The Legal Intelligencer is the oldest daily law journal published in the United States, and serves the legal community of Philadelphia and surrounding areas. Reporter Lizzy McLellan recently featured Culhane Meadows and our IP partner Steve Weed in her article about the growing trend of lawyers who find better efficiency and life balance through cloud-based law firms. Here are relevant excerpts of her report.
Growing a Practice Without Walls: Real Life in a Virtual Law Firm
By Lizzy McLellan | July 23, 2019
Lower overhead costs. More rate flexibility. Better work-life balance, and possibly greater gender parity. The perks of working at a virtual law firm, as boasted by the lawyers that work for them, are enviable.
Several of these firms have moved into Philadelphia, even if—as the name suggests—they didn’t set up brick-and-mortar offices.
Philadelphia IP lawyer Stephen Weed left local boutique RatnerPrestia earlier this year to join Culhane Meadows, which was founded by a group of former FisherBroyles partners. Like the firm it spun off from, Culhane Meadows has no associates and no physical office space.
Weed had long practiced at more traditional IP firms. But his clients weren’t turned off by the move, he said.
“They loved the fact that I actually did reduce my rate a bit, by about 10%,” Weed said.
Of course, that came with some other changes. Now, his paralegal is in Dallas instead of down the hall, he said. Most communication is via email, instead of passing a physical file folder back and forth.
The lack of face-to-face interaction has a minimal effect on actual legal work, he said, because “I find that I’m in my own head a lot.” And he rarely met with clients in his own office before joining Culhane Meadows, so that finding space for client meetings wasn’t an issue.
Some business functions, like travel arrangements for instance, are not handled on a firmwide basis like they are at many long-established firms, Weed noted. While it’s taken some adjusting, that allows individual partners to have more control over their costs, he said.
“It’s kind of a hybrid between being a law firm and an independent businessman,” Weed said. “We’re cutting down a lot of the fat.”
Weed said Culhane Meadows has monthly firmwide and practice group meetings that are held by conference call, as well as monthly region meetings that are held in person at the co-working space of one of the partners or at a restaurant if the agenda is less formal. Because the firm has just two Philadelphia lawyers, he attends the regional meetings in New York. But the Philadelphia office will likely grow soon and have its own meetings.
The degree of support Weed gets from other partners has been a pleasant surprise, he said. They’re quick to respond to technical questions and to pitch in when he needs help in areas where he would have called on associates at his prior firm.
Weed said traditional law firms could probably pivot in the direction of distributed and cloud-based firms, but “the more you have, the more difficult it is.” They would benefit most from leveraging technology like the newer upstarts do, including going paperless and allowing people to work from home.