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Stephanie Kimbro, Kimbro Legal Services, LLC


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Stephanie Kimbro, Kimbro Legal Services, LLC

  1. 1. ABA Ethics Commission 20/20 Presentation by Stephanie Kimbro, Esq., Owner of Kimbro Legal Services, LLC and Co-Founder of Virtual Law Office Technology, LLC (VLOTech) Contact Info: Email: [email_address] Twitter: @StephKimbro Blog:
  2. 2. What is virtual law practice? <ul><li>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. </li></ul><ul><li>Other terminology: VLO, virtual law firm, web-based law practice or online law practice. </li></ul>
  3. 3. What virtual law practice is not <ul><li>Virtual law practice is not : </li></ul><ul><ul><li>an online website that sells legal documents without attorney review, such as LegalZoom and other web-based companies selling online legal forms </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>a law firm website with an email “contact us for a free quote” form for prospective clients </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>communication by email even if sent through a law firm’s website </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>a rented physical office that may be shared with other professionals along with a receptionist service </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>VPNs, extranets and other services, such as GoToPC and LogMeIn </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>a conglomeration of attorneys in remote locations pooling resources and communicating over the Internet </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>a law practice based in a virtual reality world, such as Second Life </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Not all legal SaaS products providing web-based practice management tools create virtual law offices. </li></ul></ul>
  4. 4. How Attorneys Use Virtual Law Offices <ul><li>Completely Web-based </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Unbundled or limited legal services </li></ul></ul><ul><li>Integrated into a traditional law office </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Unbundled and full-service </li></ul></ul><ul><li>As a transition method to allow them to continue to practice law while meeting other personal and professional needs: </li></ul><ul><ul><li>To raise families </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>To care for ill spouses or aging parents </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>To ease into retirement </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>After layoffs, to start a solo practice or work while searching for another legal job </li></ul></ul>
  5. 5. Why is Virtual Law Practice Important? <ul><li>For the Public </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Greater access to justice </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Affordable and accessible legal services for lower and moderate income individuals </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Pro-se litigants </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Pro bono opportunities </li></ul></ul><ul><li>For the Legal Profession </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Better quality of life through work/life balance and flexibility </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Technology streamlines and automates much of the routine work allowing the attorney to focus on practicing law </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Technology may help prevent malpractice through automated checks and processes </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Lower overhead, less office waste, eco-friendly </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Expanded client base, increased competition </li></ul></ul>
  6. 6. What are the concerns? <ul><li>Many of these 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. </li></ul><ul><li>Some concerns unique to VLOs include: </li></ul><ul><ul><li>UPL </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><ul><li>In other jurisdictions </li></ul></ul></ul><ul><ul><ul><li>By non-licensed professionals </li></ul></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Competency </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Establishment of the Attorney/Client Relationship </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><ul><li>Defining Scope of Representation Online </li></ul></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Security </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><ul><li>Protecting client confidentiality </li></ul></ul></ul><ul><ul><ul><li>SaaS </li></ul></ul></ul>
  7. 7. What should the response be to those concerns? <ul><li>It should be the responsibility of the individual attorney to do the following: </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Make the determination on a case by case basis: Can I competently handle this legal matter online or does it require in-person representation? </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Understand the technology and the security risks </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><ul><li>Thoroughly question the prospective SaaS provider on the following issues: </li></ul></ul></ul><ul><ul><ul><ul><li>Data Return and Retention Policies </li></ul></ul></ul></ul><ul><ul><ul><ul><li>Backups </li></ul></ul></ul></ul><ul><ul><ul><ul><li>End-to-end encryption </li></ul></ul></ul></ul><ul><ul><ul><ul><li>Confidentiality and non-disclosure statements </li></ul></ul></ul></ul><ul><ul><ul><ul><li>Privacy policy – who has access to the law office data </li></ul></ul></ul></ul><ul><ul><ul><ul><li>Customer support </li></ul></ul></ul></ul><ul><ul><ul><ul><li>Other terms of the license or service agreement </li></ul></ul></ul></ul><ul><ul><ul><ul><li>Is the software designed for attorneys or the general public? </li></ul></ul></ul></ul><ul><ul><ul><ul><li>Is sharing or security the primary focus? </li></ul></ul></ul></ul><ul><li>To avoid a chilling effect on future innovation in the delivery of legal services, any regulations on virtual law practice should be kept broad and easily adaptable to advancements in technology. </li></ul>
  8. 8. How Can We Support Virtual Law Practice? <ul><li>Education </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Committee for the Delivery of Legal Services </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Unbundled Legal Services </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Malpractice Insurance Carriers </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>State Bars </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><ul><li>Law Practice and Ethics Advisors </li></ul></ul></ul><ul><li>Broad, updated guidelines </li></ul><ul><ul><li>For technology and security </li></ul></ul><ul><li>Emphasis on access to justice </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Encourage providing legal services online to lower and moderate income individuals </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Pro bono opportunities </li></ul></ul>
  9. 9. Looking Ahead <ul><li>Features of a virtual law practice will continue to expand beyond what currently may be imagined. </li></ul><ul><ul><li>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 portal. </li></ul></ul><ul><li>The growth of online legal services is largely consumer-driven. </li></ul><ul><ul><li>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. </li></ul></ul><ul><li>Legal professionals are seeking guidance from the ABA and their state bars about how to safely and responsibility operate a virtual law practice. Well-informed and regularly updated guidance is needed. </li></ul>