There was a lot of coverage related to virtual law practice and the delivery of online legal services at this year’s ABA Annual Meeting in San Francisco. Compared with even a year ago, this topic is fully on the radar of attorneys and bar officials concerned with virtual law practice for both solo and small firms. However, this time there was also interest as it relates to larger firms, the outsourcing of legal services and the globalization of law firms.
I sat on a panel discussion entited “20/20 Vision: The Impact of Technology and Globalization on Ethics for the 21st Century Lawyer” and was pleased to see a packed audience as well as have the majority of audience questions pertain to virtual law practice. Here is a link to a video interview of our panel’s moderator, Judith Miler.
The questions from the audience after the panel discussion were the same ones I hear at a lot of presentations. The primary concern is still related to the basic security of entrusting law office data to cloud computing. The second greatest concern is about the verification or authentication of client identity online. “Can you really form a relationship online without seeing the whites of their eyes?” Sometimes it’s just a matter of being comfortable with the technology and getting used to using it to communicate that helps answer these questions. Overall, the response was positive and hopefully, the details and resources I provided in the manuscript for the attendees will go a long way in answering their questions about the security and cloud computing concerns in virtual law practice.
Will Hornsby joined Marc Lauritsen, Richard Granat and myself for a lively panel discussion on virtual lawyering on Friday. Richard informed me that he also provided a presentation on virtual law practice to a room of state bar presidents and other bar officials who were very receptive to these concepts in practice management.
ABA President Carolyn Lamm during her presentation on Sunday night on a panel entitled “Lawyers Surviving in a Darwinian World” mentioned online legal service companies and emphasized the legal profession’s reponsibility to step up to meet the needs of the public who are going online to seek out legal assistance. The ABA Journal has a write-up of her comments during the presentation.
Social media was also a hot topic at several CLE sessions at the annual meeting. At one of the vendor booths I picked up a copy of Wild West 2.0: How to Protect and Restore Your Reputation on the Untamed Social Frontierby Michael Fertik and David Thompson. I’ll try to post a review of the book on this blog when I get a chance to read through it. Even the Twitter hashtag for the event was active this year indicating a growing comfort by my fellow attorneys to embrace technology to communicate. And to top it off, I got to meet Heather Armstrong, mommy-blogger and famous Dooce.comwriter, at the WestlawNext CLE about social media in the workplace.
There were also some vendors that I spoke with who are making an effort to facilitate virtual law practice for attorneys. This might be in response to the ethics and UPL complaints raised by some state bars to the documents produced by legal service companies. Both Legal Zoom and Rocket Lawyer are combining their document assembly and automation technologies with the ability to connect an attorney with the consumer going online to fill out and purchase basic legal forms. I’m reaching out to both vendors to find out more about how their systems will allow for this type of delivery to be controlled by the attorney as a practice management tool for delivering online legal services.
The overall tone I left with at the end of the annual meeting was that technology to deliver legal services online and to communicate with our clients and other legal professionals is embraced as the future. Rather than the over-emphasis on the security and risks that I’ve seen the past few years at other conferences, the tone seems to be an acceptance of virtual law practice and a move towards finding ways to responsibly integrate it into our practice management toolboxes. I much prefer this optimistic, but realistic, mood.