Who are these “enterprising lawyers”? Actually, they are easy to spot. Look for the more engaged and happier lawyers in the crowd. Deeply invested in the power of the work they do for their clients, they have ample interests beyond the practice of law as well. And they seem to have more energy for getting things done than anyone in the crowd. You probably know one or two—you may even be one yourself! Meet Stephanie Kimbro—a solo with an eye on the future who, quite literally, wrote the book on virtual law practice. That’s her in the photo, at home in North Carolina.
Kimbro Legal Services, LLC
Centre College (BA, 1998)
Miami University of Oxford (MA, 2001)
University of Dayton School of Law (JD, 2003)
Why did you want to be a lawyer?
I wanted a career where I would be using my writing, research and analytical skills on a daily basis. I wanted the challenge. I was also interested in cyberlaw and laws related to technology and use of the Internet, especially issues surrounding the DMCA, which is what attracted me to the University of Dayton’s law and tech program.
What is the focus of your law practice?
I provide unbundled estate planning services to clients online.
What is the real reason clients hire you?
The main reasons clients have said they hire me are: (1) the convenience of being able to go online to work with me without having to make office appointments, (2) fixed-fee billing and payment plans to spread out the cost, (3) they are parents of young children and know I understand their concerns because we have that in common, and (4) I provide services to nontraditional families in a way that is sensitive to their needs.
Who was your most important mentor?
I am blessed with many wonderful mentors, some of whom I still turn to on a monthly basis for feedback. Most of my communication with mentors is online these days, but that allows me to acquire more diverse mentorship and to stay in touch more often. When I first started practicing, I worked for an attorney named Ken Shanklin at an established small law firm in my city. I don’t think I realized how much I learned from Ken until after I left to start my solo virtual practice. As a new associate, I was impatient to do everything and impatient with what I perceived to be his slow pace of working on client matters. He would read a pleading, talk it out and then not act for days. It would drive me crazy until I started to observe the benefits of ruminating on ideas. Arguments grow and change. You give up on some and develop others while you hold that information in your head, even while doing other tasks. Then when you sit down to write you are ready to do so with much more clarity of thought—you’ve spent a more adequate amount of time analyzing every detail of the issue backwards and forwards. This was probably the most important lesson I learned in my first couple of years practicing law—to not act with haste.
What about practicing law did you learn the hard way?
I learned that often the paralegals and legal assistants in a law office are more schooled in the actual courthouse procedures and necessary administrative orchestration than the attorneys in a firm. I thought once you graduated from law school you should be able to quickly pick up on all of this, and be in a position to delegate to subordinates. My reasoning was that I had several thousand dollars worth of student loans to pay off. I figured that debt load should have guaranteed me the knowledge necessary to actually get things done in a law practice. Not so. That was a blow to the ego and a hard lesson to learn.
What is your favorite technology tool?
This is going to sound very low-tech, but my keyboard is my favorite. I’m a writer, and without my keyboard I would be lost to generate as much content as I do. The high-tech answer is my iPad2 because of the way it gives me easy access to so many other online tools and applications, such as my virtual law office software.
What is your favorite non-technology tool?
My practice is online so almost all of my tools are related to some form of technology. (Maybe technological singularity is nearer than we think.) If coffee qualifies as a tool of the trade, then I rely on my cold-water extraction coffee maker to get me through daily sleep deprivation caused by young children who refuse to sleep through the night.
How would you describe the location and décor of your office?
I could lie and say that it’s nothing but my dual-screen monitors, laptop, iPad and other tech gadgets. But really that’s all surrounded by organized clutter and a surprising amount of books and papers all over the place. I have a bad list-writing habit that extends from online task lists to condensed hourly and daily handwritten mini-lists that end up all over the place as things get crossed off. Also, I’m working on a new book on the unbundling of legal services in the future of law practice and a law review article on multijurisdictional virtual law firms, so I have piles of handwritten ideas, some print books and magazines that relate to each.
