients.

  5. Set up a virtual office. Get a physical address, phone number, and email address to use for your law firm.

  6. Choose a virtual platform. Invest in a virtual platform that will allow you to access files, communicate with clients, and manage your practice.

  7. Market your services. Develop a marketing strategy to let potential clients know about your virtual law firm.

  8. Stay current on new legal developments. Make sure you are up to date on any changes in the law that may impact your practice.

What is most important to you when deciding what type of firm you would like?

  • Having sufficient capital

  • Practice Area

  • Your reputation in the legal community

Researching how to create a virtual law firm may look something like this. But, ask yourself first, "what is absolutely necessary to practice law in your state?" I’ll tell you what I found to be necessary in creating my virtual law firm, and the list might shock you.


Basics - What Do You Need To Practice Law?

Whether you are a new attorney or have five years in practice, ask yourself "What do I actually need to practice law?" Your answer might be as simple as yourself and your phone. A virtual law firm is streamlined; it is you and your ability to seek out answers and results.

  1. An active license to practice law in your state.

  2. A computer, laptop, or even an ipad. Cloud-based software allows a paperless office to flourish with the bare minimum of excess. (You will not find a filing cabinet on this list.)

  3. Email and a phone.

This is the end of my “necessaries” list. Once you're licensed to practice law, you will need a laptop, at the least. This is my short list, because technically, you could take your laptop to the public law library and go “old school”, as long as your state ethics rules allow. If that sounds like a bad idea, it probably is. Some states require malpractice insurance, so check your state bar rules and resources to see what they require and what they recommend. Remember that you are always required to be competent to practice before you take on any new case. If you want to create a practice with low expenses that grows at your own pace, creating a virtual law firm is the perfect opportunity.

Basics- What Do You Need to Operate Your Law Firm

Along with the list above, here is my advice.

  1. Before you start signing contracts with legal service providers, remember your business law classes and form your company.

  2. Your business will need an address or place to receive mail, so obtain a Post Office Box.

  3. Your law firm will need a telephone line.

  4. Legal research provider.

  5. Case/Client-management software.

This post lists different steps, legal requirements, and optional software in an order that seeks to highlight the fundamentals of what must, should, or could be obtained to operate a successful virtual law firm, without substantial start-up capital. Regardless of what infrastructure the attorney or firm starts with, any business endeavor should begin with the complete formation of the business entity.

The list, so far has been written with an implied assumption of cell phone usage for the practice of law. Unless you want to make your personal number public, you should consider a dedicated voice over internet protocol (VoIP) phone line for your law firm. The benefits of a VoIP line over traditional landlines include the wide array of features of an internet-based telephone and plug-in-play services that allow you to plug-in the telephone to any router at any location. The VoIP line allows your employees to work remotely from their homes, your living room, or any other location with internet service. There are numerous providers VoIP services. The cost of these services are within a hair's breadth of each other, with services around $20. per month, per line.

Ooma, Inc. Review

Ooma, Inc. is a voice over internet protocol (VoIP) service provider that will never ask you to sign a contract, and provides completely customizable phone systems for your business. Ooma, Inc. provides each phone line with an individual virtual fax extension and a conferencing extension. Your business will also receive a phone line for a dedicated virtual assistant. The voice of the virtual assistant is completely customizable to better direct your incoming calls to choose the appropriate employee/telephone extension with which to connect or leave a message.

Ooma provides a desktop app as well as a mobile app to manage your incoming calls across multiple devices. The Ooma desktop and mobile apps also allow for easy teleconferencing capabilities.

The Mobile and Desktop apps have an easy to use functional interface that is truly convenient on-the-go. One consideration leaving something to be desired is the clarity in the phone line. Another is in regard to Using VoIP telephone lines altogether, where clients have told me that they almost did not answer my call because their phone informed them the telephone number was a scam risk. I hope that once the number has been established for a period of time and recognized by search engines as belonging to SL&L, this will cease to be an issue.

Legal Practice Software

Choosing a legal research provider and the right case-management software will be among the most important decisions made because of the frequency in which you will use them in your day-to-day. In the end, don't overthink it. Weigh your preference and fluency in both Lexis+ or Westlaw and compare the packages being offered for the price. A quick conversation with the small firms legal research consultant at both companies to obtain a quote for the packages offered and obtain a quote for costs over the duration of the contract and you have the information you need to make a decision. The decision between the two will likely be the result of the lowest offer. Oddly enough, the result of being a solo practitioner and the sudden need to do everything yourself may be to hire the first company to call you back at the right time. (It happens).

My Advice

  • Do not spend $400. on a set of books that you did not need. Just to be safe, if you are exploring or purchasing a license for an internet legal research provider, don't buy any books.

  • Request a low introductory rate for the first year.

