The Virtual Law Office

What if, instead of working full time in an office, you could do high-quality legal work from home for as little time each month as you wanted?  That’s the option virtual law firms offer to the lucky few attorneys who have joined their ranks.   While Axiom is the biggest player in this space, and Montage Legal is growing, regional networks offer alternative models that are smaller and offer the same sophisticated work.

Corporate Legal Partners, for example, is a legal services provider near Boston that engages experienced attorneys to take ownership of short-term projects on a part-time basis.  Its clients include top US and European companies, and its attorneys are very happy people.

Corporate Legal Partners was started by Patricia (Trish) Landgren.  Trish got the idea for her business model while she was general counsel to a billion-dollar public company in the Boston area.  When she went on maternity leave, she tried to find someone to fill her shoes, knowing that she woul be returning to work shortly after giving birth.  Although she had a staff of attorneys, they were already busy and lacked the right experience for the senior role.  She wanted someone who could handle the GC role without a lot of hand-holding.   One option was to use a lawyer from the prestigious Boston firm she consulted with, at several hundred dollars an hour.  Another was to hire a contract lawyer whose qualifications seemed dubious.  Although she ended up hiring another lawyer, she wished there were a better alternative – so she decided to create one.

The ideal solution, she thought, would allow companies to hire talented senior attorneys on a project-by-project basis, especially when the projects could be completed fairly quickly.  It was easy to hire a temporary accountant or a human resources staffer, she recalls, but there was no way to hire a temporary senior attorney that a company could trust with complex legal work.   A virtual law firm could provide these services with much less overhead than traditional firms, resulting in dramatically lower legal fees for the company.  At the same time, it could provide attorneys who didn’t want to work in law firms with the opportunity to work on interesting projects for a short amount of time.

In order to make this work, Trish needed to find attorneys who had the confidence and competence to work directly with clients and who understood their business needs.   The ideal attorneys would have the kind of high-profile firm experience that clients would find attractive.  They would be self-motivated and efficient, and able to get the projects done well with little support.   One fairly senior attorney didn’t quite work out, Trish recalls, because although he was accustomed to solving complex legal problems as the head of a team, he had a hard time figuring out how to send FedEx packages himself.  Importantly, they would need to be comfortable with part-time work on a schedule that is not always predictable.  Working for Corporate Legal Partners is not a full-time job, except for Trish.

Trish found her first attorney through her extensive personal network.  Over time, Trish added to her roster of attorneys, making her decisions not only on education, skill and experience, but on personality fit.

As Corporate Legal Partners has developed a growing list of clients, and a backlog of senior attorneys who want to work for it, Trish has had to choose how big she wants the practice to get.  For the moment, Trish is keeping her practice small and manageable, so that she can maintain the personal service level that she enjoys and her clients value.  As her three kids grow, she may make different decisions.  Having that flexibility, of course, is one of the great perks of owning your own business.

Would you want to start – or work for – a network like Corporate Legal Partners?  Why aren’t there more options like this?

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