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Practicing law online: Delivering legal services with a virtual law office

Guest contributor and author of the Virtual Law Practice blog, Stephanie Kimbro, MA, JD, discusses the value of delivering legal services online.

A changing legal marketplace has encouraged attorneys and law firms to create innovative ways to deliver legal services to clients. Virtual law practice, one form of elawyering, allows a law firm to retain and work with clients through a secure client portal accessible with an Internet connection and web-browser. There are different ways that a virtual law practice may be set up. Two of the most popular methods are 1) a completely web-based virtual law office providing limited scope representation to online clients or 2) a virtual law office that has been integrated into the practice management methods of a traditional law firm structure. As a practice management method, a virtual law office may serve multiple functions, from working with clients in a secure online environment to handling administrative tasks, such as invoicing, calendaring and case and client management, from an online backend law office.

Aside from benefiting the legal professional, this form of practice management also meets a growing consumer demand for online legal services. The public continues to seek legal assistance online, often turning to online legal service companies that provide auto-generated legal documents or legal forms for a fee either with or without attorney review. A virtual law practice may combine the technology of document assembly and automation with the personalized attention of a licensed professional through a secure client portal. Depending on the client’s needs, this interaction may then extend to full-service, in-person representation by the firm or remain online.

There are risks involved in entrusting law office data and processes to any practice management technology, including those involved in creating a virtual law office. Because this is a quickly evolving form of law practice management, it is important that the attorney or law firm embarking on virtual law practice conduct adequate research on the topic before diving in.

Practicing Law Online: Creating a Web-Based Virtual Law Office was written to provide a basic introduction to virtual lawyering that explains the benefits and risks of this form of law practice. This free ebook provides simple guidelines for the setup of a virtual law office as well as best practices for daily operation. It may serve as a starting point for the attorney or law firm interested in learning more about virtual law practice. The ebook is a pre-curser to the book Virtual Law Practice: How to Deliver Legal Services Online, published this month by the ABA LPM. The full book contains additional updated information and state-by-state ethics opinions, including case studies from attorneys engaged in virtual law practice and elawyering as well as advice from practice management advisors, IT & security professionals, and marketing and business professionals among others.

The globalization of law firms and trends in outsourcing legal services combined with the consumer demand for online legal services are all driving the growth of virtual law practice. The law firm that educates its members on this practice management method will have a competitive advantage over those who fail to embrace these changes in our profession.

Stephanie Kimbro, MA, JD, has operated a web-based virtual law office in North Carolina since 2006. She is the recipient of the 2009 ABA Keane Award for Excellence in eLawyering and the author of Virtual Law Practice: How to Deliver Legal Services Online (ABA/LPM, 2010). She was recognized as a “Legal Rebel” by the ABA Journal in 2010 and is also the co-founder of Virtual Law Office Technology, LLC (VLOTech), which was acquired by Total Attorneys in the fall of 2009.

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