In March 2020, COVID shut down US workspaces, including immigration law offices. Thousands of immigration attorneys suddenly had to figure out how to work remotely and were forced to start taking virtual consultations.
Even with the pandemic entering a different stage thanks to vaccines, virtual consultations haven’t gone away entirely. And as the world starts to open up, and as many immigration lawyers are adopting a virtual immigration practice, immigration lawyers are now wondering: Should I just make all my consultations virtual?
Let's run through the many pros of taking virtual consultations, and balance that out with some of the cons.
There are a number of reasons that immigration lawyers continue to take virtual consultations, whether temporarily or permanently.
Even though hundreds of millions of people have received a COVID vaccine, many lawyers still want to minimize contact with other people when it isn't essential. Now that we are also seeing the spread of more contagious variants that infect the vaccinated (what are called “breakthrough” infections), you may want to continue keeping yourself and your clients as safe as possible by holding virtual consultations. Maintaining virtual-only consultations also creates a routine for you and your potential clients that requires little to no adjustment should your area return to the more stringent restrictions of last spring, as we are seeing in different parts of the world.
Given that immigration law is a federal practice and immigration lawyers can take clients from anywhere in the US, virtual consultations make it easier for lawyers to accept and retain clients who aren't necessarily in their area. This can help you expand your practice, especially if you’re a family-based immigration attorney used to relying on local residents.
Many attorneys have stated that when prospective clients take the trip to meet in person, they tend to come with a lot more questions and have been known to overextend their stay. In this instance, short of kicking a prospective client out of your office, this results in longer consultations which can disrupt your schedule and get in the way of other work. With a virtual consultation, it’s easier to stay on schedule, and the prospective client may feel less inclined to keep asking questions since they didn’t have to make a physical trip to your office. Plus, you can even require an online form for the potential client to fill out to describe their specific issue ahead of time so you can go straight to the issue during your virtual consultation.
Having access to any information or documentation electronically, ahead of time, for a virtual consultation means you don't have to shuffle through and make sense of paperwork, on the spot, during the consultation. Instead, you can review them on your own time and before the meeting and then focus on the main issue. You can also save time by sending documents that need to be signed virtually ahead of time and have your clients sign electronically using a service like DocuSign or HelloSign.
Whether you quickly learn that you don't handle the kind of case the prospective client has, if they're clearly just trying to get free advice, or if for some other reason you can't help, cutting a phone call short, especially if it's a free consultation, is easier than cutting someone off who has taken the time and effort to physically come to your office. With a virtual consultation you can easily save both your and their time without coming off as rude or short.
If you're not meeting prospective clients in person and instead are taking virtual consultations, you can dress more comfortably or casually at work. Sure you may want to throw on a professional top during the consultation, but that means you can wear jeans, or even sweatpants or pajamas on the bottom and continue to do great work, and no one will be the wiser. This can also help you move between activities such as a school run or tending to a pet more easily without a full change of clothes or shoes.
For immigration lawyers who charge for consultations, some charge more for in-person ones than virtual ones. Many immigration lawyers have shared that this has several benefits. First, by offering a lower-cost virtual version, the higher price of in-person consults pushes more prospective clients to go virtual. Second, for those prospective clients who insist on still coming in person, you can make a bit more money from the additional effort and have that as a revenue source even if not every consult turns into a full client.
Despite all the pros, there are always some counterbalancing factors. Here are some potential cons to consider when thinking about whether or not to move to solely virtual consultations.
If you work with individuals who don't have access to a computer or smartphone, might be less tech-savvy, or otherwise unable to use tools like Zoom or Skype, virtual consultations may turn these individuals away. So depending on your niche, you may still want to consider in-person consultations, depending on the case or type of client you’re looking for.
In person it's easier to pick up nonverbal cues that can indicate whether you should dive deeper into a certain aspect of a prospective client's comment or, on the flip side, if it looks like they aren't interested in you or your service but you want to convince them to work with you. If you don't have in-person meetings, you lose out on some of the cues that you could pick up in person that might help you lock in a client or make a stronger case.
Talking to a prospective client in person forces you off your computer screen for 30 or 60 minutes which can be, for some, a welcome break. Working in front of the computer all day may not be for everyone: working remotely for extended periods of time may also increase your levels of stress, anxiety, and social isolation, although the evidence is still not conclusive.
Whether you decide to only take virtual consultations or go back to seeing at least some prospective clients in person, ensuring that you have the best case management platform is key.
With Docketwise, you can streamline your immigration casework so you can focus on what’s most important: supporting your clients.
From a full library of immigration forms to client questionnaires in multiple languages to an industry-leading set of API integrations, we help you stay up to date on all your cases, communicate easily with your clients, and otherwise build and manage your firm.