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The Virtual Law Firm: Benefits, Costs, and Ethical Pitfalls to Avoid

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The Virtual Law Firm: Benefits, Costs, and Ethical Pitfalls to Avoid William S. Boyd School of Law University of Nevada, Las Vegas Richard * * By 2010 Gen Y will ... – PowerPoint PPT presentation

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Title: The Virtual Law Firm: Benefits, Costs, and Ethical Pitfalls to Avoid


1
The Virtual Law Firm Benefits, Costs, and
Ethical Pitfalls to Avoid
  • William S. Boyd School of Law University of
    Nevada, Las Vegas

2
Defining the Virtual Law Firm

3
What is a Virtual Law Firm?
  • A virtual law firm or virtual law office is
    characterized by access by the firms clients to
    a password protected and secure web space where
    both the attorney and client may interact and
    legal services are consumed by the client.
  • More specifically it can be defined as having a
    secure client portal that is accessible from the
    law firms web site.

4
What is eLawyering?
  • elawyering can be defined as
  • E- Lawyering is all the ways in which
    lawyers can do their work using the Web and
    associated technologies. These include new ways
    to communicate and collaborate with clients,
    prospective clients and other lawyers, produce
    documents, settle disputes and manage legal
    knowledge. Think of a lawyering verbinterview,
    investigate, counsel, draft, advocate, analyze,
    negotiate, manage and so forthand there are
    corresponding electronic tools and techniques.
  • eLawyering or virtual lawyering requires that a
    client be able to log in to a secure web space
    with a user name and password where they can
    access the firms legal services.

5
The Client Portal
6
What a virtual law firm is not!
  • A law firm without a physical office, sometimes
    called a virtual law firm.
  • A law firm that uses web-based back-office
    practice management tools and applications is not
    a virtual law firm.
  • Many attorneys are now also taking a portion of
    their practices online by using SaaS to handle
    some, but not all, practice management functions.
  • Other attorneys are adding a virtual law firm
    portal to their existing traditional law practice
    to work with in-person clients online as well as
    add new online clients.
  • By our definition, virtual lawyering and
    elawyering are one and the same and they always
    involve the actual delivery of legal services
    over the Web.

7
What a virtual law firm is not
  • Online websites selling
  • legal documents
  • without lawyer review
  • Law firm website
  • with an email
  • contact us for
  • a free quote form
  • Physical office with tech services such as vpn,
    gotopc, logmein
  • conglomeration of lawyers in remote locations
    pooling resources over the internet
  • Not all legal SaaS products providing web-based
    practice management tools create VLOs

8
Legal Services Over the Internet
  • A virtual law firm enables clients to
  • Assemble legal documents over the web
  • Purchase legal advice online by telephone or
    email
  • Store their legal documents online
  • Collaborate with their attorneys online through
    threaded discussions which are archived.
  • Access legal information, web advisors, and
    intelligent calculators.

9
Latent Market for Legal Services
  • 50 of middle income households in the US have at
    least one legal problem per year
  • Only 20 seek legal assistance from attorneys.
  • 26 do nothing at all.
  • Increasing percentage of consumers seek
    alternatives to lawyers such as self-help. E.g.,
    Nolo and LegalZoom
  • Potentially huge market waiting to be tapped in
    the US for personal consumer legal services.

10
10
Target Client Market The Under-Served US Market.
The United States represents, by far, the largest
market for legal services in the world, amounting
to 220 billion in 2008, according to the U.S.
Census Bureau.
According to varying estimates by the U.S. Bureau
of Economic Analysis and the U.S. Bureau of Labor
Statistics, American consumers spend
approximately 90 billion annually on personal
legal services. Our estimate for the latent
legal services market adds another 45 billion to
the potential market.
11
New Market Opportunities
  • Internet-based markets and opportunities The
    latent market for legal services.
  • Younger clients can be served by a different
    Internet-based offering.
  • Alternative to LegalZoom and Nolo - just a
    legal form.
  • No office consultation. Telephone/email. Meeting
    to execute documents.

