The coming rise of virtual professional service firms in a COVID world


I have been thinking and writing about the rise of virtual professional service firms for over two decades, since my first book.

Professional services are, by definition, delivered by experienced professionals. While there are significant reasons for teams of professionals creating value for clients to be co-located, they very often are not, even in traditional firms.

From the beginning of our highly connected century companies like Axiom Legal have been helping clients access top-tier professionals without the unnecessary and substantial costs of office space and partner leverage (i.e. paying for the partners’ new sports cars when an associate is doing the work).

I must acknowledge that I have been consistently surprised at how slow the shift from legacy to virtual professional service firms has been. Traditional firms will exist indefinitely, but they have only more recently begun to be challenged by new configurations of talent.

Having now run my own primarily virtual organizations for many years, I do have a better understanding of the challenges.

However we are gradually transcending the difficulties, not least through both professionals and clients having learned over the last year that massive businesses can function admirably in an entirely virtual environment, if well managed.

Given this shift, we have just published an article on 8 leading virtual firms shaping the future of professional services, digging into a diverse selection of leading virtual professional firms. Check it out if you want to see some great examples and insights from what they’ve achieved.

It is probably fair to say that the majority of professionals and their clients are conservative in their business practices.

Yet as we shift to an increasingly virtual work environment, it is an immense opportunity both for incumbents and their challengers to change their working assumptions on the need for large-scale offices.

Professionals will still visit their clients, but as the case of Axiom Legal and others show, that doesn’t require offices, in fact it can facilitate spending more time with clients.

Carefully designed teams of world-leading specialist talent are increasingly required for high-value professional engagements. A virtualised model makes that far easier.

The key question is whether upstart firms that start with a different premise can provide a disruptive level of competition to established firms. Or whether today’s large professional firms will redesign themselves first.

I’ll be watching it closely.