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”.