The Virtual Law Practice: The Future is Now
By Christine Bilbrey, Practice Management Advisor
The phrase “virtual attorney” used to connote a solo practitioner who had started their firm on a shoestring budget. Now that the future has arrived, a virtual attorney is someone who has leveraged the best legal technology to bring the most convenient experience to his or her clients. No longer must a client miss work, drive downtown and search for an expensive parking spot just to sign a document or briefly meet with an attorney.
Today, a prospective client can find an attorney on the internet, schedule an appointment through a virtual assistant, consult with the attorney face-to-face in a video conference, review and sign all documents through a secure client portal, then receive and pay the invoice electronically. The client may be a deployed soldier in another country, an astronaut living onboard the International Space Station, or a busy executive just a few blocks away. This is the future we have all been dreaming of since first visiting Spaceship Earth at Epcot, alas, without the flying cars.
At the 2017 ABA TECHSHOW in Chicago, Morris Tabush, from Tabush Group, did a presentation entitled, Introducing the Law Firm of Tomorrow. He discussed the concept of desktop as a service (DaaS) and explained “how virtual desktops and cloud infrastructure eliminates the need for complex IT systems, desktops, and servers, or having to worry about downtime and back-ups.” With DaaS, also known as remote desktop virtualization, all computer applications and data storage are managed by the provider. A user only needs a screen, a keyboard, and a mouse on their desk. If an attorney’s office is robbed or flooded during a hurricane, nothing important is lost or compromised. There are no longer any expensive hardware upgrades or replacements to worry about. A subscriber can bundle all their programs and let the provider integrate them and determine when they need to be renewed or upgraded.
A key part of all this technology is the client portal, and many practice management software products include a client portal at no additional cost. Most portals offer the same level of security used for online banking and the encrypted messaging is much better than email for keeping client information confidential. The 2017 Solo and Small Firm Legal Technology Guide states, “Clients adore the instant accessibility and security of client portals—and in today’s legal marketplace, that makes you alluringly competitive. If you don’t have a portal, potential clients (who also have experience with portals with their financial advisors and doctors) will wonder why a modern law firm doesn’t have one.” A portal can also significantly reduce client communication Bar complaints and scheduling errors because “clients can see their upcoming appointments, hearings, and due dates on tasks that have been assigned to them by their lawyer. A client portal allows your clients to access their files at anytime, making them feel connected to their case’s progress” (Clio).
Whether you are firmly ensconced in your brick-and-mortar law office or are already a savvy virtual attorney who occasionally rents flexible space for client meetings, the time has arrived for you to look at some of the available technologies that will modernize how you are managing your practice and interacting with your clients.
Virtual Office Necessities:
- Laptop (Consult the 2017 Solo and Small Firm Legal Technology Guide)
- Scanner (ScanSnap Fujitsu)
- Cell phone
- Email/web host (Not AOL or Gmail, get your own domain name)
- Website (GoDaddy, .Law)
- Online Legal Research (Fastcase, free for Florida Bar members)
- Practice management and client portal software (TFB Member Benefits)
- Document management and assembly software (NetDocuments, ProDoc, TheFormTool)
- Virtual assistant (Ruby Receptionists, Fancy Hands)
- E-signature capability (Citrix RightSignature, DocuSign)
- Video conferencing software (Zoom is HIPAA compliant)
- Conference/meeting rooms on demand (Regus, Carrworkplaces)