It was predictable that BigLaw would find a way into the world of virtual law practice. This week’s most popular legal news article was the introduction of Venture Law Group’s new law firm concept, Virtual Law Partner. This new virtual law firm has the goal of becoming BigLaw for the virtual practitioner and boasts of creating partners out of firm members who will have the flexibility to set their own rates and work their own hours. They will receive 85% of what they are billed under this scheme.
The question: How will the launch of Virtual BigLaw affect solo and small firm virtual law practitioners?
The answer may depend on the marketing techniques of the Venture Law Group both in luring newly licensed attorneys and bringing in clients for each individual partner’s virtual practice. One question is whether the partners in this virtual BigLaw firm are responsible for retaining their own clients or whether the firm assists their individual efforts.
The affect of Virtual BigLaw on solos and small firm VLOs may also depend on the company’s ability to influence the ABA and other State Bars as far as standardizing rules of professionalism in virtual law practice. It is certainly something I intend to follow closely in the coming months.
While the Venture Law Group’s Virtual BigLaw Firm does not appear to seek clientele out of lower & middle income America, if other Virtual BigLaw Firms crop up, then this could have an impact on solo and small firm VLOs. One of the benefits of operating a VLO as a solo practitioner is that it allows me to compete on some level with the larger firms who are able to set up shop in just about every small town in my state. My VLO allows me to expand my client base and provide services to more lower and middle income individuals who might otherwise not go to a traditional law office for a variety of reasons (billable hour, intimidation, inconvenience, etc.).
One of my hopes in starting my own VLO and in forming VLOTech was that I could work towards changing the bad opinions that many in the public have about attorneys. Sure, I want to have a successful career and make a good living, but I also want to show the world that there are alternative ways of practicing law that make legal services more affordable and accessible to the public. I wonder what impression Virtual BigLaw will make.
Personally & professionally, I found it annoying that the head of this venture spoke in several interviews as if he invented virtual law practice and the idea of better work/life balance for attorneys through technology. He may have some major connections in the VC funding and legal world, but he did not invent virtual law practice or elawyering. My thanks to Carolyn Elefant for pointing this out in her Legal Blog Watch post “Are Virtual Law Firms Really a New Idea?”
Attorneys have been practicing law online for years with different combinations of the technology available at the time. Web-based, software as a service (SaaS) business models are fairly recent to the mix. In my mind, virtual law practice is a collaborative effort of many individuals in the legal profession and the IT field. We learn from each other and create various methods of virtual law practice.
Every attorney seeking to practice law online will need to decide which form of virtual law office they want to join or if they want to hang their own virtual shingle. Some attorneys may want to focus on form-generated legal documents while others may want to combine a VLO with a traditional litigation practice. The type of VLO, the services it offers and how it operates, depends on how the attorney wants to set it up. And now attorneys who want to join a Virtual BigLaw as a partner may have that elawyering option as well.