- Lawyers 2.0. A Collaborative Business Model for Legal Firms
Lawyers 2.0. A Collaborative Business Model for Legal Firms
A new legal services business model may emerge
The legal profession is currently undergoing a fundamental change in the way law is practiced as a result of technology, globalization, and an unstable economy. In order to stay competitive in a rapidly evolving global market, independent lawyers and small firms need to learn how to integrate processes, technology, and sound business judgment into their practices. Discussing such relevant topics as cost containment, efficiency, and project management; cloud productivity tools; creating a virtual law office; security, ethics, and regulation in the cloud; the future of international security regulation; content marketing; and alternative fee agreements, “Lawyers 2.0. A Collaborative Business Model for Legal Firms” runs the gamut of pertinent information unlike any other resource available today. By showing how to integrate each of these concepts and practices, a successful business model with breadth and vision emerges for independnt lawyers and small firms. Uniquely targeted and highly ambitious, it is the go-to source for constructing a viable business strategy for the independent lawyer and small firms in need of an entrepreneurial makeover to survive in a revolutionary new paradigm.
Publication date: December 14 2010
Price: 29.90 USD
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How to Deliver Legal Services Online
The legal market has recently experienced a dramatic shift as lawyers seek out alternative methods of practicing law and providing more affordable legal services. Virtual law practice is revolutionizing the way the public receives legal services and how legal professionals work with clients. Salvador Trinxet’s practical guide teaches lawyers how to set up and run a virtual law firm. It provides case studies along with client scenarios to show how web-based technology may be used by professionals to work with online clients and avoid malpractice risks.
This book covers the best practices that should be used when providing legal products to clients online. It has case studies, checklists, how-tos and is fully documented with helpful resources.
How to set up a virtual legal practice?
There are a significant number of potential customers who would contact a lawyer seeking legal services but they could not afford the traditional legal fees although they did not qualify for legal aid assistance. Without the use of technology to deliver the services or to cut down on the time to handle the project, it was not economically worth it to the average law firm to handle these matters.
At the same time, many lawyers want the flexibility to work during times that were outside of the traditional business workday.
Many clients prefer to work with virtual lawyers during their off times, so the traditional business office hours are not convenient for them because they are at work. So most of individual clients of a virtual lawyer will do things before they go to work or after their kids are in bed in the evenings. Which is actually when some lawyers also want to work so they can have more time to spend with their family and their children when they get home from school in the afternoons.
Some technology that virtual lawyers regularly use for virtual office include Join.me for desktop sharing, SignMyPad Pro, Box, and QuickOffice [on the iPad], and Dragon NaturallySpeaking to dictate items that can then be saved online in the client’s case file. They also use lots of social media applications as part of their marketing strategy.
Clio has Client Connect for example and DirectLaw has a virtual law office platform. They offer document sharing online and online payments/billing as well as other features. There is a Legal Cloud Computing Association and several of the members are developing features of their software to deliver legal services online. At some point it depends on user preference for the interface and what features in the technology the law firm needs based on their practice area and client base. BigLaw clients will sometimes have customized client portals developed for firm needs rather than subscribe to an individual vendor’s product.
The main challenges virtual office practicioners face setting up a virtual office include educating the public that a virtual office was an alternative to a traditional law firm. Maybe the most challenging issue now is watching how law organizations are going to address technology in law practice in any ethics opinions and making sure that what I am doing stays in compliance with any of these new regulations.
Using technology to attract more clients
Most clients are aware that the use of the technology makes the delivery process more efficient, which means that the cost savings from that end up lowering their legal fees. Most of them are used to purchasing things online, earning degrees online, and handling other secure transactions online like investing or banking, so they always seem grateful to have the option to work with their lawyer this way.
For lawyers who are thinking about introducing a virtual element into their practice, a piece of advice is that they are going to have to find a way to drive clients to their website. Just like building a traditional brick and mortar firm, building a web-based law firm takes time, patience and hard work. It won’t happen overnight.
People who are comfortable working with a lawyer online are typically those who will use the internet to research their problem or find a lawyer. So usually there is not much return on investment on traditional forms of advertising, such as magazine ads. What usually works better is promoting my firm and blog through social media, writing articles for blogs about issues potential clients are researching, and accepting invitations to write for other websites.
Many of the clients are very busy with family and work commitments and appreciate being able to communicate with their lawyer online or on their schedule, rather than only during normal business hours.
The virtual office work allowed lawyers to spend more of their time focusing on the individual clients and their needs and less time on the administrative work of running a practice. A large part of the process is automated and the time saved from that allows the lawyer to sharpen their legal skills and expand their experience.
Many people assume that a virtual law office means the lawyer does not have a close relationship with the client or that it’s very impersonal. Communication does not have to be limited to strictly online dialogue. There are ways to use the technology that simulate in-person communications. The virtual legal firms work with their clients just as a traditional lawyer would in a physical law office building; they just use digital forms of working with them.
Virtual law practice, in all the different forms it can take, expands access to justice to the public. It provides an alternative or complementary legal service delivery method. There is a huge latent market for legal services made up mostly of individuals of lower to moderate income levels. The growth of virtual law practice can be one solution to meeting this market need.
Here are some examples of why they might be considering it:
■Newly licensed lawyers may want to avoid the overhead and long-term commitment of a traditional brick and mortar office.
