Technology and client expectations are transforming the way that legal services are obtained and delivered. Attorneys who integrate Internet technologies into their everyday practice of law position themselves to profit from this transformation. The hard question is how to effectively do this. Virtual Lawyer Spotlight aims to educate lawyers about practicing law online through real-world case studies of lawyers successfully doing just that. If you’re a virtual lawyer and are interested in sharing your story, please contact us.
Tell us a little about yourself and your practice:
I am a solo practitioner – my practice focuses on corporate transaction including M&A, private capital raises, corporate formation, technology related transactions, and general contract work. I work with startups and established businesses of all sizes from all over the world.
What does the term “virtual law practice” mean to you?
A virtual law practice is a practice that utilizes technology to increase efficiency and reduce much of the needless overhead associated with the traditional practice of law. This doesn’t necessarily mean that in-person contact with clients and other attorneys is eliminated, but when possible and appropriate, communication is conducted electronically via email, phone, or a secure client website. Paper is minimized, physical file storage is reduced, the need for staff is reduced, and the need for traditional brick and mortar office space is all but eliminated. The result is a very efficient way to practice law as a solo practitioner.
Why did you decide to open a virtual law office? Did you ever have a brick & mortar practice?
I practiced with a large, regional firm with a traditional “brick and mortar” practice for 4 years. When I opened my solo practice, I decided immediately to strip out as much overhead as possible and to streamline my practice. Practicing this way allows me to focus on practicing law and serving my clients, without spending a ton of time on administrative tasks that typically bog down a small or solo practice.
What were some of the obstacles you faced starting your virtual practice?
There are lots of options available for setting up a virtual law practice. The hard part if finding the right technology and service providers, assessing the costs associated with everything, and then developing a plan to make it all work together seamlessly. It took awhile, but I feel like I have a system that works very well for me now.
What is your business model? (i.e. who are your clients and how do you serve them?)
My clients tend to be technology companies, although I have clients from a wide range of industries. I use my efficient practice model as a sales pitch to prospective clients – i.e. – I provide top notch legal services, I am very attentive to client communication, and turn client work around quickly. I can do this at affordable rates and fixed fees by virtue of my practice model. That is really what most clients want – quality work, good communication, reasonable turn around time, and affordability. I also have a portion of my practice that exists almost exclusively online by using web based document assembly software.
How do you bill your clients? (i.e., Do you do alternative billing? Standard hourly rate? etc.)
It depends on the engagement. Whenever possible, I provide fixed fees for engagements. Some deals require hourly rates. About half of my clients pay invoices online.
Where do you actually practice? (i.e., in your home, at a coffee shop, in an office, etc.)
I practice mostly from a home office. but my practice is set up so that I can practice anywhere via a laptop, iPad or iPhone. I work from time to time from coffee shops if my daily schedule has me out and about meeting with clients. If the most efficient use of my time of to plop down in a coffee ship between client meetings, then that is what I do.
How do you interact with clients? (ex. via phone, in person, through email/collaborating on documents, video conferencing, etc.)
I communicate with clients via phone, email, in person, Skype…it really just depends on the circumstances. Clients also have access to a secure client portal that allows them to review invoices, download documents I have prepared…etc.
What is the client’s experience like? What sort of feedback do you get?
My client’s seem to appreciate my accessibility and willingness to communicate in ways that are convenient to them.
How do you acquire and retain clients?
I have a few blogs that generate quite a bit of client inquiries, along with my primary practice website. I also do a lot of traditional networking. Social media has helped my connect with potential clients as well. Client retention is never a problem – all I do is provide quality legal service and retention takes care of itself.
Have you heard any criticisms of virtual law offices? How has your practice addressed these?
I have heard some criticisms about attorneys “practicing in coffee houses” and concerns of cloud computing. In have a real, physical office – which just happens to be my home address. All of my clients know this, so it is not a problem. As far as cloud computing concerns go, those with concerns are misguided. I am very confident that any documents or data I have “in the cloud” are just as secure, if not more so, than documents sitting in an unlocked file drawer, or even a locked file drawer for that matter. I take precautions to make sure client documents are secure and kept confidential.
What do you wish were different about practicing law online?
Not much really. Some potential clients out there still would like to be able to visit their attorney in a nice office with a receptionist and conference room. I understand that, but wish more people would understand the benefits of working with a non-traditional practice.
What do you miss most about working in a brick and mortar law office?
Comraderie with co-workers – but that’s about it.
What’s the best part of practicing law online?
It makes my practice different, and it makes it efficient. Those two things allow me to have a successful practice with plenty of time to spare with my family.
What are the best tools you have found for practicing online?
I carry an iPad with me everywhere I go for email, document review and research. I use WordPress for all of my blogs – super easy and very functional. I use Clio as my cloud based practice management system, which also provides my secure client portal. I use SquareSpace to host my website. I use a Neatdesk scanner for document, receipt and records scanning. I use a Livescribe smart pen to digitize all of my notes. I use DropBox to back up my practice files and access them online. I use Google Apps for email and document collaboration. I use Google Voice for my office phone line. Finally, I use WiziLegal.com to power the online legal document services I provide.
Attorney Brian Powers represents business clients in a variety of corporate transactional matters, with an emphasis on entrepreneurial legal services, startup law, mergers and acquisitions, and internet law / software licensing. Indiana business attorney Brian Powers also advises established business clients on a broad range of matters, including complex business and commercial transactions, real estate, regulatory compliance, business advisory services. strategic planning, business restructurings, and general corporate counseling. His clients have included companies in the technology, software, real estate, healthcare, manufacturing, construction, advertising & marketing, hospitality, retail sector, auto auction and private equity sectors.
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