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This was gut-wrenching.
It came via e-mail in response to the automatic e-mail I send when someone signs up for e-mails of Divorce Discourse.
“I am a cancer patient and so am trying to practice virtually, but I am finding it extremely hard to market a virtual firm.”
How much do I want to make this work out for this reader? A whole lot. I feel tons of pressure from an e-mail like this. I’ve got to come up with answers. It’s kind of exhausting.
I get e-mails about marketing virtual practices all the time. While they rarely come from someone with such a good reason to practice virtually, they nonetheless weigh on me. I’d like to be able to offer some help.
Can a Virtual Practice Actually Work?
There have been lots of sales pitches for the concept of a virtual practice. The idea that you can work from anywhere, entirely over the Internet, and never meet face-to-face is very appealing to lots of lawyers. It’s especially appealing to lawyers who are in desperate situations.
I’ve met quite a few lawyers who have spent thousands of dollars pursuing the dream of a virtual practice. Unfortunately, I haven’t met many who discovered a pot of gold at the end of the virtual rainbow presented in the sales pitches.
Lawyers buy into the virtual concept without applying much in the way of critical thinking. It’s kind of sad. It’s kind of surprising when you think about us as a group. It’s not the way we usually roll. Somehow, the word “virtual” has an effect on us like “get rich quick” has on the rest of the population. We get excited and discard our common sense.
There is no magic in the concept of virtual practice. Mostly, it doesn’t work. And when it does work, it works on a very small scale.
There’s a lot of bullshit surrounding the concept of a virtual practice. It’s a world filled with smoke and mirrors. It’s especially deep when you’re hearing it from someone in the business of selling information about the concept or benefiting from the promotion of related products. Evaluate the seller carefully before you buy anything promising virtual riches.
Dig deep when you hear of someone succeeding with a virtual practice. Study the situation carefully. Use your critical thinking skills. Be cynical. Require proof.
Before you imitate what the virtual practice advocate is doing, you should do some studying.
- Does he support himself, or does his spouse earn big bucks doing something else?
- Does he have another job on the side?
- Does he do part-time work for others?
- Stalk him on Google and Facebook.
- Figure out how he’s paying for that vacation or that car.
- Check the property tax records and find out what he owns and what he owes. UCC filings? Judgments? Mortgages?
- Go look at the civil actions index and see what’s there.
- Look at the bar records.
Dig, dig, dig before you copy his approach. See whether the results you assume he’s getting are in fact the results he’s getting.
Can the virtual practice concept work? Maybe so, but I’m not seeing much evidence of success. There’s a big problem with the concept.
Why Do Many Virtual Practices Fail?
What’s the problem?
Clients don’t say things like “Can you refer me to a virtual lawyer?” That’s not something we hear. Clients ask for a patent lawyer, a criminal lawyer, or a business lawyer. They don’t think about virtual or physical; they just want legal help.
I’d suggest you look for demand from real clients as the first sign that your business idea makes sense. Start with real people who need something you can do and work backward from there. Talk about the thing you do in language that makes sense to those clients. Don’t talk about it from your perspective. Don’t think about how it meets your needs. Focus purely on how it meets their needs.
Can my e-mail correspondent make a “virtual practice” work? Sure. But it needs to be a practice aimed at particular people with particular needs who are actively seeking help. Stay focused on the clients and their needs. Then, if he can meet those needs “virtually,” he’ll have something that makes money.
How Do You Market a Virtual Practice?
You market it like you’d market any other practice. You offer something people need, you draw attention to it, you deliver excellent results, and then you do it again. Most clients won’t care if you’re here, there, or anywhere. They care about the excellent results. That’s the best way to market a virtual practice. Focus more on clients and less on “virtual.” That’s what works.