CLE on Virtual Law Practice for the NCBA
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CLE on Virtual Law Practice for the NCBA

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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.

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.

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  • Features of a virtual law office Methods of eLawyering are found in a virtual law practice.
  • Remote and rural areas providing access to justice for them. Client base to help remote clients
  • North Carolina 2008 Formal Ethics Opinion 5, “Web-Based Management of Client Records” (July 18, 2008),
  • North Carolina 2008 Formal Ethics Opinion 3, “Assisting a Pro Se Litigant” (January 23, 2009)
  • North Carolina Bar 2010 Proposed Formal Ethics Opinion 7, “Subscribing to Software as a Service While Fulfilling the Duties of Confidentiality and Preservation of Client Property” (April 15, 2010), North Carolina State Bar Journal , Summer 2010, Volume 15, Number 2.
  • Hardware Costs   Computer UPS Surge protectors Internet Access Wireless Card DSL Backup internet method - *optional* Mobile Devices Smartphones Netbooks Scanner Backup Methods Portable Harddrives Truecrypt/Synctoy - *free opensource software* USB key Optional Microphone Webcam In computer or separate   Software Costs   SaaS Product One product or use piecemeal products   Web-browser Mozilla Firefox with add-ons, such as no-scripts *free*   Third-party Credit Card Processing Company’s services Per transaction costs, annual fees Value of IOLTA & trust accounting compliance handled for you PayPal, Google Shopping Cart *free* *Ethics warning*   Software designed for your practice area if needed in addition to the SaaS service *optional* State-specific programs Hotdocs, Prodocs, etc.   Desktop Sharing *optional* iContact or other service *optional* Value of email updates/newsletters to clients/other professionals Quickbooks or other accounting software     Some useful free software options PDF Converter PrimoPDF Adobe Reader TweetDeck Twitter Mozilla’s Thunderbird Email Open Office Suite Skype Google Apps, such as Google Voice, Reader, Docs    

CLE on Virtual Law Practice for the NCBA CLE on Virtual Law Practice for the NCBA Presentation Transcript

  • How to Operate a Virtual Law Office and Deliver Legal Services Online
  • Overview – Part I
    • Terminology
    • Technology
    • Ethics Issues
  • 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.
    View slide
  • 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
    View slide
  • 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 firm’s 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
  • 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
  • Traditional Firm w/Virtual Law Office
  • Web-based
  • Unbundled Legal Services
  • Multijurisdictional Virtual Law Firm
  • Is there a market for this?
    • During March, 2010—one month alone—an 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
  • 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”
  • 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
  • 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/Westlaw research, 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
  • 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
  • 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
  • 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
  • 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
  • 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
  • Ethics Concerns
    • UPL
    • Establishing the Online Attorney/Client Relationship
      • Defining the Scope of Representation
    • Conflict of Interest
    • Authentication of Online Client’s 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
  • 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.
  • Avoiding Malpractice
    • Conflict of interest checks
      • Online and offline clients
    • Jurisdiction checks
    • Confidentiality of Client Data – SSL, end-to-end encryption
    • Accepting online payments
      • PCI Compliance
      • Retainers – Trust Account Rules
    • Calendar and Ticker System
    • Metadata
    • Electronic Discovery
    • Daily Best Practices
  • Overview - Part II
    • Choosing the Structure
    • Startup Costs and ROI Analysis
    • Choosing a Technology Provider
    • Launching your Virtual Law Practice
  • Step One: Choose a structure
    • Decide what features of your law practice to take online.
      • Completely web-based or integrated into a traditional law firm structure?
      • Working with clients?
        • Unbundling/limited legal services
        • Online client base to generate additional revenue or as amenity for existing in-person clients
      • Document storage?
      • Document assembly?
      • Collaborating with other attorneys/virtual assistants?
      • Administrative tasks?
        • Calendaring
        • Case and Client Management
        • Time and billing
        • Invoicing
        • Accounting
  • Unbundling Legal Services
    • Break out tasks associated with a legal matter and provide the client with only specific portions of the legal work
    • Clearly define for online client the nature and scope of unbundled legal services – what will and will NOT be covered
    • Provide comparisons/education
  • Step Two: Choose the Tech
    • Know your own comfort level with technology
      • How quickly can you learn new technology?
      • Can you set and abide by your own security practices for the daily use of the tech to protect your clients (and yourself from malpractice)?
    • Consider the ROI of the product
      • How much will it save in time and law office resources, overhead?
      • Will it help to generate additional or new client revenue?
  • Step Three: Research the Provider
      • 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
      • Third-party hosting
      • Response time/customer service
      • Confidentiality of law office data
        • Who has access?
        • Government and civil search and seizure actions
        • Breach of confidentiality – unlimited liability for data breaches?
      • Infrastructure to support growth
      • Transferring Data/Compatibility Issues
      • Costs – Subscriptions, what is included
  • Start-up Basics
    • Select URL name
      • Register with State Bar
    • Development of VLO Website
    • Integration & customization of client portal into website
    • Drafting Terms and Conditions, Disclaimers, Privacy Policy, establishing online response policies, etc.
    • Select third-party credit card processing company for online payments
    • Decide how to unbundle, offer fixed fees, billable hour or combination of billing methods
    • Create Partnership Agreements or Fee Structures if applicable
  • Obtaining Malpractice Insurance
      • Be prepared to educate
      • Ask about discounts for use of technology
      • Read through the exclusions
      • Consider total loss based on structure of practice
      • Firm or partnerships coverage
      • Hardware
      • What may not be covered
  • Budgeting a Virtual Law Office
    • Website Cost
    • Hardware Cost
    • Software Cost
    • Minimal need for office supplies
    • Marketing budget
    • Create a fluid business plan
  • Virtual Paralegals/Assistants
    • Keep digital records of instructions to VA
    • Compliance with Rule 5.3 – Management of Non-lawyer assistants
    • Nondisclosure and security issues
  • Marketing the Virtual Law Practice
    • Your website is your front door.
        • Design must-haves from perspective of:
          • Complying with Professional Responsibility Rules
          • Creating an effective Marketing Strategy
          • Free Methods
          • Consistency of image
          • Dedication of time
    • Online Social Networking & Using Social Media
          • Public
          • Law-related
          • Establish a policy
  • Future Innovation
    • Features of a virtual law practice will continue to expand beyond what currently may be imagined.
      • The core function of a virtual law practice should remain the same - the ability to securely deliver legal services and work with clients and other legal professionals online through an online client portal.
    • The growth of online legal services is largely consumer-driven.
      • The legal profession should step up to meet this need or the public will continue to use methods that are not safe or in their best interest to acquire online legal services.
      • In order to stay competitive and to address the needs of clients, most firms will need some form of virtual component in the next five to ten years.
  • Contact Me
    • Email: [email_address]
    • Blog: www.VirtualLawPractice.org
    • Book: Delivering Legal Services Online , ABA Publishing, Coming August 2010