· 2 min read · Features

How to manage a virtual business

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I manage a virtual firm - what this actually means is organising a team of experienced lawyers.

The Halebury legal team currently consists of nine lawyers, covering between them employment, commercial and immigration. On the day-to-day client work, I head the employment and immigration teams. Halebury's aim is to help its lawyers get closer to business; this means that none of our lawyers camps out at our central London office. They work mainly from the client's site.  A virtual operation therefore makes perfect sense.

The starting point to any successful team, as most HR managers will tell you, is recruitment. Recruit the right people and you will save yourself a lot of work and management time later on down the line. It is essential that we have the right team. In year two of operation, we spoke to more than 50 lawyers but we only retained four of them. We have to be selective to ensure our success. It is not just about whether or not the lawyers have an existing client base, or whether they would like to work virtually without the politics of a traditional firm. We are looking for a certain type of lawyer: highly-motivated, skilled, entrepreneurial with great in-house legal experience. Equally importantly we are a team, working on projects and sharing knowledge and information. The team must work well together.

 We are running a business so we have to deal with challenges similar to those faced by many companies, except that our lawyers are not always in the same office overhearing conversations, catching up over the printer or absorbing the firm's ethos via osmosis. In recent years, social networking sites have shown how communities and teams can thrive using technology. We have tailored their model to help our teams work together and to ensure Halebury retains its identity.

To manage the day-to-day operation, organisation is essential, for the lawyers and, of course, for the clients. For the lawyers, the Halebury operation takes the day-to-day burden of a traditional law firm off their shoulders. This means we have streamlined our administration - but that doesn't mean we have cut corners. We need to stay on top of the regulatory and compliance issues and that includes ensuring the directors are fully in the loop. We have set up a fully-customised online operation so that all our processes, including approval by the directors, can be processed easily using technology that's available. I can also check client files online at any point in time from any location.  In addition, I schedule regular calls with the lawyers and clients to get the full update.

 
For the clients, the operation needs to be seamless. We are competing with the big players and so it is vital our clients see no downside, just an improved legal service; more personable, hands-on and commercial; and yes, the by-product of a virtual operation is also a cost-effective operation that is passed on to the clients.
 
As with all businesses, it's important we carry out annual reviews with our lawyers and this involves the 360-degree format of comment and feedback. We are constantly trying to improve our service and it is essential that the lawyers remain passionate about their work.  

We are constantly working on improving the management style and processes too.  However, our aim has not changed; to create a team of highly skilled entrepreneurial lawyers who work as strategic partners in business.  

 Janvi Patel is a lawyer with Halebury