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Law Practice Management

Top Corporate Lawyer Creates ‘Virtual’ Law Firm in Hawaii

Posted Aug 20, 2008 10:27 AM CDT
By Martha Neil

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After 16 years as a partner at Hawaii's largest law firm, Greg Kim was ready for a change. Even though he had developed a technique of doing much of his work outside the office at Goodsill Anderson Quinn & Stifel, as his reputation as a top corporate attorney helped him to do, he wanted more flexibility.

Now, via his "virtual" law firm, Vantage Counsel, he has it, according to Pacific Business News. There are no standard work hours, and both he and his clients enjoy meeting at restaurants and cafes. Meanwhile, the firm's low overhead—which is only about 10 percent of revenue—helps the firm keep legal bills low, too. And that attracts start-up business clients.

Although the firm's website lists a bricks-and-mortar business address overlooking Honolulu Harbor, this is an 800-square-foot meeting center with no attorney offices, for which the firm pays $2,500 per month. Outsourced information technology support costs another $100.

Clients are routinely charged fixed, or success-based fees, which eliminates the need for billable hours. Kim has one partner, Elizabeth Lee, and the firm's other attorneys are independent contractors, listed on the website as counsel. Each partner initially contributed $15,000 to launch the firm, and it was breaking even within a year, the article says.

“High overhead is a ball and chain, and lawyers get stuck in that traditional mindset,” says Kim, who is 51 and practiced at Pillsbury Madison & Sutro in San Francisco before moving back home to Hawaii in 1988. “The billable hours system isn’t satisfying because you do what you can count. It’s demoralizing and can misalign you with your client and really makes you more inefficient."

His law firm, he says, shows that an alternative approach can be good business. "But you have to be willing to take risks.”

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