The Wall Street Journal has finally covered virtual law practice in a brief article in the Smart Money section last night. The article focuses on online legal guidance that is limited to unbundled legal advice for fixed fees and delivered through a technology platform owned by a third-party company marketing directly to the consumer. These services are provided by a lawyer who is part of the company’s network. The article does not cover other forms of online legal assistance, such as those provided by a virtual law firm owned and operated by a licensed lawyer.
One of the concerns mentioned in the article is the qualification of online attorneys, especially those collaborating with third-party providers. This is exactly the topic of my third book which focuses on how lawyers may work with companies providing technology to deliver legal services to the public while maintaining best practices and high quality legal work.
Virtual lawyers need to be aware of how to ethically provide limited scope representation and use the technology to delivery the services. These best practices and ethics concerns are all things that I have written about in my books and on my blog. The ABA eLawyering Task Force has addressed these concerns for many years as well.
While I was hoping the first coverage in the WSJ of virtual law practice would be more comprehensive of the different models for lawyers to adopt and the potential to increase access to justice, this is a good starting point. As more nonlawyer legal service companies develop platforms for online delivery, we will see lawyers both traditional and virtual looking to work with them as part of client development and their marketing strategy.
The articles states:
Solid data on the online-legal field is hard to come by, but supporters and detractors agree the business model is gaining steam. Already, many traditional law firms have extended their practices to the Web, where they offer services like will preparation and document review for lower fees than what they charge in person.
I hope the next article on virtual law practice that appears in the WSJ is one that is more in-depth about the impact that this form of legal service delivery is going to have on the solo and small firm practitioners (the profession’s fastest growing firm “type”) and the public seeking affordable online legal assistance.