The Cloud is a popular place these days. Industry experts will be quick to tell you to save your data to a server or even manage your practice online. But should you move your practice online? Modern technology says the answer may not be no.

This week’s blog continues a review of the book, Reinventing Professional Services; Building Your Business in the Digital Marketplace, by Ari Kaplan. In Chapter 10, Kaplan entertains the effect of the digital world on the traditional marketplace. He says:

“Unlike the model two decades ago, companies can now find lawyers at law firms they like, who are passionate about those clients, that can deliver services at the greatest value, and ship them across the country. ‘You no longer have to be rooted to a desk because lawyers do not neessarily meet clients in a physical space,” says [Brad Kaufman, Partner at Greenberg Traurig, LLP]. Location no longer has relevance because advisors increasingly hold virtual meetings with clients. ‘On the whole, technology has freed professionals to take on larger markets and compete in ways they couldn’t have imagined a generation ago,’ he adds.”

A wide variety of lawyers have seen their businesses grow by forgetting the traditional jurisdictional limits and taking their practice online.

Should Your Practice Go Online?

A virtual practice is better for some areas of law than others. Business professionals are often comfortable in a video conference call where the other participants are scattered across the globe. But what about the couple going through bankruptcy, or the criminal defendant facing charges at the local court down the road?

Before you decide whether to take your practice online, look at how you will accommodate your clients’ needs. If your clientele is comfortable online, then maybe a virtual practice works for you. But if your target audience still values face-to-face meetings, you may still want an office.

Not every virtual practice needs a sophisticated client, though. There is also a successful virtual practice to be made on a “house-call” philosophy. If you are comfortable meeting your clients where they are (whether in their homes or at the courthouse), you may be able to ditch the professional office all together.

Standing Out In an Online World

If you decide to go virtual, you will need to step up your online game. It isn’t enough to be a lawyer online. You must find something that sets yourself apart. Kaplan quotes David Bukzin, CPA for Marcum, LLP:

“If you don’t add value, you’re seen as a commodity. If you boil yourself down to a commodity, you will be out of business, won’t make money, or see your client drift to the lowest-cost provider.”

To avoid commoditization, lawyers need to find something that makes them stand out in an online world. This may be a well-written blog on your practice area or a focus on an under-represented niche market. It could also be your reputation. Kaplan says:

“Most want to read what others have said, learn more about [a professional’s] philosophy in treating patients, and see what types of challenges he has helped individuals overcome.”

Testimonials can help you do meet that need. By building a strong, dynamic testimonials section on your website and inviting client reviews on social media, you can develop a store of credibility that is not easily ignored. Consider asking satisfied clients if you can use their image online, or even ask them to record a video testimonial before they leave your office. Their faces and voices will add authenticity to the work that you do.

In today’s online market it isn’t good enough to hold a degree or a license to practice law. As Kaplan says, you need to combine substantive knowledge with a balance of marketing, relationship management, and client service that will help you get ahead and stand out, even in a virtual space.

Lisa Schmidt is a writer for Legal Linguist in Ferndale, Michigan. If you are taking your firm virtual, she can help you create an online presence that will stand out among the competition. If you are ready to go online, contact Legal Linguist today to schedule a meeting.