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About halfway through law school, Andrew started thinking about opening his own law firm after passing the bar exam. He wanted to build a firm using cloud technologies and break the traditional law firm business model to offer a firm that’s more responsive, flexible, and cost-efficient. After plenty of researching and planning, the firm opened up as soon as Andrew was sworn in as a Louisiana attorney in October, 2011.
The firm is now known as Andrew Legrand Law, LLC. Using his website and blog, www.nolasmallbizlaw.com, Andrew’s goal is to attract the new, established, young, and old small business owners of the New Orleans metro area. By using cloud technology, the firm can serve clients who are anywhere in the world, and Andrew can serve clients whether he’s at his home office, a coffee shop, their place of business, or even if he’s halfway around the world. The ideal clients for Andrew are small business owners who need more help than they would receive from LegalZoom or other legal websites, but do not want to do deal with the hassle of a large, traditional law firm.
MO: Can you talk about the experience of breaking the traditional law firm business model and the challenges you’ve encountered along the way?
Andrew: The hardest part has been financial. I had to move in with my parents for approximately 8 months after law school, and when I was able to move out, I had to move in with three roommates to afford rent. I still have loans to repay, and have cut my expenses day to live a very frugal lifestyle.
While these changes have been hard in the beginning, especially after being a broke law student for three years, I believe the experiences that running my own business and building my own client base provides will pay off in the long run.
MO: What are some of the advantages of using a virtual law office?
Andrew: The advantages of a virtual law office are costs, efficiency, and connectivity. A virtual law office does not need expensive office space for the lawyers. Since my support staff works for their home offices, I also don’t need to spend money on their workspace. I’m also a paperless law firm, so I don’t need to spend money to store files in cabinets or large libraries. These cost savings are passed on to the client.
A virtual law office is also more efficient. Rather than searching through a paper file for a particular document, I’m able to quickly search my hard drive. If I need a document while I’m in court or meeting with a client, it’s always at my finger tips. Federal courts are already paperless, and it’s my prediction that most state courts will be paperless in the next several years.
Finally, it improves my connectivity. Although most lawyers have smart phones now, not every lawyer has the ability to perform at full capacity with only their laptop and smart phone. Whether I’m traveling for a long weekend, visiting friends, or just out visiting with another client, I’m always able to respond to clients. “I’m not in the office” is no longer an excuse.
MO: What advice would you give someone who thinks that they need the advice of a lawyer but isn’t sure of how to start the process or even exactly what they need?
Andrew: There are several websites out there, like Avvo.com, which allows people to post questions and get answers from real attorneys. LegalZoom also offers attorney consultations for minimal fees. In the end, neither of these methods will be enough to actually solve the legal problem, if there is one, but it will help start the process. You will find out what type of attorney you need, or what you need to do.
MO: Choosing a lawyer is often a very personal process. What services do you offer for clients who would also like the opportunity for face to face communication?
Andrew: I’m happy to meet with anyone in the New Orleans metro area. Although I am virtual, I’m not exclusively virtual. A virtual platform allows me to extend my range of services, but doesn’t prevent me from meeting with clients for a face-to-face communication. I also just found office space for a reasonable price which allows me to meet with clients in a professional setting.
MO: Do you anticipate virtual law offices to become a growing trend? If so, how do you think this emergence will impact the law industry?
Andrew: Yes, I do anticipate it as a growing trend. As lawyers begin to realize that they need to bring costs down, more lawyers will become interested in the virtual model. Also, as Generation X and Generation Y grow up and need legal services, they will be looking to get help online. Banking, communication, and nearly every other service is offered online, so why shouldn’t legal services be there as well?
MO: What inspired you to create The Louisiana Business Startup Plan and what does it include?
Andrew: Generally, new businesses do not devote a ton of money to legal help. Also, navigating the local, state, and federal government processes of starting up a business can be time consuming and confusing. I wanted to solve both of these problems by helping new businesses navigate this process for a flat rate. The business owner knows exactly how much they’ll spend and when. There are no surprises.
The plan includes a consultation to determine which business entity is best for the new business. I’ll file that paperwork with the Louisiana Secretary of State, and also help the business owner receive a employer identification number from the IRS. Next, we’ll develop an operating agreement or bylaws for the business so that all the partners in the new business are protected and know what to expect if things ever go wrong. This is by far the most time-intensive part of setting up a new business. Finally, I like to consult with the new businesses as they grow. Rather than take the money and leave, I’ll be around for at least a few months to offer advice on marketing, licensing, and protecting intellectual property.