Over the past month, I have spoken with several attorneys who want to open virtual law practices. They are approaching their state bars to get the go-ahead before hanging the virtual shingle. If you live in Texas, Maryland or Georgia, you may want to keep an eye out for opinions from your state bar authorities regarding virtual law practice.
The summer issue of the NC State Bar Journal published a new proposed formal ethics opinion regarding web-based management of client records. You can read the proposed opinion #5 on the NC State Bar website here.
The proposed ethics opinion examines two separate scenarios where the attorney’s clients are able to access confidential client records through a web-based system. The proposed opinion expands beyond the NC Bar’s previous 2006 ethics opinion regarding virtual law offices which focused more on non-secure email communication rather than web-based VLOs.
This new proposed opinion concludes that “client files may be stored on a website accessible by clients via the internet provided the confidentiality of all client information on the website is protected.” It also specifies that “[i]f the law firm will be contracting with a third party to maintain the web based management system, the law firm must ensure that the third party also employs measures which effectively minimize the risk that confidential information might be lost or disclosed.”
I have been forwarding the NC Bar’s opinion on VLOs and this new proposed opinion to attorneys in different states who are in the process of approaching their own state bars. If anyone would like to share the virtual law practice opinions of their state bars, I would love to post them on this blog as resources for other attorneys researching virtual law practice.
I hate to tell you this, but the Maryland Bar does NOT make ethics opinions available to the public. You need to be a member of the Maryland State Bar Association to access decisions online. The MSBA is a voluntary bar and many lawyers licensed in Maryland (myself included) do not have any compelling reason to join the association. I’ve always thought it was kind of ridiculous for the bar to make compliance so difficult.
One aspect of the Maryland ruling that I’ll be interested in is whether Maryland will let a lawyer who resides in Maryland but is licensed only in DC or Virginia handle cases in those jurisdictions virtually. Maryland requires lawyers who work from home offices and practice in other jurisdictions to be members of the Maryland bar so I am wondering whether that will apply to VLO.
Thank you for sharing that information about the Maryland Bar, Carolyn. Hopefully the attorneys in Maryland will share with us the general response that they receive from the Maryland Bar regarding virtual law practice.
It is my understanding that one of the attorneys licensed in Maryland would like to use the VLO to assist pro se litigants online. This attorney would prepare the legal documents to be filed with the court and walk the pro se litigant through the necessary steps online rather than in person. The idea is that this would lessen the burden that the local courts and legal aid system have in dealing with these individuals because they would be receiving legal guidance. At the same time, the price the attorney would charge for unbundled online legal services would be more affordable for the pro se litigant than full-service legal representation. It will be interesting to hear how the Maryland Bar will respond to this particular use of a VLO since it has the potential to benefit both the public and their court system.