Podcast: How to Provide Client Hand-holding in Virtual Law Practice

micLast month I joined in on a podcast for the ABA Journal with reporter Stephanie Francis Ward; Michelle Crosby, founder of Wevorce; and Fred Rooney, Director of Touro Law Center’s International Justice Center for Post-Graduate Development.  The topic was “How do you provide client hand-holding if you run a virtual firm?”

You can listen to the podcast on the ABA Journal site or read the transcript.

Ward asked the three of us this question towards the end of the podcast:

[C]an the three of you give me one tip on making that personal connection and doing it online? So combining the personal connection of perhaps, like, automation and things like that, that can make it more affordable for the client and make you, help you be more efficient as a lawyer.

My response:

I think that finding a way…that engages the online client. Gets them interested, builds an initial amount of trust. That goes a long way.

Right now, I’m researching games and gamification as ways that lawyers can effectively engage that prospective client in whatever the practice area is that the client is looking for help. But sort of an initial, warm-up education, empowerment that happens online before that prospective client registers for access or asks a question of the online lawyer.

I think that really helps prepare them when you start working with the client, then you move from there to web conferencing, have the Google hangout or Skype or real-time chat or whatever their virtual law firm uses to communicate. But I think that initial online engagement is really critical.

Online Legal Services Gets a Boost from ABA & Rocket Lawyer Partnership

connectedI was thrilled to hear the news today from the Wall Street Journal Law Blog that the ABA announced its partnership with Rocket Lawyer on a pilot project to help match up ABA members with online clients.

I’ve been researching and writing about lawyer collaboration with branded networks like Rocket Lawyer for the past couple of years with a focus on ethics issues and best practices. I wrote a book about the best practices for lawyers who wanted to work with these companies and make connections with clients through them. I think this partnership integrates wonderfully with virtual law practice and unbundling of legal services. However, I didn’t see this announcement coming because of the resistance I’ve heard from state bars for the past several years to any form of online delivery, even completely lawyer-owned and controlled, that might threaten the traditional lawyer business model. This announcement is huge because it steps back from the usual protectionist stance of the ABA and looks at what the public is asking for from the profession and at what lawyers need in order to connect with them. It is an acknowledgement from the ABA that consumers are going online looking for legal services and that not having licensed lawyers on board with the public’s need for online legal services puts both the lawyer and the public at a disadvantage.

One of the key themes that came out of the Legal Services Corporation’s Tech Summit Report was the need for mobile access. Rocket Lawyer has developed a mobile app as a part of its online services offerings. Getting lawyers used to using mobile apps and online tools is going to increase the profession’s ability to provide greater access to legal services, especially in rural areas. It’s also going to lead to greater acceptance and use of unbundling as a legal service delivery model. It will be interesting to see how these pilot projects role out. Here is a link to my free ebook with best practices for collaboration by lawyers and companies like Rocket Lawyer.

ILTA Article – Teaching Tomorrow’s Lawyers Legal Tech Skills

apple2An article I co-authored with Ron Dolin entitled Course Correction: Teaching Tomorrow’s Lawyers Legal Tech Skills, was published in the newest edition of the ILTA Peer to Peer Magazine.

Ron developed the syllabus for and taught the first course on legal informatics at Stanford Law School. Several of his students from that course have gone on to find innovative paths in the legal industry, including Margaret Hagan, his co-founder in the Program for Legal Tech and Design. Ron writes about the changes he believes are critical in the law school curriculum to prepare future lawyers for the realities of practicing law with technology. I write about my experience teaching courses in legal tech at various law schools for the past three years and developing the Center for Law Practice Technology with Richard Granat.

It’s a short article that summarizes what Ron and I believe are the key issues that law schools need to address when designing a curriculum that prepares new lawyers to enter a changed legal marketplace. We link out to other useful resources for further research.

LegalTech Startup Weekend – San Francisco

If you are in the San Francisco area, consider checking out the LegalTech Startup Weekend. I’ll be one of the mentors for the event along with several other founders of legal tech companies, including LawPal, Ravel, One400, Judicata, LawGives, Casetext, and more.

Teams form Friday evening, August 15th and final presentations with be on Sunday, August 17th. The teams will tackle four challenges listed on the event site and compete for prizes.

