From the first day my virtual shingle went up, the web-based virtual law office technology has allowed me to work with clients of moderate income levels in a more efficient and convenient way for both the clients and myself. I won’t pretend the motivation for opening my virtual law office (VLO) was for the greater good of the public. Wanting to provide affordable services more cost-effectively to individuals of moderate income levels was certainly one aspect for developing a software as a service technology that would allow me to communicate securely with clients over the Internet. However, the main motivation for using web 2.0 technology in my law practice was to create a better balance for my own young family. My first child was born in January 2006 and my VLO opened that same winter.
The pleasant surprise came when my client base began to grow and I realized that most of my estate planning and small business clients were in the same boat. Along with me, they were seeking the convenience and flexibility that the technology provided. My virtual law practice was not only useful for me, but for them as well. Any web-based technology that can add more flexibility to the juggling act we are all engaged in, especially in this downward economy, is going to have a positive public response.
My virtual law practice provides clients with the convenience of accessing legal services without having to make an office appointment or arranging for child care to meet with an attorney or paralegal for multiple meetings during business hours. From my case queue I can see when most clients log into their secure homepages on my VLO. Almost all of my clients work on their legal matters in the early hours of the morning or late in the evening – the same hours when my own family is asleep and when I handle most of my law practice. My clients can compose a legal question to me at 1:00 am in the morning or download what I’ve sent to them at 5:00 am before they head to work. They also contact me on the weekends when they have more time to address their legal needs.
With my VLO, I avoid one of the most common client complaints that the attorney is not communicating well or providing sufficient updates. My VLO provides the status of the case file for the client to see each time he or she logs in, but I also have a self-imposed 24-hour response policy for my practice. Even if I cannot complete an online request for legal services, I provide my clients and prospective clients with a message on their individual VLO homepages letting them know that I am reviewing their requests for legal services. I may write follow up questions for them, upload a form, or provide a price quote and an estimate of the time that it may take me to complete the legal work. If a client has selected email updates as an option, he or she will receive an email notification when I have reviewed his or her message and responded. Because email is unencrypted, none of my clients’ confidential information is transmitted by email. They are prompted to log back into their secure VLO homepage to review our full dialogue.
Passing On the Savings to Clients
Without the overhead of a traditional law office, I have been able to pass the savings of operating a VLO along to my clients. The technology allows me to handle a larger quantity of legal clients more efficiently and to streamline many of the administrative processes of operating a law practice. The fact that my practice is web-based means that my client base is expanded to the entire state where I am licensed to practice law. This allows me as a solo to compete with other traditional firms in my small town as well as across the state. My clients benefit from this because I am able to provide more flexible billing options to them and in many cases more affordable prices for legal services. I invoice my clients online and they pay me through the VLO with a credit card or create other payment plans. This allows my clients to budget for their legal needs and to pay in a way that works best for their individual circumstances.
Protecting My Online Clients
Not only am I providing affordability and convenience to my clients, but I am also using the secure virtual law office technology to protect their confidential information. In addition to the secure VLO site itself which encrypts all attorney/client communication, the technology was built to include different methods of protecting the public. There is a jurisdiction check that ensures that the client’s legal matter is within the jurisdiction of the state law that I am licensed to practice. A conflict of interest check is run on each prospective client’s name when he or she registers on my VLO. The name is checked with all of my previous law office contact data and notifies me of any similar cases that I have worked on. Prospective clients receive multiple notices of the terms and conditions of my virtual law practice at different stages in the process of handling their legal services online. Depending on the nature of the case and my online interaction with the individual client, I may upload a traditional retainer agreement for them to read through and sign in addition to the required, multiple clickwrap agreements.
Variety of Online Legal Services
The services that I provide online vary from general legal guidance to legal document drafting and filing to working with pro se litigants. Most of my virtual law practice is transactional legal work because of the area of law in which I was trained. However, I also work with pro se litigants who need unbundled legal services to assist them in navigating the justice system. This has been rewarding work because not only does it allow me to provide legal services, but to also take on the role of online teacher. Clients are grateful for the ability to receive unbundled legal services and to save money by doing most of the footwork themselves.
As more web-based VLOs open across the nation, I predict that the technology will be used by other solos and small firms to provide different combinations of legal services to the public in different areas of law practice. As the general public continues to demand the convenience of handling legal transactions online, more solos and small firms will want to step forward to provide online services to their clients. They may be happy to find that the return on investment from using the web-based technology not only benefits their clients and bottom line, but also their personal quality of life. My daughter and my solo virtual practice will turn three years old this month and both are growing strong.
Owner of Kimbro Legal Services, LLC, a NC Virtual Law Office (http://www.kimbrolaw.com)
Author of Virtual Law Practice Blog (http://www.virtuallawpractice.org)
Author of eBook: “Practicing Law Online: Creating a Web-Based Virtual Law Office” (http://www.vlotech.com/ebooks/PracticingLawOnline.pdf)