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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.
Type of Technology
Describe the type of technology that clients will be using to work with you online. They should be aware that that files will be stored in digital format. If you are providing a paper version of their file, either because you will also meet with them in person or because your clients tend to request this, then make the terms of providing that paper copy clear in the engagement letter. Some attorneys will add the cost of paper documents and files to the cost of legal services for clients who refuse to stick with only the digital versions.
There is some debate as to whether the client needs to understand the finer nuances of the relationship between your firm and the provider that will be hosting the law office data when you run a virtual practice. Some technology consultants not comfortable yet with cloud computing are even suggesting to state bar regulatory committees that it be made a requirement that the attorney must notify and have the client sign off in acceptance of the use of cloud computing to host their confidential information. At the time of this writing, there are no ethics opinions or rules and regulations requiring this step. However, putting some of this information in the engagement letter may make more tech-savvy clients feel comfortable with the online representation.
The engagement letter must address confidentiality and privacy concerns as they relate to the use of the technology you’ve chosen for your virtual law practice. Provide the clients with assurance that you will protect their confidential information. But also explain when you will be collecting information online. For example, if you will be collecting cookies to store the session ID. As another example, this is a provision from the clickwrap engagement letter for my virtual law practice: Technology – Security
“Virtual Law Office” does not rely on email to communicate with clients. Email as it is commonly sent and received is unencrypted and does not provide a secure means of interacting with our clients. Primary communications are done through this website over Secure HTTP, which provides you with the highest industry standard protection available on the web. All payments are processed by Cardholder Information Security Program (CISP) complaint credit card processors, and no credit card or payment account numbers are stored on our servers.
How You Will Use the Tech to Deliver Legal Services
Let the clients know your firm’s policies for communicating with clients online. This will set up appropriate expectations for the relationship and avoid frustration when the client does not receive immediate response from an action he or she takes on your virtual law office. Depending on how busy your online practice gets, a reasonable response time might be 24 hours from the time of posting. The response could be in the form of an immediate auto-responder message to let the online client know you received their communication or a longer message or response from your virtual assistant reassuring the client of the case progress.
If you are providing unbundled services online, include provisions in the engagement agreement that help the client understand the scope and nature of the legal representation that will be conducted online. Informed consent is key to a good engagement agreement and to avoiding malpractice claims down the road. If your virtual law office is offered in conjunction with a full-service firm, then you need to explain in your engagement letter what tasks the client can expect to handle online and what will be required in-person. A traditional firm may choose to have the client sign a separate agreement related specifically to the use of the virtual law office or client portal or may integrate provisions related to the tech into the existing firm engagement agreement.
You may also wish to add your firm’s policies on social media in the engagement agreement. For example, let clients know that although your attorneys do have Facebook pages and twitter accounts, they have a practice of not “friending” or “following” clients. Explain that this is for the clients’ protection and security and instead direct them to your Facebook fan page. Because you are delivering legal services online, clients may expect you to use less secure methods of online communication that are not in their best interest. The engagement letter is a good place to set this policy out from the beginning.
Regardless of the structure of your virtual law practice, the focus of the engagement letter should be on educating the client and providing adequate notice of the form of communication and delivering legal services online.