The intersection of law and technology presents unique challenges and exciting opportunities for growth and creativity. Recent years have seen a surge of answers to law’s need for innovation, such as e-discovery tools, contract generation apps, law practice management SaaS, virtual firms, and websites changing the way lawyers research. Myriad possibilities remain to integrate tech into solutions for consumers, attorneys, businesses, and the government. SF LegalTech Startup Weekend will bring together legal professionals, policy geeks, programmers, designers and students to innovate the legal services market and bring it into the 21st Century – one solution at a time. SFLegalTechStartupWeekend

Top Take-Aways from GSummit for the Legal Profession

play“We can’t solve problems by using the same kind of thinking we used when we created them.” – Albert Einstein

I attended GSummit in San Francisco this week. (The “G” stands for gamification.) This annual conference looks at ways to increase user engagement through gamification and games. With all of the online “noise” surrounding us and the invasiveness of mobile technology pulling people in many different directions, no industry – not even the legal profession - is immune from the problem of getting the public’s attention long enough to convey a message.

As I’ve written before, I am researching ways to increase online engagement between the public and the legal profession. Specifically, I am looking at ways to use online games to educate and empower the public about their legal rights. While I knew this conference was aimed more at how companies could increase brand loyalty and engagement of consumers, I thought the lessons here were definitely something that might translate over to our profession.

I was not the only person thinking this. There were a couple other people from the legal profession, including a member of the Legal Services Society in BC and someone from a big law firm scoping out methods of gamification to motivate associates to collaborate and share work. I gathered a lot of useful information in the sessions that I will be exploring further in my research at Stanford.

Below are only a few of the top take-aways from GSummit 2014. With each of these, I am thinking about multiple applications of the concepts to our profession, such as 1) implementation in a large law firm for associates, training, employee motivation, etc., 2) a technique that a legal tech startup or existing branded network for legal services could adopt, or 3) a way that games could be created that would educate the public about the law and where to go for legal assistance whether that’s to a legal aid organization, a branded network, a law firm or a solo practitioner.

1. Games can be incredibly adept at explaining complex systems. – IBM’s Serious Games Solutions (And what could be more complex than the legal system?)

2. Games can be used to change cultures in a positive fashion. – IBM’s @INNOV8ATE

3. Intrinsic and extrinsic motivation may not be specific enough to explain behavior. Behavior is systematic. Designing should be for behavior change and not for persuasion. – BJ Fogg (Stanford) (@BJFogg)

4. How to troubleshoot when a behavior is not happening (such as people not take some preventive legal action): 1. Trigger the behavior (Tell them “You need to have this legal document executed!”), 2. Is it simple enough? Can they do it from an ability perspective? 3. Motivation (do they want to do it? do they understand the legal consequences of doing or not doing an action?) – BJ Fogg (Stanford)

5. Validation, especially social validation, is always better than out-right rewards, but it’s harder to orchestrate. Rewards have a short-term result. – BJ Fogg (Stanford)

6. For intervention and prevention, you only need to create an experience that is short but impacts the player for a longer time. This is contrary to the belief that you have to build a game that people will keep playing repeatedly or come back to. You only have to get them to do it in a short burst and that exposure to the experience in the game mechanics will be long enough to have the impact desired to convey the lesson. – from a recent study on games that Jane McGonigal spoke about during her session

7. Technology didn’t make a difference in the results regarding the success of a game. It could be a pen and paper game and innovative technologies or apps didn’t make a difference. – from McGonigal’s talk [McGonigal also told about the push-back she has gotten with her games and research geared towards improving people's health and how the "bias" against games by the medical profession is unfortunately preventing potentially useful clinical data from getting into the hands of the people it could help. I expect the same initial resistance with the legal profession. Gathering user data and outcome reporting is going to be important.]

8.  Co-op play, social gaming, or adding a social component to the game increases positive feelings about the players and increases interaction.  – McGonigal

9. Connecting the subject you want to teach to pop-culture references can have enormous impact at both increasing the engagement but also in spreading the lesson to people who otherwise might not be interested in engaging long enough to learn it.  – Neil DeGrasse Tyson spoke about his work as an astrophysicist and how he teaches by finding ways to connect his ideas out into pop-culture references. The same could by connecting legal games with pop culture icons and references – maybe even cat memes.  While that may sound “distasteful” to some in the profession, it would actually work really well to get the engagement necessary to teach the legal lesson.

10. There is a psychology of fun (her slide deck on this) and different types of fun that can lead to desired engagement. – Nicole Lazzaro, XEODesign

Top insight gleaned: The legal profession is not engaging with the public we serve in ways that will make a meaningful impact. As society becomes more mobile, it will become increasingly difficult for us to get the public’s attention and therefore more difficult to increase access to justice and help guide them to self-help resources. There are ways we could use gamification and game mechanics to create meaningful connections between the public and legal services providers and/or legal information for self-help purposes.

