Number of virtual law firms rises

The number of virtual law firms is rising, boosted by Covid.



There has been a 38% rise in the number of lawyers at ‘virtual’ law firms in the past year, from 1,355 in 2020 to 1,875 in 2021, according to a new survey.

A ‘virtual’ law firm is a decentralised legal practice where lawyers work remotely and use shared services provided by a central hub. Most variants of virtual law firms have their lawyers as self-employed. ‘Virtual’ firms have central services responsible for functions such as compliance, accounting and administration.

According to research by accountancy firm Hazelwoods, there are now 1,875 lawyers working for ‘virtual’ law firms in 2021, up from 1,355 the year before. This increase is even more significant when compared to pre-pandemic levels – jumping 50% from 1,272 in 2019.

Hazelwoods says that Covid has shifted attitudes, with a greater acceptance of virtual meetings among clients and more expectations of work life balance among lawyers as well as savings on office space.

According to the study, some of the biggest increases in number of lawyers over the last year include:

  • Nexa Law, a Shropshire-based virtual firm, which had a 95% increase to 105 lawyers in 2021, up from 54 in 2020
  • Keystone, a top 100 firm, has seen its number of lawyers grow by 30% to 456 lawyers in 2021, up from 350 in 2020
  • Setfords, a top 200 firm, has seen its number of lawyers increase 40% to 350 in 2021, with revenue growing 30% to £18 million last year.

Jon Cartwright, Partner, says: “The virtual law firm model has been given an unexpected boost by Covid-19, even with more traditional firms returning to their offices. It is clear that what was once considered an outlier in the legal industry is quickly becoming part of the mainstream.

“Many clients have accepted that liaising virtually works just as well as in-person meetings. Some may say the benefits are even greater as it offers both lawyers and their clients much needed flexibility while reducing the need for travel and office space.

“Some argue that the legal profession is known for being a fast-paced and long hours culture. This virtual model can mean that lawyers have more control over their hours, allowing them to work more flexibly in a way that works around their lifestyles and families. Some also argue they also benefit from a greater share of the revenue they create due to lower overheads.”

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