Why would someone describe you as “enterprising”?
To be enterprising, a large part of you has to not care what other people will think about you. You have to go with intuition based on your own research. Gather diverse opinions and experience from as many people as you can and make your ideas and research interdisciplinary. Then tune out the naysayers and pull it all together on your own with what you have available to you in terms of resources. I did this when I started my virtual law office six years ago and that’s probably why someone might call me enterprising—or stubborn.
What is the first thing you “check” each morning?
The first thing when I get in my office is my Google calendar. I spend the first part of the morning in a frantic race getting two tired and usually uncooperative young children dressed, fed and out the door with lunch, signed charts and assignments. I am responsible for managing the household as well as my own law practice so I have to check the calendar first thing to see what juggling we have on task for the day.
Where do you think the practice of law is going?
We will see more unbundled legal services integrating into traditional, full-service law firms as well as more firms that move to strictly unbundled services. More innovative technology will be developed to make online delivery of legal services more efficient and affordable for the public, and increase access to justice. For example, expect to see more practice-specific web advisors and web calculators, as well as the use of document assembly and automation systems in these tools to improve intake and analysis of client data over the Internet. Attorneys will need to have some form of secure client portal and access to virtual delivery. These trends are already changing the competition in the legal marketplace and will continue to do so. Attorneys who adopt these technologies quickly will survive, while others will not. Using these technologies, legal service providers will be able to meet many of the public’s needs for basic legal services and attorneys will brand themselves in much more-niche practices to showcase the true value of a licensed professional.
There are so many opportunities now for attorneys to step up to the plate and use technology to serve the huge market need for legal services, both online and offline.
Where are you going?
I am exploring the integration of more real-time features into my virtual law office, such as real-time chat and video conferencing with prospective and existing clients. I am taking Stanford’s free online course on AI and thinking about applications to the legal industry. There is a complex budgeting and wealth planning tool I have for my baby-boomer generation estate planning clients that I would like to have developed into a web application to use on my virtual law office. I am keeping an eye on how the medical profession unbundles its services to clients and uses technology when handling confidential information. I’m keeping up with the ABA Ethics 20/20 Commission’s plans, state bar rules and opinions on technology, and the direction that ILTSO is heading. Within financial and time limitations, I’m going where I need to stay ahead of the changes.
What are people most surprised to learn about you?
I love old-school PC gaming! And sometimes it surprises them that I am trained in bookbinding and book preservation and am a musician. We all have quirky talents, useful or not. I think attorneys tend to have more than other people.
What do you use every single day that you could actually easily do without?
I have a strange answer for this one: Hair. I’m not sure I “use” it, but the time I have to spend on my hair every day could better be spent working on something far more productive. I’ve visited a monastery in France built in the shape of a large square and every day the balding monks would go out and walk around in the square for hours blissfully doing nothing but reading and thinking while they walked. Without dealing with hair, makeup, or making sure my socks match, I could add a good mile or two to that and really follow my thoughts through. Alas, social pressures on female attorneys, even those who work at home and online, require minimum grooming conformity.
What three things must you always have in your brief bag, desk drawer or refrigerator?
Cell phone, coffee and something to read.
Where do you turn when things go really badly?
It depends on the situation, but usually first to prayer, then to family or to one of my mentors for guidance.
More About Stephanie Kimbro
Stephanie Kimbro practices as Kimbro Legal Services LLC. She is also a technology consultant for Total Attorneys and co-founder of Virtual Law Office Technology, which was acquired by Total Attorneys. She is the author of Virtual Law Practice: How to Deliver Legal Services Online (ABA, 2010) and is working on a new book, Serving the DIY Client: A Guide to Unbundling Legal Services, which will be published by the ABA Law Practice Management Section in 2012. She blogs at Virtual Law Practice, and you can follow her on Twitter @StephKimbro.
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