News Article

How do firms go virtual? mix 'big law tech' with the cloud

Though virtual law firms may operate differently than traditional ones, they rely on the same document sharing and collaboration tools as big law.

By Victoria Hudgins

Virtual law firms may shy away from the label “virtual law firm,” but they proudly tout how their cloud-based approach frees it from bulky and expensive on-premises technology.

They say they are leveraging technology you commonly find in any traditional law firm. But without the ability to walk a document down the hall, virtual law firms place a premium on document sharing and collaboration tools.

FisherBroyles stressed that it is using the same technology found in Big Law, such as document manager NetDocuments, accounting platform Orion, and Intapp for clearing conflicts. “They just confine it to four walls and we do not,” said FisherBroyles chief operating officer Judy Cochran.

Still, being a solely cloud-based law firm comes with some distinctions uncommon in traditional law firms and brick-and-mortar companies, FisherBroyles acknowledged.

“A printed invoice for us is a PDF, but in a normal brick-and-mortar it’s paper,” Cochran said. While some may require or expect a printed bill, Cochran said companies should expand their expectations. “I would encourage those software companies to think outside the box that their technology isn’t [always] going to be used in a brick-and-mortar location.”

But barring those digital-only distinctions, FisherBroyles founder and managing partner James Fisher said his firm’s nearly 250 head count requires sizable solutions like those found in any large firm.

“Some of the smaller players have more specific cloud-based solutions, but they aren’t scalable and that’s the problem,” Fisher said. “If they get big enough, they’ll start to adopt Big Law enterprise solutions [like] we have.”

With that Big Law mindset, Fisher said his firm is eyeing blockchain and artificial intelligence-powered legal technology, though AI assistants and similar bots aren’t seen as beneficial to their lawyers’ practices.

“We sort of consider that [AI assistants] as innovation at the edges,” he said. “It’s not as important to us to automate who answers the phone. That really doesn’t make a difference.”

This view, however, isn’t shared by all virtual firms. For Bahar Ansari, who founded solo firm Ansari Law Group, bots are a great tool to automate nonlegal tasks.

“It’s about automating processes that an attorney didn’t go into law school to do,” she said. But Ansari conceded bots could be improved to answer more specific and challenging legal questions.

In addition to buying legal tech platforms on the market, some firms will create their own platforms, such as law firm Rimon, which does have physical offices but leverages cloud technology for remote virtual work. Rimon founding partner and COO Yaacov Silberman noted that the firm’s in-house tech team created a tool that sends an automated email setting up video conferences between lawyers in different geographies and practice areas to connect.

Still, Rimon’s technology, like those used at many virtual firms, isn’t entirely novel. After all, firms that work remotely leverage technology that is fairly similar to their traditional counterparts, underscoring the fact that the leap to going virtual isn’t as steep as some may think.