Second Edition of Virtual Law Practice Book

book pic2I am updating the second edition to the Virtual Law Practice book that I wrote back in 2010. The book needs to be almost completely re-written based on the way that technology has changed since I wrote about the set up of online delivery in law firms only four years ago.

I am expanding the book to include my newer experiences working with law firms and lawyers to integrate online delivery of legal services into different law firm business models. Over the past four years, I’ve taught law school courses on the subject of virtual practice and related topics, such as unbundling of legal services and law practice management. Some of the content and material from my courses will end up in the text of the updated edition of the book.

At the time of writing the first edition, I was very focused on the idea of completely virtual law offices, mostly operated by solos or small firms. However, since then, I’ve worked with so many varieties of business models that use technology to deliver online services that I realized I need to expand the book to include these different models. In many cases, in terms of economic success, these other methods of delivering online services seem to be more successful than the purely virtual law office model.

In terms of statistics and specific data about the operation and success of any form of virtual practice, we still have very little concrete information to share. Companies like Clio and MyCase may gather useful information on the use of their systems to help with their marketing campaigns to lawyers. However, no one else seems to be able to gather data on how many lawyers deliver legal services online, what tools they use,  how it integrates with traditional delivery models, who their customers are, and any success they may or may not be having. I have my personal experience and that of my colleagues in elawyering working with many law firms and lawyers to create virtual law practices. Perhaps in the future as more lawyers add unbundled, online legal services to their offerings, the state bars will assist in collecting this data.  For the second edition, I will try to locate more statistics that might be useful in helping practitioners determine what the risks and benefits are of the different models of delivery.

I’m going to spend the next two months finishing up this second edition and then turn my focus back to the work on my fellowship at Stanford Law School with the Center on the Legal Profession. I am attending the GSummit event in San Francisco next week to learn more about gamification and games and to think of ways to apply this form of increased online engagement to the legal profession and to serving the public.

If anyone who read the original book would like to make suggestions about anything that you would like to see me cover in this updated edition, please let me know. Thanks and I look forward to having new content to share on this blog and elsewhere in the very near future!

Video: Legal Technology in the Public Interest

A couple of weeks ago I gave a presentation on a panel entitled Legal Technology in the Public Interest with Ron Staudt and Phil Malone for Stanford’s Future Law Conference.  Below is the video from this:


ABA Journal Covers Crowdfunding for Game for Legal Services

CoverpicThe ABA Journal wrote an article about the RocketHub crowdfund campaign to develop the game for legal services, Estate Quest.

I’m still working with Illinois Legal Aid Online on a game about eviction law, but the estate planning game has been on hold until I can get more funding to complete it. There are five days left in the campaign.

Please consider helping to develop this project with me. If we can learn ways to increase online engagement with the public around the law and their legal rights, then we can increase awareness, access, and education. If you are interested in ways that other industries are using games to create positive change, check out Games for Change.



Article in Legal IT Today: The Engagement Game

I wrote an article about the use of games for legal services in the March issue of Legal IT Today, an online legal tech publication. You can read the full article starting on page 31 of the publication.

A couple of quotes from the article:

Most people seek out assistance only after they suspect they have a legal problem, but what if we could provide increased legal awareness to the public at large through educational games for legal services?

Because of the psychology behind gaming that supports positive engagement, games could be used to educate the public
as well as provide a way for the legal profession to jump into the larger online conversation around legal services.

Slides: Class from Law Practice Tech & Management Course

I’ve been co-teaching a law school course this semester with Richard Granat called Law Practice Technology and Management for the Center for Law Practice Technology. The bulk of the class is online where we have the materials, such as recorded lectures, articles, videos and podcasts, for the students to go through in module format. Once a week, we hold a live session of the class where we go more in-depth into the topic in that week’s module or where we will expand off into something related to the topic, such as a demo of a technology tool or a virtual law firm simulation.

The course is rich with content and the challenge has been narrowing that down to the core basics that we want the students to come away with. The final deliverable for this course is a business plan for a law practice that must incorporate the technology and other concepts that we have discussed in the course.

Below is a sample of the slides from a live session that expanded on the topic of how to choose technology for your law firm. I wanted the students to know what an API was and how that might affect their selection, as well as how to look for the value of investing in a technology tool.