A “virtual” law office? Is this a new video game? Another automated service? Would I get to wear a virtual reality mask?
We have discussed here in earlier posts about how the legal profession is trying to respond to the decay in the relationship with clients, especially given the cost, inaccessibility, lack of trust, etc. In this post, we discussed how some innovative estate planning lawyers are beginning to implement services such as DIY will review, clarity / confidence meetings, and setting up annual maintenance plans.
Another growing development is the virtual law office (hereinafter “VLO”). While wearing a mask to talk to your lawyer would certainly be cool, VLOs are actually a means of getting your legal work done online without having to schlep to a law office (now lovingly referred to by some as “traditional brick-and-mortar offices”).
How do they work? Let’s say you want to have a will done. You can now contact one of the now dozens of VLOs online (be sure to look for one from your own state), fill out the required forms available right at the website and then checkout. Then, your answers are forwarded to your chosen law firm and it prepares a draft of your new will.
Next, through a phone call or email, you and the firm exchange further ideas, and then the firm completes the final draft. It is mailed to you with instructions, and you now have the benefit of an inexpensive yet fully legal document with the benefit of attorney review behind it. Check out the Chicago-based Smarter Will.com for an excellent example.
Two recognized pioneers in this field are attorneys Richard Granat of Maryland and Stephanie Kimbro of North Carolina. Each have blogs which obviously explain the concept in far more detail. See Granat’s Elawyering blog and Kimbro’s Virtual Law Practice blog.
So what’s the problem? – As with any new product, there are plenty of issues, but lets cover two of the biggest.
- “Unbundled services” – This refers to separating a full legal service into smaller parts, and then clients can instead choose which of these parts they want or don’t want the lawyer to do. Some lawyers feel that VLOs in fact unbundle services, and that this could leave clients in a vulnerable position if the full services are truly warranted or required.
For example, we have talked about how a full estate plan may include a will, powers of attorney, medical directives, annual reviews, etc. If the plan is unbundled, you would just pick one or two of these documents. The fear is that despite the lawyer’s warnings, many clients might think that their choices are good enough, forget about it, and then have trouble later on when they don’t have the other documents.
- Lawyers Disagreeing? Cool! – Another issue is that some lawyers remain skeptical. Lee Rosen, a North Carolina family lawyer and blogger, recently posted “What the Virtual Office Advocates Aren’t Telling You”, where he discusses how people will not flock to a firm just because it has online services available. The post’s comments section has turned into an interesting point-counterpoint on the VLO platform that has attracted some leading legal bloggers, including Mr. Granat and Ms. Kimbro. I even had the audacity to comment there as well!
What do you think? Would you use a VLO? Comment below!