Virtual Law Practice. The legal industry has not experienced such a trendy concept since “per stirpes” hit the scene back in the day. The virtual concept must be doing something right, though, because it is both embraced and disliked.
What is it? Over the past few years, virtual law practices have been defined on a sliding scale — from solos delivering services exclusively online, to multi-lawyer, multi-jurisdictional firms providing traditional and online services, and everything in between.
Really, it is a label used to identify firms taking a different path to deliver legal services using technology and alternative business structures.
Is the Virtual Label Needed?
Yes, for now. For the legal technology community, it is easy to get stuck inside the bubble where it seems that new technology practices have permeated the profession. We are not quite there. A lot of new ideas have not yet spread. The virtual label is a good way to introduce lawyers to new concepts. This is particularly important with the revision to the comments of ABA Model Rule 1.1, indicating lawyers need to “understand the benefits and risks of technology” when it comes to delivering legal services.
It is important to remember that all the technology in the world does not replace a lawyer’s mind (yet). Understanding the law and how to implement strategies to obtain best results for clients is still front and center. Technology is a vehicle that helps lawyers deliver these services.
Also, clients really don’t care how a firm is labeled. They, rightfully, care only about results.
You might think of the virtual label as a mindset. It expands your thinking about how a law firm can be operated, begging the question, “Is there a better way we can be running this firm?” The result can look very different from the firm next door (see the broad definition described above).
For example, the law firms that entered Clio’s Virtual Law Firm Boot Camp contest represented a wide range of practice areas and types — and they all fit within the moving target definition of a “virtual” practice. Regardless of what the particular firms look like, they, and many others, are searching for a better way of operating a law practice.
So, if the label helps forward that cause, then it serves a purpose. It is here to help. How can a firm use technology or alternative structures to better serve its clients? The virtual label can help with staffing, technology or general organization and productivity.
Like most trends, the label will fade away soon. In the next several years, what is labeled a virtual law firm will simply be called practicing law. Fortunately, there will be other concepts to beat around and debate. I can’t wait to write a blog post entitled, “Look Mom, No Hands: How to Run a Law Firm from Google Glass.”
Chad E. Burton is principal and founding attorney at Burton Law LLC, a virtual law firm headquartered out of Dayton, Ohio, with locations in Cincinnati, Columbus and North Carolina. Chad is also CEO of the newly launched CuroLegal, focused on the future of law. Follow him @ChadEBurton.
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