Column

The Transformation of eLawyering

I’m a member of the eLawyering Task Force of the American Bar Association. Our purpose is to promote practising law over the Internet. When I joined in 2004, we were a marginal group within the ABA. Things have changed. Our e-mail discussion group has over 120 members. We have had people attend our teleconferences from as far away as New Zealand. A member of the ABA Board of Governors attended our most recent meeting in Las Vegas. And in the past year, co-chief Richard Granat has been profiled as a “Legal Rebel” in a recent ABA Journal series and again in a Wired Magazine article entitled “The Good Enough Revolution: When Cheap and Simple is Just Fine.” 

What has prompted the shift?

The shift came as we grew tired of talking and decided to take more action. Richard Granat founded DirectLaw, which provides a software platform for virtual law firms. I automated templates for Richard and opened mybclawyer.com, a virtual law practice that uses the DirectLaw platform. Our task force has also been joined by Stephanie Kimbro. Stephanie was the 2009 winner of our James Keane Award for excellence in eLawyering and she recently sold VLO Tech, her virtual law firm platform, to Total Attorneys. Both Kimbro and Granat teach courses on eLawyering-related topics at a new online venture called Solo Practice University. Our other co-chief, Marc Lauritsen, has recently authored a book called “The Lawyer’s Guide to Working Smarter with Knowledge Tools”.

Before the birth of virtual law practice, legal consumers were limited to solutions at opposite ends of the spectrum: traditional legal advice and document preparation services. Neither provides a satisfactory solution to the legal problems faced by many consumers. Virtual law practice provides a blend of computers and people that lies somewhere in the middle. There is a quote attributed to Einstein that says, ‘Computers are incredibly fast, accurate, and stupid; humans are incredibly slow, inaccurate and brilliant; together they are powerful beyond imagination.’

We have defined virtual law practice as ‘a professional law practice that exists securely online, is accessible to the legal professional and his or her clients, and provides an environment where the client can purchase and access legal services securely online.’ Others use the term to describe people who practise law from home-based, satellite offices but we don’t include these law practices in our definition unless they have a secure client portal.

A lawyer with a traditional law office may operate a virtual law practice as an extension of his or her office-based physical practice or a virtual law practice may be completely online, without physical interaction between the lawyer and client. A virtual law practice often operates “in the cloud”, which means that its data is stored in an offsite, secure location. Technologies that can be used in a virtual law practice include secure HTTP, SSL certificates, encryption, artificial intelligence, and document assembly. 

Our recent marriage of theory and action has been very productive. Today we are an energized group that discusses many topics that have arisen from our experience, such as liability insurers’ requirements, regulatory hurdles to virtual law practice, and minimum requirements for law firms delivering legal services online. Hopefully, our increased energy level is symbolic of new energy that is in the eLawyering field. See this excellent blog post by slaw’s own Jordan Furlong.

We look forward to a time when, like “motorcar”, the term eLawyering will lose the prefix and will be called, simply, “lawyering”. 

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Comments

  1. Susan Cartier Liebel

    Darryl, Our students are very fortunate to have both Richard Granat and Stephanie Kimbro teaching and interacting on e-lawyering at Solo Practice University. They are both talented and prescient in many ways and willing to challenge the norms. I agree. There should be a time soon when e-lawyering is called lawyering. I believe the time is fast approaching.

  2. Rebecca Weinstein

    I have been reading a good deal on virtual lawyers and I am confused about some nuances that seem, to me, like an exercise for the sake of building business – rather than an actual need. There is much discussion about privacy and communication that supports confidential communication. On its face this seems very important, and it is. But in reality, traditional lawyers use the internet for communication on a regular basis. Emails and attachments are sent through unsecured channels constantly. As a generalization, for most cases a lawyer will see a client in person once or twice. Obviously with complex litigation this is more frequent, but virtual lawyers do not engage in representation for complex litigation, so the comparison is moot.

    In discussion of virtual lawyers it seems like a mandate that no other forms of communication, other than online, is permitted. Why can’t a virtual lawyer use the telephone? Frankly, it is more efficient than back and forth emails, if for no other reason than there is often less misunderstanding. As for documents, lawyers use the US mail and private mail carriers all the time. Is this so burdensome for the virtual lawyer, especially where confidentiality is paramount? Even virtual lawyers send snail mail in the course of their lives.

    Using a secure internet connection is a minor and inexpensive adjustment to any website, and probably a good idea for traditional lawyers too. Why is this being touted as a profound revelation? Similarly, taking credit card payments over the internet is prevalent in all kinds of business transactions. Hardly game changing.

    I support virtual lawyering, don’t get me wrong. I believe it is an essential extension of legal services. I would just like some feedback on why there seem to be constructed complexities that 1. make virtual lawyering seem much more lofty than it is, and 2. may scare away less tech savvy lawyers who might otherwise participate?

    Thanks for your feedback in advance.

    Rebecca Weinstein, Esq.