The delivery of legal services online depends on the use of a secure client portal where the attorney and client can interact. This is the key feature of a virtual law practice and what distinguishes it from other online legal services and law firms that claim to be “virtual” by using unencrypted email.
I’ve noticed in the past year that several new versions of the secure client portal have been introduced. Some of these are even developed specifically for legal professionals and most are designed for use by solos and small firms interested in delivering legal services online. If you are considering opening a virtual law practice, you might want to take a look at these different applications. Some of them have free trials and are still in beta.
As fast as the technology for virtual law practice changes, it’s worth keeping an eye on what’s coming down the pipeline in client/attorney online communication. The features that allow you to communicate with your clients online varies. So far, no one is keen on having their online clients choose avatars or going beyond realtime chat and video communication. As usual, my imagination fueled by reading too much sci-fi tends to exceed our current capabilities in terms of practical and cost-effective implementation of current technology for law practice management.
With all of these below, check out the level of security each provides. Look for end-to-end encyption of the transmission of any sensitive law office data. You will want the basics — written online communication in some fashion that is recorded with date and time (for ED and CYA of the attorney), online files or other methods of organizing documents, calendaring or the ability to schedule communications with the attorney, uploading and downloading documents, limited client management features to protect them from themselves, etc. Some client portals are going to work better for unbundling legal services online for many clients and others are more suited to larger online projects with a single client or two. Keep in mind the chosen structure of your virtual law practice and the needs of your online client base when you are reviewing the products.
Here are a few new client portal products I’ve run across, along with some that have been around for a few years now. Know of any other technologies that create secure client portals? Drop me a note in the comments.
MyCase Client Manager
Advologix (client portal is not the focus and costs extra)
HoudiniEsq (was announcing client access this summer, still in beta)
BaseCamp (not developed for legal professionals, may not have certain malpractice checks in place)
ZohoProjects (not developed for legal professionals, but if your clients are attorneys or other professionals, perhaps a way to collaborate online on a project. Not sure about the security of this and also there are probably not the same malpractice checks in place)