Jay Fleischman has a thought-provoking post up on his blog entitled “Being a Virtual Lawyer is all Mindset, Not Technology.” You can read my comment below the post.
Jay writes that regardless of the form of technology you use to operate a virtual law office, the key is having the right attitude to go with it. He’s right. To take advantage of the benefits that the technology gives us to make our professional lives more flexible, we have to be able to change our work habits and know when to unplug.
However, I would add that the choice of technology is a factor in coming to this mindset and is going to differ depending on the comfort level of the attorney. Some attorneys are more tech-savvy and experienced working online than others. What is easy for one attorney to set up and work with clients is not going to be easy for another attorney with less experience. That will affect their ability to enjoy the benefits of operating a virtual law practice.
Given the level of security that is needed for the transmission of confidential law office data, it might be in the best interest of the less tech-savvy attorney to go with a technology that does more of the handholding for them to ensure that the malpractice checks are in place and the high security standards are there. Having all of the client communications and transactions in one place rather than on multiple systems might be easier for them to manage. Then it would be easier for them to get into that mindset to really enjoy the benefits of a virtual practice without having to worry about reviewing and managing the terms of services and relationship with multiple third-party providers.
For example, the virtual attorney using the free version of Google apps needs to be aware of the terms of service that says essentially “use at your own risk”. Google Docs terms of service, Section 14.2: “YOU EXPRESSLY UNDERSTAND AND AGREE THAT YOUR USE OF THE SERVICES IS AT YOUR SOLE RISK AND THAT THE SERVICES ARE PROVIDED ‘AS IS’ AND ‘AS AVAILABLE.’” There is no guarantee of confidentiality or email encryption or data return or retention policies in there. Sure it’s free and super easy to use, but let’s hope the virtual attorneys using these free apps understand the risks that come with them.
I think part of the mindset of the virtual lawyer also has to be one that includes a desire to continue their technology education. Given the rapid evolution of cloud computing applications, the virtual attorney has to want to keep up with these changes, whether the tech is designed for law practice management or for general public use. If you can do this yourself, great. I personally enjoy it. But some attorneys with busy practices might not be as interested in technology — other than how it allows them to get the job done. These folks might need or prefer their software provider to keep them up to date with new security risks and how to address them. The virtual lawyer mindset might fall more into place with that reassurance.
I think Jay is right on his main point that any attorney can operate a virtual law office and that the benefits are not that out of reach for the average practitioner. But this key component has to be part of the mindset as well: the virtual attorney has the responsibility to be educated about the online methods of practice management he or she is using and make sure that the technology chosen protects the clients’ best interests.