October 2014 Bar Bulletin
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October 2014 Bar Bulletin

The Virtual Truth:

Four Tips for Creating and Maintaining an Efficient and Productive Virtual Law Firm Team

By Stacey L. Romberg


Since opening my virtual law firm in 1999, I've found that, more than any other component of running a small business, developing an effective virtual team has proved challenging. After many mistakes and hard-learned lessons, along with some sleepless nights and occasional painful dramas, my current remote team consistently achieves high marks. Each person fulfills a defined function on our team and contributes positively to the team's collaboration, work flow and, perhaps most importantly, strong sense of collegiality and commitment despite the lack of daily in-person communication.

My remote team currently consists of an office administrator, administrative assistant, paralegal and two of counsel attorneys. I am the only full-time member of the team (and, as anyone who manages a small law firm knows, the term "full-time" generally extends well beyond a standard 40-hour work week).

My office administrator and administrative assistant job-share one full-time administrative position. My paralegal and one of counsel attorney work half time, and the second of counsel attorney works one-quarter time. Each member of my team chooses her own unique work schedule based on her individual life circumstances, including additional work commitments, family commitments, personal interests and time spent giving back to the community. Although previously I've had male team members and worked with team members from out-of-state, my current team is all female and local to the Seattle area.

Tip #1: Recognize the Uniqueness of the Virtual Model

To illustrate the nuances of staffing a virtual business, let me present two imaginary workers: Joe Average and Vanda Virtual.

Joe Average, a worker in a brick-and-mortar law firm, typically arrives at his 9-to-5 job each Monday morning wearing an appropriate business-casual outfit. Joe greets the receptionist, several attorneys and his secretary on his way to the break room to pour his daily cup of coffee. They exchange humorous stories about their weekend activities and also discuss several significant work issues that they'll be facing over the coming week.

During the day, Joe personally interacts with his co-workers numerous times on both a personal and professional level, including attending several in-person meetings and enjoying lunch with a colleague. He leaves his office at approximately 5 o'clock, dreading his one-hour commute, but looking forward to dinner with his family and a good night's rest.

Vanda Virtual, a worker in a virtual law office, enjoys her work and loves her second job as the lead singer for the Seattle band Meat Market Surfers. She spends about 20 hours a week with the band, including rehearsals, road trips and late-night gigs.

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