Check out two blog posts discussing virtual law practice from Chuck Newton and Jay Fleischman, both attorneys who use technology to practice law outside a traditional law office. Newton’s post Is Virtual Virtually Impossible? prompted Fleischman’s post An Open Response to ‘Is Virtual Virtually Impossible?’
As I commented on Newton’s blog, I believe there is room in our profession for many different law practice methods, including virtual law offices, whether they are completely web-based or integrated into a traditional law office setting.
Fleischman’s post discusses the definition of the word “virtual” and whether it is the appropriate term to use. When I was considering what to call my own web-based law office and we were evaluating the name for VLOTech, we looked at all of the existing terms that came close to describing the method of practicing law securely over the Internet, such as elawyering, online law practice, online legal services, web-based law office, online unbundled legal services, etc.
The term “virtual” and the connotations it brings may depend on an attorney’s concept of how the Internet can be used to recreate real world environments. Virtual can also mean a software representation of something physical. A virtual reality world is a software representation of the 3D physics of the real world. Virtual machines, such as VMWare or Virtual PC, are software representations of physical hardware. Virtual law offices are software representations of a physical law office, including front office, backend office and even secretary.
What we intended to convey by the term VLO or virtual law practice was that this method was a way of recreating an entire law office environment on the Internet. Second Life, for example, is a virtual reality world; a digital world accessed completely online. Likewise, my VLO is a complete virtual law office accessed online. My waiting room, my conference room, my filing cabinets, my copy machine, my law library, etc. are all in one place online.
Since I started my own web-based practice I’ve worked with other attorneys who are using technology to run both a traditional law practice and a web-based law office. As long as the technology used to practice law over the Internet protects the general public that we serve, it should not matter what method or combination of law practice methods legal professionals use to get their work done. There will always be clients and attorneys who prefer certain methods over others. It doesn’t make one type of attorney more or less of a professional.
My prediction is that in the next ten years attorneys will continue to run into more clients who expect them to use web-based methods of communication to provide legal services. Look even further down the road and expect to see attorney avatars having online conferences with their clients’ avatars. While some attorneys already have law offices in virtual reality worlds, the security is not there yet for attorney/client confidentiality and the general public is not quite at that level of comfort with the concept.
I certainly don’t think traditional face-to-face lawyering will ever disappear. However, attorneys operating VLOs and those practicing law online are at the forefront of an increasingly useful and popular law practice method.
To be clear, I have no problem with a virtual law office. I do, however, take issue with “virtual law firms,” “virtual lawyering,” and the like. As I said in my post, I don’t quite know what to call this new incarnation yet. I suspect that the term will merely be “law firms,” lawyering,” and the like sans “virtual.” It’s a marketing tactic to deliver legal services in a new way, a means to reduce costs and increase customer service and satisfaction. Amazon.com is a very real company, they merely offer products and services using a new medium (well, not so new anymore – but still).
A good conversation to continue, Stephanie. Thanks for keeping the ball rolling.