Managing a Remote Law Firm: A Conversation with Hunter Linville

Elizabeth DiNardo, Esq. | Associate Counsel

From the Experts Mainv3 (1)

Hunter Linville - 1600x1978

Thinking about Leaving Your Firm?

The coronavirus pandemic has changed the way many attorneys practice law. Across the country, courthouses are undertaking virtual trials in an effort to keep the judicial system moving while adhering to social distancing measures. Along with virtual hearings and proceedings has come serious consideration of moving toward an “at home” practice.  

With the option of going remote becoming more and more plausible, thoughts of breaking away from your current firm—with or without additional attorneys and support staff—may come into play. Or perhaps your firm is the regional office of a national firm and you are entertaining the concept of an independent practice. At a minimum, given the financial and legal impact on law firms due to our collective sequestration, the future of your current path may be subject to change.

Hunter Linville, Esq. started his own law practice on a remote basis long before it was a practical necessity. While many law firms entered the COVID-19 shutdowns scrambling to figure out how to shift their entire practice to remote operations, Linville Johnson continued uninterrupted because working remotely was business as usual.

Hunter shared with us how he launched his firm and advice on transitioning to a remote practice.

The pervasive question of “how has your firm handled the transition to remote working” during the COVID-19 pandemic doesn’t apply here. Linville Johnson has been remote since its inception in 2019. What prompted you to decide to start a remote law firm?

“I started Linville Johnson in July of 2019 and right away started looking at office space. However, while I was looking, I was working from my house and my home sort of became the center of operations for the firm. As I hired new people, we worked in my home office for a few days and then they worked independently from their homes. We continued to get together once weekly to plan and discuss our projects, but I felt our communication was just as good on the days we were not physically working in the same space, and the visibility of our work was better than I had ever experienced.

As many attorneys are aware, office space is a big commitment and I hadn’t seen anything that I really liked. I wasn’t going to rent an office just for the sake of it when our current system was working. In the end, I talked with my team and it became apparent that people were happy and productive working from home, so I decided not to disrupt what we had. There are a lot of upsides to working in an office setting—it’s great seeing people and having that personal interaction—but what I think a lot of people are seeing now that most people are still working from home is that there are some downsides to traditional offices. I’m not saying that my firm will never go back to a traditional office setting, but until I see that this current system isn’t working, we are going to stick with a remote work setting.”

Is there anything about running a remote firm you find is a distinct advantage over a traditional brick-and-mortar office?

“Yes, I think being remote has allowed me to look beyond geographical parameters for team members. I live in Atlanta where for most people traffic is an obstacle at the start of each day, so if I was running a traditional firm with a central office space, I would have to consider people’s commute time during the hiring process. That’s not a concern with a remote office—I can hire the right people that fit our firm and they can live anywhere in the country.”

Has it been difficult to create a cohesive office culture while working remote?

“I think it’s easy to feel isolated working from home and to feel less involved with our coworkers, but I focus on making sure we have the right people in our organization. With the right people, the culture creates itself, it’s self-sufficient, and self-evolving. There are a number of things we do to foster this type of culture.

To be successful working remotely, a team needs excellent communication. The success of any project starts and ends with precise articulation and accurate interpretation of our plan of attack, so we rely heavily on maintaining real-time technical documentation.

Like everyone these days, we utilize video conferencing as much as we can in order to get that much-needed face time with each other. We start each morning with a short 10-minute meeting to say hello and get visibility on any roadblocks. This gives everyone the opportunity to see what their co-workers are focused on and offer help if possible, and it creates a shared understanding of what the firm as a whole is working towards. By keeping everyone informed, it becomes easier to shift people from one project to another when necessary, because everyone has a general idea of the facts of each project and what we are trying to accomplish.

We communicate regularly, and everyone is encouraged to share their ideas, interests and humor. Our culture is full of unique, creative individuals and they keep me and others in the organization feeling fresh and energized.”

What made you decide to start your own firm?

“Well, I can’t say starting my own firm was something that I always knew I wanted to do. It was an idea that developed over time as my career progressed. I was at my previous firm and was given the opportunity to move from Dallas to Atlanta to develop a new office. It was a great change for me, and I was given the freedom to operate in a new, independent environment. After a few years I realized I wanted even more independence to create and develop a work environment and operating system, and I wanted to start from ground zero. For me, the idea that I would be responsible for any failures or deficiencies of a new firm was a very challenging but rewarding concept.”

Is there anything in particular that helped to retain good relations with your prior firm?

“The relationships I’ve made during my career have been more meaningful than anything I’ve accomplished professionally as an attorney, so I was committed to leaving my former firm on good terms. I wanted the firm to be better when l left than it was when I first started working there. I stayed on as a Partner for several months and even longer in an Of-Counsel role.

I was also committed to being transparent with the firm every step of the way. It’s a tricky thing to leave a firm and the people you’ve worked with for so long. It can be awkward at times. But I think it’s particularly important to assume good intentions. It’s easy to misread actions or inactions by making assumptions about someone’s intent, so it’s important to continue to trust that the actions of all involved are made with good intentions.

I also think everyone involved needs time and space after the transition. We all need time to adjust to the change, and with time we can discover a path to building a new relationship.”

Once you made the decision to start your own firm and you had announced your intentions, what was your next step?

“I recognized I had the experience I needed to litigate and run the operations of a firm, but I didn’t know if I had the funds to get started, so financing was the biggest unknown for me. While I was at my previous firm, I was able to gain perspective on the various ways that law firms are financed so I knew there were a lot of different options available. My current law partner, Anthony Johnson, introduced me to Counsel Financial. Once I began to talk to the team at Counsel Financial, it quickly became apparent that it was the right fit for me and my firm. The fact that it is a company made up of lawyers sealed the deal for me. It was refreshing to speak to other attorneys at Counsel who understood the challenges and opportunities I described—it wasn’t like dealing with a bank where I had to explain to an uninformed party how my firm was going to operate and what the arena of mass torts looks like.”

Once you had financing in place, how did you go about budgeting for your new firm?

“I was lucky that going into my new venture, I had a good idea of how much it costs to handle a mass tort case throughout the various stages of the litigation process. I had done a pretty sophisticated analysis of lifetime value of a client, so I could visualize the expenses of running a docket.

I started my firm with a docket of mass tort cases and built my budget around doubling the docket by the end of my first year. Next, I looked at payroll and how much it would cost to develop my team. Case costs and payroll were my two biggest expenses, which is another benefit of having a remote office. I never had to worry about the huge expense of a lease.”

To read more success stories on starting a new firm, click here.

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