The following is a basic checklist for attorneys considering opening up a virtual law practice.
___ Choose a VLO hosting company and find out what it will require in order to set up your VLO. Of course, I’m biased, but I recommend Virtual Law Office Technology (VLOTech).
___ Register a domain.
___ Retain a website designer to create a VLO website. It can be as simple as a single homepage or a more complex site with legal resources and articles for the public and your clients. Consider having a VLO website with blog functionality. Blogging on your VLO can be a useful marketing tool and resource for your clients. VLOTech refers its clients to Grant Griffith’s company, G2WebMedia. Griffiths, of Home Office Lawyer blog fame, has experience working with solo and small firm practitioners and creates websites with blog functionality to improve VLO marketing.
___ Make sure that any part of your website that handles confidential information, the actual VLO, registration and login for clients, is protected by an SSL certificate (https and the browser lock symbol). Your web hosting company may help you with this or you may need to purchase an SSL certificate separately.
___ Establish an account with a credit card processing company to use for your online payments, such as PayPal or your bank. If you plan on taking retainers through the VLO, make sure that you have the approval of your state bar regarding transfer of the client’s funds to a credit card processing company before going into your trust account. There was some discussion about this on Solosez not long ago and I’ve posted about it here.
___ Draft the terms and conditions for use for your general website and the clickwrap agreement for your secure VLO website.
___ Establish a response time policy. For example, let clients know that you will respond to their online requests within 24 hours.
___ If you will be handling transactional matters, prepare any forms or worksheets for collection of client data. These may be uploaded to the clients through the VLO and downloaded for you to review once completed by the client.
___ If you will be using the VLO with existing clients or in a litigation practice, draft a letter or email to clients notifying them to register and use the VLO to keep track of their cases.
___ Decide how you plan on handling client engagement letters, either through the VLO case dialogue and clickwrap agreement or by traditional letter uploaded to the client, or a combination of both methods.
___ Decide which billing method or combination of methods you plan to use. Consider providing sample fixed fees, billable hour rates or a range of costs on your VLO website.
___ Discuss your planned VLO practices with your malpractice insurance carrier and ask about discounted rates due to the use of technology to reduce malpractice risks.
___ If you will be practicing remotely, review the security of your mobile devices.
___ If you plan on using the VLO in conjunction with other law office software, have a data backup policy in place.
___ Create a backup Internet access plan in the event that you only have one method of connecting to the Internet and it goes out.
___ Check with your state bar’s rules of professional conduct regarding advertising and website content before getting started on any marketing campaigns. (Hat tip to Aaron Johnston for reminding me to add this one!) I’ve written a little about this here .
Thanks very much for this list, Stephanie. In conjunction with website design, and practice policies, I think it is important to check the advertising regulations of the state bar association where you will be practicing, and also the guidelines for acceptance of payment as to whether paypal etc. are fully compliant solutions.
Stephanie Kimbro, Esq.
Thanks for your comment, Aaron. I’ve added these to the checklist with some links to where I’ve discussed them more in depth on this blog.
I actually saw a lawyer’s office in Second Life who established the in-world office to expand his ‘virtual’ presence. Of course as you mentioned above, security is a concern, so you wouldn’t want to handle any real world matters there, but it’s a neat marketing concept.
As time progresses, SSL encryption techniques and other secure methodologies will come to the virtual world as well. So eventually one will be able to conduct secure business in this setting as well.
I agree with you, Timothy. My understanding is that the technology to create a secure virtual reality law office, such as one in Second Life, is not quite there yet. However, I think it’s only a matter of time before the attorneys who are active in Second Life will be able to securely open virtual reality law offies and practice a completely new form of law. It will be exciting to watch what happens.
It’s definitley an interesting concept, but I agree it has to be kept secure and confidential for clients. Just like a virtual office, virtual concepts are becoming increasingly popular and in high demand. It is a strategic alternative to downsizing and I think more SME’s could benefit from the use of them.