Delivering legal services online is a growing method of law practice management as both attorneys and clients find ways to benefit from the use of the technology. However, a virtual law office (VLO) is not only for attorneys wanting to operate a completely web-based practice; it can integrated into a traditional, brick-and-mortar law practice, too.
A completely web-based VLO is a professional law practice that exists online and is accessible to attorney and clients through a secure portal anywhere those parties may access the Internet. This form of web-based law practice permits attorneys and clients to securely discuss legal matters online and handle the transactions of a physical law office within a secure digital environment.
In today’s economy, there is a huge market of lower- to middle-income individuals who need access to more affordable legal services. While operating a VLO is an ideal way to meet this consumer need, going completely virtual with your law practice may not be the right fit for your practice areas and existing client base. Therefore, consider the benefits of integrating a VLO into your traditional practice, instead.
Communicating with in-person clients
One of the most common malpractice complaints from clients involves an attorney not responding promptly to a client’s request for information. With a VLO, the client is able to log in and check on the status of their case for themselves and feel more in control of their legal matter.
Existing in-person clients are able to use the features of the VLO as an amenity to communicate with the attorneys securely, check on the status of their legal matter, access online pleadings and other documents, and to receive invoices and pay for their legal services online. The ability of your in-person clients to go online 24/7 may mean that they are less likely to call the office unnecessarily for an update or make appointments that could instead be handled through a quick online exchange.
Paralegals and other legal assistants for the firm may also log into the VLO to handle administrative matters such as a quick response to the client, scheduling a phone conference, or posting a reminder for a court date or deadline that the client needs to respond to.
Add new online client revenue
In addition to using the VLO with existing, in-person clients, the firm could expand the prospective online client base across the state(s) where the attorney is licensed to practice law. This might be extremely useful for a firm with a remote geographic location or for a firm with a client base that may be located in remote areas or be unable to travel to visit with the attorney in-person.
Depending on the legal services that the firm offers, a VLO could be added to provide unbundled or limited legal services for new online clients while also working with in-person client through the system. Attorneys are not limited to offering only fixed-fee legal services through a VLO, but may create any combination of billing methods including billable hour, fixed-fee, recurring billing, and even provide services pro bono.
Portions of the legal work provided to the client may be streamlined through the use of technology. For example, the use of online forms for auto-generating legal documents or for client intake, searchable and linkable law and file libraries, referral databases and other tools through the VLO may allow for the firm to avoid having to reinvent the wheel with each new online client.
The time that may be saved through the use of a VLO may allow the traditional firm to continue to generate revenue while the members may focus more on the actual practice of law rather than dealing with administrative and rote functions of the business of law. The economic benefit will be fewer unnecessary phone calls, emails and office visits as well as the time and money saved by allowing clients to receive and pay for invoices online.
Security and accessibility
The security used in a VLO is the same high-level technology used by online banking, financial and other government entities to protect their client’s data. Documents stored by the firm in a VLO are protected by this level of security and are accessible anywhere the attorney may access the Internet.
Consider the convenience of being able to pull up your file or law library or your client’s case file from your Smartphone in the courthouse. Law firm colleagues and paralegals may also communicate and collaborate on the VLO regarding client matters and administrative backend work. Rather than having to run a file over to the courthouse, an associate may upload the necessary document or research to the client file for immediate use.
As with any form of law practice, a VLO, whether web-based or integrated into a traditional firm, needs to pay close attention to ethics and malpractice concerns that may arise from the delivery of legal services online. Some of these issues include the unauthorized practice of law in other jurisdictions, conflicts of interest checking between online and in-person clients, authenticating the identity of the client, and taking online payments.
Adhering to daily best practices for the use of the firm’s technology and hardware is also a critical component to providing legal services online.
The benefits for a traditional practice to integrate a VLO into their firm structure are going to show up primarily in the form of economic returns. However, one of the best benefits from the addition of a VLO is the creation of a better work/life balance for the firm’s members.
Attorneys using a VLO may have the flexibility to leave the physical law office and continue to work online with both in-person clients, law firm colleagues and new online clients. As more traditional firms add this virtual component their structure, firms that want to stay competitive both from the standpoint of attorney retention as well as growing the firm’s client base may want to consider how to integrate a VLO into their practice.