At this year’s ABA TECHSHOW, Rodney Dowell and Dennis Kennedy gave a presentation on the open source powered law firm. I’ve used open source software for years for various purposes in my virtual law practice. However, I had never considered other ways that other attorneys might be using open source software to create their own virtual law firms or to supplement their practices with these solutions.
The number of cloud computing applications used in law practice is growing. To protect our clients and ourselves, the most secure practice is to create a strong password that is different for each online application and one that is more than six characters long with a combination of upper and lower case letters, numbers and symbols. Different applications may require variations on those requirements. Most are case sensitive, but some do not allow symbols. To be extra safe, security experts recommend that we change our passwords at least once a month.
How is today’s busy practitioner expected to remember more than a handful of unique and complex passwords?
By now most attorneys are familiar with virtual law offices, whether they are completely web-based or integrated into the structure of a traditional law firm. However, new models of online legal services are developing that combine the products and branding of familiar companies with the services of licensed professionals. These newer models of delivering legal services online raise interesting alternatives for attorneys wanting to dip their toes into the waters of elawyering, but they also raise interesting ethical issues.
This past week I attended a mini-conference at Harvard Law sponsored by the Berkman Center’s Law Lab. The purpose of the conference was to discuss ways that law schools and others interested in educating legal professionals can create a curriculum that provides the practitioner with the necessary tools to practice in an increasingly digital world.
Writing a good client engagement letter can be more complicated when you run a virtual law practice and will be delivering legal services online. Incorporating the use of technology by your firm into the provisions of an engagement letter is important to provide the client with notice of how you will communicate and handle their case online. Even if you have a traditional, brick & mortar law office and intend to only use your virtual law practice to complete specific tasks online, your clients need to understand how the use of this technology will affect the representation.
Consumers are going online in large numbers to purchase unbundled legal services, mostly DIY legal forms. They are turning to companies that provide legal form generation online without the benefit of attorney guidance, or they are purchasing kits at local office supply stores. Some are even attempting to search for free forms online and then modify them to meet their legal needs. In most cases, convenience and affordability are the motivating factors driving consumers to choose these less safe options.
These are legal services that consumers might otherwise be purchasing from a licensed attorney. There are ways for law firms to meet this consumer need and reclaim these clients by offering unbundled legal services. The offering could be the primary focus of the law firm or an addition to its full-service representation.
How do you market a law firm as a provider of unbundled legal services? As with all attorney marketing, the practical considerations must fall in line with the ethical requirements of our profession. To market unbundled legal services, a firm might consider the following:
There has been much debate about the recent New Jersey opinion related to that state bar’s “bona fide office” rule. Around the same time, an inquiry was brought before the NC State Ethics Committee relating to the use of cloud computing in law practice management. Both events have caused some attorneys to once again question whether legal professionals should think outside the box when it comes to delivering legal services online.
Before offering unbundled legal services, an attorney must explain exactly what services will be provided at what cost to the client. A virtual law practice providing these services should operate with this specific process as the foundation for all transactions.
An attorney may provide unbundled legal services with a virtual law office as the sole method of delivering legal services to clients, or a virtual law practice may be added to an existing law office as an amenity to in-person client or as a method of pulling in additional revenue from a separate online client base.
There is a great deal of flexibility in the way that a virtual law practice may be structured to provide unbundled services online.