OK, I admit it. I’m one of those bloggers that writes about the need to adopt emerging legal trends as if your practice will disappear tomorrow if you don’t. Virtual lawyering, alternative fee arrangements, unbundling and document assembly: threats of the legal services industry nibbling at the edges of your client list.
Admittedly, there is a certain urgency to this as new and different legal service delivery models proliferate. The problem is approaching the task of incorporating radical changes into your law practice structure all at once is daunting—so daunting that many lawyers become discouraged and do nothing. How do I know this?
Here’s the story about my recent Android phone purchase. I’d wanted to move up from my Blackberry for over a year. I qualified for an upgrade. Yet I did nothing. Why? Because I couldn’t face the task of learning how to use a completely different device while continuing to do business. Then I had an AHA! moment: I could buy my Android and at first only learn and use the functions I knew and relied on. After that, I could take 15 minutes or an hour to learn something new and expand my use. This approach worked really well, and could do the same for you in integrating new processes that will streamline and expand your practice.
Online Communication and Document Storage
Since the invention of email, lawyers have unwittingly been partially practicing online when they communicate via email. As virtualization, cloud computing and other non-resident technology has evolved, online security has been seriously compromised and threaten your ability to comply with your duties of confidentiality and privacy. To respond to this, virtual law office technology offers highly-securitized communication systems in conjunction with many other functions, but may be too overwhelming to consider incorporating into your practice right now.
In that case, try converting only your communication and document transfers via a system such as Box.net. Box.net is a cloud application that enables you to upload and store documents in folders, and communicate with clients or other players by inviting them into the folder, where they can view the documents and communicate details through their messaging system. It offers a comprehensive security architecture that protects documents and communication on application, network and facilities levels.
Dropbox is a similar product that offers AES-256 standard (bank-grade) encryption for file storage, and uses Amazon S3 for data storage. Your file transfers and communications are conducted over a secure channel using 256-bit SSL (Secure Sockets Layer) encryption, the standard for secure Internet network connections. Dropbox also enables collaboration via their sharing functions.
For simple encrypted email, try Hushmail. The free version offers private, secure free email accounts that are encrypted and spam/virus scanned. The business version lets you manage unlimited accounts and unique customization.
Alternative Fee Arrangements
The billable hour is fast being replaced by alternate methods of pricing legal services as clients seek certainty in the cost of their legal matters and are finding competing legal delivery services that will give them just that. But there are a variety of alternative pricing methods, there is a learning curve to pricing your work in any way other than by time, and in the meantime, you still need to generate revenue. Try taking one segment of your practice that is at least partially systemized, package it, and ask yourself: what do you think the delivery of that particular legal product is worth? Give it a fixed price. It is a risk, but a small one, and will give you the opportunity to start thinking along the lines of fixed pricing, subscription models and the king of alternative fees: value pricing. If you are strictly a litigator, you can price pre-trial projects this way as well, converting to the billable hour system at a pre-determined point where the unknown becomes predominant.
LegalZoom isn’t the only legal document producer in town. Try integrating their delivery model into your practice by using a document assembly service such as HotDocs, Exari, or ProDoc. This will enable you to take another step into the cloud, compete with legal document delivery businesses that offer documents “without legal advice”, help in creating a basis for fixed, or other alternative, pricing models, and attract a client-base that may ordinarily be out of reach.
Each one of these suggestions will take you one step closer to bringing your practice along on the emerging trends ride. Pick one and try it. Research and play with it, just as you would a new tech toy. You will not take the legal revolution by storm, but you will be moving that much further toward the goal of creating a successful practice in a changing profession.