Law360: Why Virtual Law Firm Growth is Outpacing BigLaw

In a recent article titled “Why Virtual Law Firm Growth is Outpacing BigLaw,” Law360.com reports that as large and midsized law firms continue to see incremental increases in revenue and head count, cloud-based firms like Culhane Meadows are reporting soaring growth figures, a trend some say is a result of the firms’ ability to deliver increasingly sophisticated legal services at a lower price.  Here are some excerpts from the article:

Just as technology has allowed telecommuting to become easier and more universally accepted in other industries, the idea of a highly successful law firm made up mostly or entirely of remote attorneys has become less unthinkable than it once was in the legal industry, according to Chris Batz, a legal recruiter at The Lion Group. “The first-adopter skepticism has shifted and the business model has been proven,” Batz said. “People shrugged their shoulders a decade ago and thought it was a joke. Over 10 years later, it’s become a very compelling option.”

Those in the industry say that “compelling option” view is true for both clients and potential laterals.

According to a number of virtual law firm leaders interviewed by Law360, there is a misconception in the industry that they only perform repetitive, unsophisticated legal services. Not true, they said. In fact, multiple virtual law firms say they are poaching talent directly from BigLaw, often depending on BigLaw expats as their primary talent source, and count Fortune 500, 100 and even 25 corporations among their clients.

“One of the biggest misconceptions is that we only do commodity work, that we’re not doing big deals,” said Kelly Rittenberry Culhane, a founding partner of Culhane Meadows PLLC. “That is so far from the truth. We are called on a regular basis for $100 million-plus deals, dozens of them a year. And our partners all come together to work on matters and form teams, just like in BigLaw.”

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Often, the cost savings that can be realized at a virtual law firm are a big draw for partners and clients, experts say. While their business models do vary, most cloud-based and virtual firms have very few to no offices, staff or associates, drastically reducing overhead costs, and allowing the money saved to go toward lower fees and more partner pay. The largest expenses involved in running a law firm are typically real estate and associate and staff pay, but at most virtual law firms those costs are either drastically reduced or eliminated entirely.

Culhane Meadows [and several other virtual firms] for instance, have no physical offices, instead opting to leave the task and expense of procuring office space — or working from a home office — up to individual partners.

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According to Culhane, her law firm’s low-overhead cost structure allows partners to charge clients rates that are on par with those charged by midlevel associates at BigLaw firms.
Many partners at the law firm once charged $900 an hour at their previous firms and now charge $550 an hour, Culhane said. 

Another draw for many BigLaw partners to cloud-based firms is the methods by which pay is determined and the freedom and flexibility that can come with the pay structure and virtual nature of the job, leaders of the firms said.

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In addition to client rates and partner pay, another potential reason for the rapid growth of virtual law firms is the draw of the flexibility they offer to attorneys, according to the firms’ leaders.

There is usually no commute — attorneys can work from just about anywhere in the world; attorneys can sometimes set their own schedule, depending on client needs; and they can opt to work 80 hours a week or 25 hours a week, depending on their own personal and financial situations, all without negative consequences within their firms.

Offering the option to work from home offices and eliminate daily commutes, Culhane Meadows’ innovative platform is an increasingly attractive option for any attorneys who desire more time to pursue their personal passions and hobbies – and especially for working parents who don’t like being forced to choose between their law career and their family obligations. In fact, Law.com recently included Culhane Meadows as the only cloud-based firm (and the only non-Am Law 200 firm) on its list of 2017’s seven most innovative law firms in the U.S. With the majority of its equity partners, 60% of its managers, and 40% of its total attorneys being women, Culhane Meadows is the largest women-owned national full-service business law firm in the U.S.

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