The New York State Bar Association published its Report on the Task Force on the Future of the Legal Profession on April 2, 2011. Written for the practitioner rather than the IT consultant, the report provides suggested guidelines for the adoption of technology solutions as well as a discussion of current trends.
The report devotes an entire section to virtual law firms and does an excellent job of defining the online delivery of legal services and distinguishes it from extranets and other forms of mobile lawyering, which have their own sections. Describing changes in firm structure, virtual law offices are included as a significant and growing trend both for connecting lawyers with each other for collaboration purposes and for delivering services online to clients.
The report also discusses new legal products and services that are being created through the use of technology-enabled law firms. This section does not specifically mention that the primary delivery of these new services is online or through a secure virtual law offices, but they acknowledge the use of newer knowledge management systems and document assembly and automation tools used in unbundling legal services. The report also recognizes that the use of this technology can create greater opportunity for unique legal service delivery systems to develop as well as facilitate multijurisdictional practice.
From the report:
“Mass customization,” for example—broadly defined as the use of flexible computer-aided systems to produce custom output—can serve the objective of combining the low unit costs of mass production processes with the flexibility of individually tailored services to increase variety and customization without a corresponding increase in costs. While the technology for creating such applications—such as form agreements for repetitive transactions, or “macros” that assist in the development of first forms—has existed for some time, changing dynamics in lawyer/client relationships may make the investment in developing and maintaining such proprietary applications more attractive. Another example of the opportunity for this kind of investment in automation is the development of integrated systems for specialty and multijurisdictional legal projects.
I choose to read that as a call for innovation.
The report concludes with the recommendation that “NYSBA’s Committee on Standards of Attorney Conduct should study and make recommendations concerning the ethical and risk management considerations associated with new technologies such as social networking, third party hosted solutions, and virtual law firms.”
We will see if this recommendation results in a set of separate guidelines or best practices for New York-licensed attorneys wanting to engage in virtual law practice.