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What Do You Mean by “Virtual Law Firm”?

By | Oct.10.13 | Cloud Computing, Daily Dispatch, Legal Technology, Virtual Practice

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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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Read Jared Correia’s profile “Burton Law: Virtual By Design” to learn more about how the firm leverages technology.

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6 Responses to “What Do You Mean by “Virtual Law Firm”?”

  1. Ricardo Barrera
    10 October 2013 at 9:24 am #

    All of the above is good stuff, but sometimes semantic diffusion can get out of hand. Here’s my more simple take: virtual is the opposite of actual, the latter meaning things like material, physical, or even normal. A synonym for actual is digital. (lots of words ending in “al”). So, a virtual law practice does not have a headquarters, or locations, like in Dayton or Columbus. Rather, as you’ve heard many times, no one knows your practicing law on the beach, on the internet.

  2. Xavier Cormier
    14 October 2013 at 2:22 pm #

    And why not simply having a “virtual law department” instead of labelling the whole law firm this way.

    Personally, I have set up a website mainly for our virtual business, which is a client calling a 1-800 line, selecting the appropriate legal field, and then making a consultation payment online before speaking to an actual lawyer.

  3. Jadon
    6 November 2013 at 7:29 am #

    Communication and responsiveness are also hallmarks of virtual law firms. The deep integration of communication technologies into the firm’s practice, and the direct relationship between the partner and the client, ensure that prompt, accurate, and empathetic communication is a mainstay of a virtual firm’s service. Similarly, client issues will be addressed quickly because the lawyers use the latest and most advanced technologies to streamline getting the work done.

  4. Moran Ryan
    3 April 2014 at 11:54 am #

    The label of being “virtual” for particular services is always going (at least initially) to spark debate on whether the service can truly be carried out effectively. As Chad says the proof is really in the pudding and if the results ultimately end up being A+ then there is no problem with a law firms “vehicle” being online – however if the results are poor then the blame will almost certainly be laid pointed to it being “virtual” – although in reality the quality of the service probably has very little to do with the virtual aspect and is probably down to being a bad lawyer.

    You can see the emergence of the same types of questions / potential issues surrounding the medical practitioner industry moving to online consultations using tools such as Skype. At the end of the day if the doctor can diagnose my rash through a web cam then who am I to complain?


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