The first recorded virtual law firm was "Woolley & Co" set up in 1996 in England by Andrew Woolley. The term became more clearly defined in 2004 in an article written by Joe Kashi defining exactly what it meant to be a virtual law firm. Virtual law firms are also often referred to as "Law Firm 2.0". The concept has since spread globally and is finding favour with clients seeking higher quality service, value, and mobility.
According to earlier sources, a virtual law firm shares the following characteristics:
Has a stable core group of attorneys on call to handle cases in their specialty worldwide;
Has established collaborative relationships with other, specialized law firms that possess expertise that’s occasionally needed on a contingency fee basis;
Is glued together with appropriate computer and telecommunications technology such inexpensive VOIP (Voice Over Internet Protocol) telecommunications, project management software or a Virtual Law Office Address with in a mainstream business district with mail forwarding;
Expands and reduces personnel as needed.
The advent of inexpensive VOIP telecommunication technology used in virtual law firms such as project management software, and cloud computing have made it far easier for legal practices to save and manage data across geographic locations securely and efficiently and to communicate with clients at a distance, so that proximity to the client, or of the lawyers to each other in an office, has become far less important.
The virtual law firm has also come to be associated with lower prices, as they generally operate with lower overheads than traditional law firms. Lawyers find they can bill fewer hours up front but still make more money via a virtual firm because of the lower overheads.
Virtual law firms frequently have only very senior lawyers, capable of working without much day-to-day supervision, unlike the traditional large law firm with its hierarchy of partners, associates and trainees. Many clients see a benefit in having their work done personally by an experienced lawyer, rather than having it delegated to a junior and then checked by a partner.
There are also environmental benefits to virtual law firms, many which operate as paperless offices across multiple jurisdictions in contrast to the traditional law firm with its rooms full of filing cabinets limited to it's clients located nearby.
eLawyering and the Virtual Law Office
More recently, the concept of the virtual law firm has been associated with the term, "eLawyering"
The purpose of the eLawyering Task Force minimum requirements is to provide guidance to attorneys who wish to deliver legal services online on how to comply with the professional rules of conduct that govern law practice in each U.S. State and Internationally. Conducting business through a log-in portal is different from conducting business over email, as the log-in portal is required to be secure and must adhere to strict regulations and standards. A completely virtual law office will conduct all business online, while some small practices choose to integrate a VLO log-in portal to provide more options to their clients.