The Internet Generation and the Delivery of Legal Services

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The Virtual Law Firm:
Benefits, Costs, and
Ethical Pitfalls to Avoid

William S. Boyd School of Law
University of Nevada, Las Vegas
Defining the Virtual Law Firm
What is a Virtual Law Firm?
A “virtual law firm” or “virtual law office” is
characterized by access by the firm’s
clients to a password protected and
secure web space where both the attorney
and client may interact and legal services
are consumed by the client.
 More specifically it can be defined as
having a secure client portal that is
accessible from the law firm’s web site.

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What is eLawyering?

elawyering can be defined as:

“[E- Lawyering 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.”

eLawyering or virtual lawyering requires that a client be able to log
in to a secure web space with a user name and password where
they can access the firm’s legal services.
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The “Client Portal”
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What a “virtual law firm” is not!

A law firm without a physical office, sometimes called a
“virtual law firm.”

A law firm that uses web-based back-office practice
management tools and applications is not a “virtual law
firm.”
 Many attorneys are now also taking a portion of their
practices online by using SaaS to handle some, but not
all, practice management functions.
 Other attorneys are adding a virtual law firm portal to
their existing traditional law practice to work with inperson clients online as well as add new online clients.
By our definition, virtual lawyering and elawyering are one
and the same and they always involve the actual delivery
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of legal services over the Web.

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Legal Services Over the
Internet

A “virtual law firm” enables clients to:
Assemble legal documents over the web;
 Purchase legal advice online by telephone or
email;
 Store their legal documents online;
 Collaborate with their attorneys online through
threaded discussions which are archived.
 Access legal information, web advisors, and
intelligent calculators.

Latent Market for Legal Services

50% of middle income households in the US have at least one legal
problem per year

Only 20% seek legal assistance from attorneys.

26% do nothing at all.

Increasing percentage of consumers seek alternatives to lawyers
such as self-help.
E.g., Nolo and LegalZoom

Potentially huge market waiting to be tapped in the US for personal
consumer legal services.
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Target Client Market: The Under-Served US Market.
The United States represents, by far, the
largest market for legal services in the world,
amounting to $220 billion in 2008, according
to the U.S. Census Bureau.
According to varying estimates by the U.S.
Bureau of Economic Analysis and the U.S. Bureau
of Labor Statistics, American consumers spend
approximately $90 billion annually on personal
legal services.
Our estimate for the latent legal services market
adds another $45 billion to the potential market.
Size of the market for legal services
What consumers spend now
$90 billion
Estimated value of under-served
consumers or “latent” market
$45 billion
Total market
$135 billion
New Market Opportunities

Internet-based markets and opportunities: The “latent”
market for legal services.

Younger clients can be served by a different Internetbased offering.
Alternative to LegalZoom and Nolo - just a legal form.
No office consultation. Telephone/email. Meeting to
execute documents.


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Recent Study

56% of consumers would prefer to deal with a law firm
on-line.

47% of consumers surveyed said they would choose a
law firm based on whether they had an online legal
services component.
Sample based on 2, 500 interviews in the UK

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Benefits of a Virtual Law Firm
Capture new clients who are part of the
“latent market for legal services” who don’t
use lawyers;
 Deliver “limited legal services” on-line.
 Capture web-savvy clients who are
members of the “connected generation”
who expect to relate to their lawyers “online.”

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More Benefits



Security and regular data backups of law office data
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)

Streamline & automate functions of your practice for greater efficiency
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

Expand client base across jurisdiction

Clients appreciate the convenience, efficiency and feeling “in control” over
the status of their legal matters

Eco-friendly

Better work/life balance
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On-Line Legal Service
Applications






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Web-enabled document automation
Web Advisors – e.g. Chapter 13 Calculator.
Legal Advice Online
Legal Document Review
Court Coaching for Pro Se Clients
Ability to provide pro bono services online
Collaboration and Communication
Searchable and linkable legal library for
clients
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Unbundled Legal Services

Legal Services ala Carte
Only pay for the legal
services you need
when you need it.
New model for
delivering legal
services.
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DOCUMENT
AUTOMATION
1818
Documents that Assemble Themselves
Ready for Lawyer Review
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You don't just ‘fill out’ an automated document – you create it.
The answers you enter create a custom legal document, built from a library of state-specific and relevant legal text,
that is tailored to client’s specific facts.
Example of a Client Portal
Practice Management Applications
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Jurisdiction check to avoid UPL
Conflicts of Interest Checking
Online Engagement of Atty/Client Relationship
Case Calendar & Events
Document Archiving
Law & Research Libraries
Billing and Invoices Management
On-Line Bill Payment by Credit Card – IOLTA
and Trust Accounting Compliance
Contact Management – Clients and Referral
Databases
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Ethical Issues

The ethical issues are the same whether
you are practicing law online or offline.
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Ethical Issues
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UPL in other Jurisdictions
 Advertising Rules
 Issues unique to multi-jurisdictional virtual law firms
Establishing the Online Attorney/Client Relationship
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Clickwrap Agreements and other methods
Defining the Scope of Representation
 Unbundling Legal Services/Limited Legal Services
 Providing Competent Limited Representation
Conflict of interest checks
Verifying the Client’s Identity Online
Confidentiality of Client Data
Accepting online payments
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 Trust accounting and IOLTA compliance
SaaS Provider Selection

What to look for in a SaaS Provider
 Understand the hosting company’s policies & how they
may impact your law practice.
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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
Response time/customer service
Confidentiality/access to law office data
Conduct a Needs and ROI Analysis.
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Costs of a Virtual Law Office
Front End Web Site- Hosting and Design
 Client Portal

Vendor pricing ranges from $49.00 to $299.00
a month depending on complexity.
Web-Based Practice Management Solutions.
 Approximately $49.00 per attorney per month.

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BUILDING A
STRONG BRAND
ONLINE
• Differentiation
• Remarkable
• Client experience
BENEFITS
OF BRANDING YOUR
PRACTICE ONLINE
• Stand out
• Satisfy current clients
• Acquire new clients
• Save time & money
WINNING LAW FIRMS WILL HAVE A
STRONG BRAND & USE THE
POWER OF
ONLINE TECHNOLOGY
Don’t be a Turkey!
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