12
Recent Study
  • 56 of consumers would prefer to deal with a law
    firm on-line.
  • 47 of consumers surveyed said they would choose
    a law firm based on whether they had an online
    legal services component.
  • Sample based on 2, 500 interviews in the UK

13
Benefits of a Virtual Law Firm
  • Capture new clients who are part of the latent
    market for legal services who dont use lawyers
  • Deliver limited legal services on-line.
  • Capture web-savvy clients who are members of the
    connected generation who expect to relate to
    their lawyers on-line.

14
More Benefits
  • Security and regular data backups of law office
    data
  • Time saving
  • No in-house software installation
  • Access to data anywhere the attorney may securely
    access the Internet
  • Regular software updates and new features added
    without disturbing the workflow (and typically at
    no extra cost)
  • Streamline automate functions of your practice
    for greater efficiency
  • Economic
  • Lower overhead costs
  • Less expensive than paying for software, storage,
    and server hardware and having to run it
    internally with or without hiring an IT
    professional for the office
  • Expand client base across jurisdiction
  • Clients appreciate the convenience, efficiency
    and feeling in control over the status of their
    legal matters
  • Eco-friendly
  • Better work/life balance

15
On-Line Legal Service Applications
  • Web-enabled document automation
  • Web Advisors e.g. Chapter 13 Calculator.
  • Legal Advice Online
  • Legal Document Review
  • Court Coaching for Pro Se Clients
  • Ability to provide pro bono services online
  • Collaboration and Communication
  • Searchable and linkable legal library for clients

16
Unbundled Legal Services
  • Legal Services ala Carte

Only pay for the legal services you need when you
need it. New model for delivering legal services.
17
DOCUMENT
AUTOMATION
18
18
Documents that Assemble Themselves Ready for
Lawyer Review
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Complete?
Next question
Next question
Next question
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Start
Finish
You don't just fill out an automated document
you create it. The answers you enter create a
custom legal document, built from a library of
state-specific and relevant legal text, that is
tailored to clients specific facts.
19
Example of a Client Portal
20
Practice Management Applications
  • Jurisdiction check to avoid UPL
  • Conflicts of Interest Checking
  • Online Engagement of Atty/Client Relationship
  • Case Calendar Events
  • Document Archiving
  • Law Research Libraries
  • Billing and Invoices Management
  • On-Line Bill Payment by Credit Card IOLTA and
    Trust Accounting Compliance
  • Contact Management Clients and Referral
    Databases

21
Ethical Issues
  • The ethical issues are the same whether you are
    practicing law online or offline.

22
Ethical Issues
  • UPL in other Jurisdictions
  • Advertising Rules
  • Issues unique to multi-jurisdictional virtual law
    firms
  • Establishing the Online Attorney/Client
    Relationship
  • Clickwrap Agreements and other methods
  • Defining the Scope of Representation
  • Unbundling Legal Services/Limited Legal Services
  • Providing Competent Limited Representation
  • Conflict of interest checks
  • Verifying the Clients Identity Online
  • Confidentiality of Client Data
  • Accepting online payments
  • Trust accounting and IOLTA compliance

23
SaaS Provider Selection
  • What to look for in a SaaS Provider
  • Understand the hosting companys policies how
    they may impact your law practice.
  • Data return and retention policies
  • Backups
  • Are there export features and/or offline versions
    of the software (if you need these)?
  • Server locations and geo-redundancy
  • Response time/customer service
  • Confidentiality/access to law office data
  • Conduct a Needs and ROI Analysis.

24
Costs of a Virtual Law Office
  • Front End Web Site- Hosting and Design
  • Client Portal
  • Vendor pricing ranges from 49.00 to 299.00 a
    month depending on complexity.
  • Web-Based Practice Management Solutions.
  • Approximately 49.00 per attorney per month.

25
BUILDING A
STRONG BRAND
ONLINE
Differentiation Remarkable Client
experience
26
BENEFITS
OF BRANDING YOUR PRACTICE ONLINE
  • Stand out
  • Satisfy current clients
  • Acquire new clients
  • Save time money

27
WINNING LAW FIRMS WILL HAVE A STRONG BRAND USE
THE
POWER OF
ONLINE TECHNOLOGY
28
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