cle on virtual law practice for the ncba

Download CLE on Virtual Law Practice for the NCBA

Post on 08-May-2015




1 download

Embed Size (px)


This was a two-part CLE for the North Carolina Bar Association about how to set up and operate a virtual law practice. It covers both the tech and ethics issues as well as the practical how-tos.


  • 1.How to Operate a Virtual Law Office and Deliver Legal Services Online

2. Overview Part I

  • Terminology
  • Technology
  • Ethics Issues

3. What is virtual law practice?

  • A virtual law office is a professional law practice that is located online through a secure portal and is accessible to both the client and the attorney anywhere the parties may access the Internet.
  • Other terminology: virtual lawyering, VLO, virtual law firm, web-based or web-enabled law practice, online law practice, delivering legal services online.

4. eLawyering

  • eLawyering 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 verb interview, investigate, counsel, draft, advocate, analyze, negotiate, manage and so forth and there are corresponding electronic tools and techniques. Marc Lauritsen, co-chair, ABA eLawyering Task Force

5. What virtual law practice is not

  • Virtual law practice is not :
    • an online website that sells legal documents without attorney review, such as LegalZoom and other web-based companies selling online legal forms
    • a law firm website with an email contact us for a free quote form for prospective clients
    • communication by email even if sent through a law firms website
    • a rented physical office that may be shared with other professionals along with a receptionist service
    • VPNs, extranets and other services, such as GoToPC and LogMeIn
    • a conglomeration of attorneys in remote locations pooling resources and communicating over the Internet
    • a law practice based in a virtual reality world, such as Second Life

6. How Attorneys Use Virtual Law Offices

  • Completely Web-based
    • Unbundled or limited legal services
  • Integrated into a traditional law office
    • Unbundled and full-service
  • As a transition method to allow them to continue to practice law while meeting other personal and professional needs:
    • To raise families
    • To care for ill spouses or aging parents
    • To ease into retirement
    • After layoffs, to start a solo practice or work while searching for another legal job

7. Traditional Firm w/Virtual Law Office 8. Web-based 9. Unbundled Legal Services 10. Multijurisdictional Virtual Law Firm 11. Is there a market for this?

  • During March, 2010one month alonean estimated 535,000 people in the US searched online seeking legal solutions through the Legal Zoom website.
  • E-commerce trends increasing
    • Increase in consumers looking for Legal Zoom and other DIY online legal services options

12. Serving Your Clients Your clients are ready.They shop, bank, conduct business, and pay their credit cards and taxes online. Be prepared for your future clients: the Digital Natives 13. Why is Virtual Law Practice Important?

  • For the Public
    • Greater access to justice
    • Court systems and non-profit legal aid organizations already rely on cloud computing methods to deliver legal services online
    • Affordable and accessible legal services for lower and moderate income individuals
    • Pro-se litigants
    • Pro bono opportunities
  • For the Legal Profession
    • Tech streamlines and automates the workflow allowing the attorney to focus on practicing law
    • Prevent malpractice through automated checks and processes
    • Lower overhead, less office waste, eco-friendly
    • Expanded client base, competitive advantage
    • Better quality of life through work/life balance and flexibility

14. The Technology: Software as a Service (SaaS)

  • SaaS is one form of cloud computing.
    • Practicing law in the cloud.
    • Most traditional firms already use some form of SaaS
      • Lexis/Westlawresearch, email, search engines, Google apps, Skype, etc.
  • The technology used to create and maintain the virtual law practice is handled through a secure, third-party hosted system.
  • Not to be compared to ASPs of the late 1990s
    • now designed to work cooperatively in a network environment rather than in line with the goals of PC software as it used to be
    • affects the way IT professionals and the industry think about their users, resources, and security

15. Benefits of SaaS

  • Security
    • Regular data backups, geo-redundancy of servers
    • Level of security at a Tier4 Data Center is far greater than the resources a typical law office could afford for security of law office data.
    • Data stored on the server is encrypted, same high level of security used by banking and government institutions
  • 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)
  • 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
    • Streamline your practice for greater efficiency

16. Risk of Using Piecemeal SaaS Apps

  • Security Level
  • Encryption
  • Secure transmission
  • Who has access?
  • Ethics/malpractice concerns unique to attorneys
  • Confidentiality
  • Privacy
  • Record keeping/consistency
  • Data return and retention policies
  • Offshore servers

17. Current SaaS Products

  • SaaS products designed specifically for attorneys vs. piecemeal apps.
  • Some Sample Legal SaaS products:
    • AdvologixPM
    • Clio
    • DirectLaw
    • LawRD
    • Lexbe
    • Rocket Matter
    • VLOTech/Total Attorneys
    • WiziLegal

18. Online Document Assembly & Automation

  • Automating document assembly for online clients
  • Intuitive online forms
  • Purchased directly by the client after attorney review or in conjunction with additional legal advice

19. Online Case & Client Management

  • Clients have access to their own online case files with limited control
  • Backend online law office with case and client management
  • Other law practice management tools

20. Ethics Concerns

  • UPL
  • Establishing the Online Attorney/Client Relationship
    • Defining the Scope of Representation
  • Conflict of Interest
  • Authentication of Online Clients Identity
  • Conflict of Laws
  • Competency
  • Confidentiality of Client Data
    • Safeguarding Client Property
    • See North Carolina 2008 Formal Ethics Opinion 5, Web-Based Management of Client Records (July 18, 2008)
  • Online Payments

21. Mitigating the Risks

  • It is the responsibility of the attorney operating a virtual law office to do the following:
    • Make the determination on a case by case basis:
      • Can I competently handle this legal matter online or does it require in-person representation?
    • Understand the technology and the security risks
    • Implement daily best practices for use of the technology
    • Many of the risks are similar to the ethics and malpractice risks seen in a traditional law practice. However, here the risks may be decreased through the use of the checks and processes built into the technology.

22. Avoiding Malpractice

  • Conflict of interest checks