Practicing law from a web-based virtual law office brings the risk of unwittingly establishing an attorney/client relationship regarding a legal matter that the virtual attorney is not licensed to handle. The unauthorized practice of law in other jurisdictions can be avoided by following some simple practice methods.
First, the virtual law practitioner has the responsibility to provide clear notice throughout the VLO website that he or she is only licensed to practice law in the states in which the attorney holds an active bar license. This information should show up at every turn — from the terms and conditions for the website to the registration and clickwrap agreement allowing access to the online client’s homepage.
Second, the virtual law office website should contain contact information and the name of the attorney running the VLO. For some state bar associations, such as North Carolina, the requirement extends to providing a physical mailing address for the prospective client. This information should be located in a section that is easily found by the online client, such as an “About Us” section or at the start of the website’s disclaimer. By providing adequate notice throughout the VLO, the attorney should not be found to be soliciting clients from a state where he or she is not able to practice law.
In addition, a well-designed VLO should contain a jurisdiction check for the benefit of the client and the attorney. This safe-guard was built into the VLOTech software for this purpose.
When the client registers on the attorney’s VLO website, a simple check for the zip code notifies the attorney that the client is a resident outside his or her jurisdiction. A note would appear to the client which states that the attorney may only be retained to answer legal questions and handle legal work related to the laws of the state for which the attorney has an active law license. The jurisdiction check should not prevent the client from continuing with the registration process, but serves the purpose of providing more than adequate notice of the attorney’s jurisdiction. Through this process, the attorney is provided with a red flag on the backend of the law office to let him or her know that the client resides in a different state and may not have a legal matter that the attorney is permitted to handle.
With the combination of adequate contact information and notice to any prospective clients regarding jurisdictional limitations, the virtual practitioner should be able to safely avoid crossing the line into unauthorized practice of law.