  • This is important: in any negotiation with any legal service providers, be sure there is a provision to dissolve the contract. Do not just assume you will be let out of the contract upon request. If the consultant gives specific terms that are not actually in the contract, just ask that they be added to the black and white on the page.

Case-management software might be more personal than legal research providers. Some people love one and hate another. Without diving into the merits of Case Management applications in this post, I recommend research regarding the specific practice area you plan to practice and warn, again, this decision will likely be made by the cost or your relative ability to pay it.

My Case-Management Software Review-


Over the years I have become familiar with many types of case-management software and have found them all to be annoying in one way or another. I made the decision to keep the monthly expense small by going with the cost-effective option, MyCase. While the newer cloud-based case-management software has some flaws, the company has made constant improvements over the last year. For a cloud-based software, the bank level encryption provides peace of mind that my client files are protected at all times. No contracts, approximately $60. per month, and for an additional $40. MyCase now offers an Accounting suite for law firms merged right into the software. For a new solo-firm owner, that was the best news I heard all winter. When Clients pay, choose which account the funds will go into, write checks directly from the software, track expenses by client or case and any other task your Quickbooks can handle, except already merged so you do not have to track two programs or buy another software license.

My clients have all been satisfied with the user experience of the client-portal and I love being able to tell potential clients about the unique experience we create working together on their matter. I really wish MyCase would match the client experience exactly, whether I have paid for a MyCase webpage or not. MyCase provides a link for clients to enter their client-portal through a MyCase website. Hopefully, they will stop discriminating in favor of their website design at some point. I don't understand why they couldn't provide a link for the client-portal easily embedded in the site, just as they have done with other elements, (i.e., pay now button).

I have not found some features as easy or convenient as MyCase intended. The new MyCase desktop app will not load on my desktop. I suspect this is a common problem with a potentially quick fix, because they specify to call support. Soon to be solo firm owners, beware, small problems become big because tech support calls eat your mornings, then afternoons, then days. I had the old version and when it updated, it stopped loading. So far the hiccup has only affected my ability to open and edit Word documents right from the software, which is to say it does not affect me. I was originally excited about the ability to create documents from forms that I use most often. This feature would have been great but at the time, the word document generator was a far cry from anything approaching Word. It created ugly documents, so I never used it. Hopefully, the new app will be the improvement it promises. You always have the option of joining Woodpecker, a document automation add-on that will work with MyCase to create seamless document generation. I didn't want to pay, so I have not tried this...yet. Once I have tried it out and fully automated my document generation, I will certainly post about it. A solo firm might only work to the extent you can automate it. Look for more posts on my journey to automate soon.

What is Essential to a Virtual Firm, Other than a Legal Practice.

Once you have created your business form, created a name, a business card, have your legal research provider and case-management software, you are good to go! All that remains is to perfect the virtual office and cement your brand.

  1. Your virtual law firm will require a virtual office in which to conduct business. A location your online clients can find you, contact you, and pay you. You will need to design a website. There are many providers that specialize in designing websites for law firms. This service can be expensive and the site will need to be maintained, creating another monthly expense. I recommend or as a do-it-yourself option. If you do not feel like learning to code in your spare time, choose Wix for a more user-friendly option. I cannot imagine a reason to make creating or maintaining your website harder than it has to be. Go with and pay one annual fee instead of a monthly expense.

  2. Marketing can become expensive so make it easy to find your firms footprint. Create a social media presence with Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn, etc. If it was hard enough creating your business cards, logos, and website designs the first time around, from this point on, support your brand and use the same colors and themes.

  3. It will become more and more important to invest in your knowledge of SEO and the world of online marketing. There are many cost-efficient ways of creating ads that can be introduced into your community. Without a brick and mortar location, the online footprint of your firm will undoubtedly become more important as time goes by.

You can see that from this list, your expenses don’t have to break the bank. Many providers will offer introductory rates and paying annually can also keep expenses low. Keep in mind that going solo will require you pay professional membership dues yourself (i.e., professional membership dues, CLE courses, etc.) You may be able to pass off some expenses to the client, such as court fees, investigation services, notary fees, etc. One thing is for sure; expenses have a way of jumping up and scaring you half to death. Be careful to ask yourself whether you really need something before you sign each contract. Let growth happen naturally. If you are about to graduate law school and do not yet have employment plans, don’t get depressed. Get obsessed. The beginning of the year is the best time to start planning your next endeavor. Save your IRS return and invest in yourself.

Rachael A. Sheahan, Esq.,

Rachael is the owner of Sheahan Law and Legacy, LLC, a virtual, general practice law firm in Southeast, Georgia. Rachael is a mom of three small children. Her husband is a disabled-veteran. She started Sheahan Law and Legacy, LLC because she loves the practice of law. She writes about her practice to share it with you.

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