Welcome Competition – Pushing Virtual Law Practice Into the Mainstream
Be prepared this year to see major changes in new legal SaaS products that promote the online delivery of legal services. Also expect to see greater acceptance of virtual law practice by the mainstream legal profession as legal SaaS vendors band together to set standards for the industry. Larger players in the legal technology industry are diving into offering web-based case and client management applications and new investments are being made in innovations focused on web-based delivery of legal services.
First, Total Attorneys, the company that acquired VLOTech, the start-up tech company that I co-founded, announced last week that it received growth capital investment from BIA Digital Partners II LP. With this new funding, the company will be able to take their virtual law office platform to a new level of development. From the Total Attorneys press release:
The relaunch of the platform in the spring of 2011 will position the Company as the primary leader in the field of eLawyering. The integration of Total Attorneys’ high performance marketing services, which will populate prospective client information directly to the platform, will give the Company’s customers an even greater competitive advantage in the legal marketplace.
Having worked to create the first version of the virtual law office product, I am very excited to see how Total Attorneys is dedicating their resources to developing an awesome platform for delivering online legal services. My husband and I continue to work with Total Attorney on the redesign of the second version of the software, and I look forward to being able to share more information about the new product launch on this blog later in the spring.
It is reassuring to me that Total Attorneys is committed to keeping security a key component of the product’s focus as well as listening to my concerns over ethics and malpractice issues that legal professionals have with using SaaS and delivering online legal services.
The second piece of news that I believe will really push virtual law practice into more mainstream acceptance this year is the fact that LexisNexis is now entering the playing field. They are launching their web-based case and client management application, Firm Manager, at LegalTech NY in February. The product will be released in public beta the first week of February.
I took a walk-through of the system today and got an idea of where the product is heading over the next few years. Here’s Mazy Hedayat’s preliminary review of the beta on Practice Hacker. They also provided me with a page of technical FAQs addressing security questions and concerns an attorney might have about the product and were open to questions about security and future development of different client-facing and research integration features. (Lexis was also one of the legal SaaS vendors that submitted comments to the ABA Ethics Commission 20/20 regarding the issues paper on cloud computing.) From an email from a Sr. Director of Community Management at LexisNexis:
Next month the LexisNexis® Firm Manager™ application will make its debut as an affordable, easy-to-use web based system designed to help you run your practice. While Firm Manager isn’t the first online application in the market, it is important for the simple reason that it’s being offered by one of the largest, most trusted providers of legal solutions in the industry. …With heavy hitters like LexisNexis involved, there’s no denying SaaS has gone mainstream.
The focus of the product is web-based case and client management, but long-term development of the product includes client-facing tools for online delivery of legal services.
The legal SaaS products entering the market all have different focuses and goals for their future development. The fact that so many are entering the market indicates the demand by legal professionals for web-based tools, especially solos and small firms that benefit from the cost-savings of cloud computing.
As more professionals become used to operating their law practices using SaaS applications, more will also be inclined to directly deliver legal services online to their clients. It will also become more difficult for state bars and the ABA to question the use of SaaS in the profession when almost every legal software provider has turned their focus to cloud computing models. As Richard Granat, President of DirectLaw, wrote in his recent post about Total Attorney’s new funding, the increase in competition for products that facilitate elawyering is a positive thing for anyone who delivers legal services online, regardless of the technology used.
With general acceptance of cloud computing for lawyers out of the way, we can focus more on best practices and guidelines for use in practice management rather than continuing to endlessly debate its validity as a business model.