■Experienced lawyers may want to expand the geographic reach of their existing practice to garner more clients.
■Many lawyers have a thriving practice in a smaller town, but have difficulty finding locally the high caliber legal talent they need to help handle the work flow.
■Family obligations or other circumstances make it difficult for some attorneys to keep traditional office hours.
■For some attorneys, the international scope of their work demands technological innovation to serve client needs.
■Some attorneys just long to escape the snow in the winter or the heat in the summer without interrupting their law practice.
■Some attorneys may be barred in one state yet circumstances bring them to another and they wish to keep their practices ongoing where they are barred.
The biggest misconception lawyers and clients have is that the attorney client relationship will be impersonal because there is no face-to-face contact between the attorney and client. But many clients have not found this to be the case.
How does a typical new client relationship begin?
Occasionally, a new client will call or email me first, but typically, he or she will initiate the relationship by registering as a new client on my virtual law office and starting a new case. The first thing I do when they register is call them to introduce myself and to answer any questions they may have about the process. I then attach a detailed questionnaire to their file for them to complete before we talk again.
I always have at least three conversations with them: an introductory phone call after they register, a phone call to discuss their goals and objectives and how to accomplish what they want to do, and a call after drafts have been prepared to answer any questions they may have and to ensure that the documents I have prepared reflects their wishes.
Web-based law offices are well suited for practices that are transactional in nature, such as estate planning, although brick and mortar firms in any practice area could integrate a virtual component to communicate and exchange documents with their clients in a secure environment.
Some tips for setting up a Virtual Law Office Work Firm
Here are the key factors that have worked for some lawyers. I hope they will help you in determining whether an online-based law practice is for you:
1. Choose a Niche: It is of vital importance of choosing an oh-so-narrow niche of law to practice. This really works wonders for marketing and it gets your narrow client base super excited about working with you. I find it to be essential to a Virtual Law Office. Its been said before but I’ll say it again: trying to appeal to everyone means you appeal to no one. For example, the niche of a virtual office is business law for Gen Y entrepreneurs. They found that their niche loves working with those lawyers because they also are a really technology focused bunch which means that they are very comfortable using technology to conduct their legal business. In some countries, like the US, many older generations are using technology just as much, if not more, than us young folks.
2. Killer Website (Part 1): This does not mean you have to spend a lot on a new website. A nicely designed website is great but that is not really what makes it killer. What makes your website killer is engagement. Your website needs to be something to do not just something to read.
Regularly updated blog articles relevant to your client base, a monthly newsletter or free resource that client’s can sign up for and even a welcome video are great additions that will allow you to connect with potential clients.
3. Killer Website (Part 2): Nice design is key but information is better. Detailed information about who you are (and not just your boring bio, add some personality!), what type of services you offer, how you offer such services, how the virtual law office technology that you use works and your fees are critical pieces of information that clients want to know. And often they want to know this before they are willing to contact you. All of this information should be on your website in an easy to find place for your potential clients.
4. Flat Fees: Yes, its true. This works for many virtual legal firms. Just know that when signing up for services online, client’s want at least an estimate of your pricing before they engage. They don’t want to spend time connecting with you only to be quoted a fee that is far too much. And hourly rates do not reveal your pricing. Telling me your fees are $325 per hour does not at all inform me of how much money I am going to have to part with to work with you. In my opinion, flat fees are essential to a successful Virtual Law Office.
5. Market, Market, Market. If you want online-based clients for your virtual legal practice, you have to go where they are and let them know you exist. Most clients aren’t going to do a Google search for a vitual legal office in their town. This was another key misstep of struggling virtual practicess. They just assumed if they put the website up, clients would come. No, they will not. You must go out and find them.
The way some practitioners have done this is by having a strong social media presence. In addition to social media, they create free content for their client base both on their blog, on the columns they write and by guest posting on sites that their clients frequent. The point is that if your clients see you online all the time and practically everywhere they go (okay, not nearly everywhere but you get my point) which allows you to stay on their minds so they think of me when they have legal needs. And it all starts with an engaging social media presence.
The lawyer who chooses a virtual law office platform (and generally unbundled legal services) is someone who is looking to address an ever-growing segment of the population – the potential client who would have hired a traditional lawyer and paid the full fare, but economic times have prevented them from making this choice. These people are not necessarily the Legal Zoom market. They don’t want to be a DiY’er but they think there are no other options because they haven’t been educated there is another way to work with a lawyer. They want a safety net, someone to address what they are uncomfortable doing during litigation or they want someone to review their work. They still want to be referred to a living, breathing counselor at law whom they can still have a relationship with. They have the funds for as-needed representation which can be done via the virtual law office platform because it is cost-effective for the client and the lawyer.
Moreover, the virtual law office platform does not necessarily equate to discounted services or low-end services or even unbundled services. It is a suite of technologies. How the lawyer utilizes these technologies is up to her.
But, clients are demanding they be serviced differently and they are voting with their wallets.
The key is matching up the right client with the right lawyer.
Legal Firms and Social Media Social media does not have the same influence in the purchase of legal services as it does in the products industry. This is primarily because legal services are intangible, variable, inseparable, and perishable. It is difficult for post purchasers to share information online, especially …