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Virtual law practice is nothing new to solo practitioners; they have been doing it successfully for decades.
With varied success, virtual practitioners cracked the ranks of mid-sized firms less than a decade ago. But now that some wrinkles have been ironed out, virtual law firms are luring BigLaw attorneys with the carrot of working from home.
According to American Lawyer, virtual firms like Culhane Meadows and FisherBroyles -- with 180 partners -- are breaking the mold of traditional law firms. And now they want the heavy hitters.
"Here, I can really work on matters pretty much at any level I choose to without it becoming cost prohibitive," said Jamal Edwards, who used to work at the 300-lawyer firm of Honigman Miller in Detroit.
"Here" Means Everywhere
Edwards, who joined Culhane Meadows a year ago, said his virtual firm allows him to serve as outside counsel to companies. Along with the perks of working at home, it is a luxury that is attracting more partners from bigger firms.
Culhane Meadows, with 60 attorneys, gained five more partners this month. FisherBroyles projects it will break into the Am Law 200 next year.
Last year, other virtual firms like Potomac Law Group, Rimon and VLP Law Group reported growth around 40 to 60 percent a year. It signals a sea change, as consultant Mark Cohen learned after founding the now defunct virtual firm Clearspire.
"What you're seeing is some of the more forward-thinking, younger-generation lawyers who do have some business saying that the incumbent model may be working for me today, but it's nothing that I particularly want to plan my future around," he said. "This is all coming, ultimately, at the expense of the traditional law firm model."
Don't Bet the Company
Critics of the evolving business model say virtual law firms will not attract the main business of the traditional brick-and-mortar firm. The virtual lawyer will be pigeon-holed with "commodity work," according to an anonymous source.
"You couldn't convince me in this lifetime that a company with a serious bet-the-company matter is going to go to a firm like this," the legal recruiter said.
Kevin Broyles, co-founder of FisherBroyles, said his virtual firm is recruiting a partner who has a $20 million book of business. If successful, it could change everything.
"People will say, wow, if a guy who has $20 or $25 million can make that move, then someone who has $10 million or $15 million can make that move," he said. "It's coming."