LAW LOVE STORIES Day 3: Law Firms Gone Virtual!

The widespread availability of data management software and the internet has brought with it the opportunity for law firms to enhance flexibility and reduce overhead by going virtual. So today I’m going to share with you some of the interesting firms that have gone virtual – all over the world, Canada, and even right here in Vancouver! THE WORLD GONE VIRTUAL

Want to start offering legal services online? Care to browse through attorneys all over the world? Or maybe consult (or even video chat) with a lawyer online and get some advice? Sounds CRAZY, RIGHT? Maybe not… You can do all of the above at Virtual Law Direct.

UK LAW GONE VIRTUAL

Virtual Law is a virtual firm made up of approximately 30 solicitors, with no partnership structure. It prides itself on reducing overhead and delivering cost effective quality services to clients.

  • What Virtual Law says about benefits for its lawyers: “Virtual practice takes you away from the regular commute and from the management and administrative burdens that increasingly plague practitioners as they gain seniority. Your time is spent more productively and your work-life balance is enhanced. The financial advantages are also significant. Solicitors retain the lion’s share of fees from the work they generate and receive a healthy share of the billings for work they refer within the firm or have referred to them.”

Since I spent yesterday throwing information at you about what’s going on in the UK I won’t focus too much on it today, but I do have to tell you about one more virtual thing happening in the UK, because its WAY too AWESOME to leave out.

Obelisk Legal Support is self-described as “a visionary and successful way of outsourcing legal work” – and I would have to agree. Obelisk’s lawyers provide law firms and in-house legal departments with temporary legal services. The visionary bit is the model they use, which allows lawyers wanting to slow down or take a break from full time employment to remain engaged in the legal community! Obelisk allocates work to its lawyers based on the principle of ‘pooled capacity’ – each lawyer within Obelisk contributes the amount of time that THEY HAVE AVAILABLE around their other commitments in life, whatever those may be. Obelisk says, its “way is to get parents to work as many or as few hours as they can from home.”

And Obelisk has been recognized for its AWESOME INNOVATION. It was “Highly Commended as a Legal Pioneer” in the FT Innovative Lawyer Awards 2012, and was “Runner Up, Best Emerging Firm” at the Managing Partner Forum Awards 2013. And most recently it was announced as a finalist in the Halsbury Legal Awards in the “Investment in Women in the Law” category.

US LAW GONE VIRTUAL

The United States is way ahead of us in terms of moving its law firms to the cloud. Here are a couple of the virtual firms I’ve come across recently. (There are MANY more not mentioned here!)

Virtual Law Partners – made up of 36 lawyers practicing from different locations all over the US.

  • What VLP says: “We are a geographically distributed firm of top-tier lawyers. We have multiple practice areas in multiple industry sectors. We provide a full range of business and transactional legal services to clients of all sizes — from early-stage start-ups to Fortune 500 companies.”

Burton Law LLC, with seven lawyers and a business consultant practicing in a number of different areas.

  • What Burton Law says: “Welcome to Burton Law, a virtual law firm headquartered out of Dayton, Ohio with locations in Cincinnati, Columbus and North Carolina. Burton Law has dismantled the traditional law firm model and turned it on its head. The firm's technology platform allows its lawyers to practice in a geographically dispersed manner, which greatly reduces overhead and inefficiencies associated with the traditional firm model. These cost savings ultimately get passed on to our clients, while at the same time providing the personal attention that clients expect from their lawyers.”

Stephanie Kimbro, a lawyer at Burton Law, well-published author, speaker, and consultant, “writes about the ethics and technology issues of delivering legal services online and is interested in the use of technology to increase access to justice.” Her blog, Virtual Law Practice, is informative and an entertaining read. (Highly recommended – she has some really cool ideas.)

Also INSPIRING – Rachel Rodgers Law Office. Rachel is a 2009 law graduate who spent a year clerking and then started up her own virtual law firm! Check out this post where she explains how she did it. And if that isn’t enticing enough, her bio says, Rachel “runs a virtual law office focused on serving Gen Y entrepreneurs. She is living the dream and dedicated to helping others do the same. She loves cooking, long-term travel, chocolate mousse and spending quality time with her family.”  I once dreamed of opening a fruit shake stand in Thailand…Rachel can actually do this while still practicing law in the US! AWESOME.

And check out this recent post by Mitch Kowalski on the use of technology in delivery of legal services, which mentions a few more firms embracing change, or what he refers to as “disruptors”.

CANADA LAW GONE VIRTUAL

Canada is starting to get on board too.

Kre8tive Law Group, Canada’s first firm using DirectLaw’s virtual software, is a business law firm located in Calgary offering clients fixed fee packages rather than billing by the hour.

  • What Kre8tive says: “Our goal is to provide the highest quality legal service to our small and medium-sized clients at an affordable cost. … We believe that "better people make better lawyers". We only hire bright creative people - not billing machines.”

Check out this blog post by Richard Granat for more information about Kre8tive.

Allen & Allen – a virtual law firm in Toronto.

And what about here in BC? What kind of innovation is going on in our own back yard?

There are two completely virtual law firms operating in BC that I am aware of.

Heritage Law, spear-headed by Nicole Garton-Jones, is a virtual firm focusing on the areas of divorce/matrimonial law, wills and estates, mediation, and collaborative law. Their team is made up of four lawyers, five paralegals, an administrator, and a bookkeeper.

Business in Vancouver Magazine described the firm as follows: “Heritage Law, B.C.’s first exclusively online law firm, allows its employees to work flexible hours to let them spend time with their families – a workplace culture that’s considered cutting-edge in the often traditional and conservative legal field.”

  • The technology bit – Heritage Law says: “Heritage Law is paperless and utilizes practice management software to centrally manage billing, time tracking, matter information, contacts, appointments, documents and document assembly.  All staff log into one remote, secure server over the Internet which is a repository for all firm data and software applications.  We have a VoIP phone system which allows staff in different locations to use the same phone line and system.  We have a remote answering service which answers client calls during the business day if a staff member is out of the office and routes the message appropriately.  All staff have a computer, high speed Internet, a VoIP phone and a scanner at their home offices.   The firm retains traditional offices for meeting with clients.”

 

  • The flexible work arrangement bit – Heritage Law says: “At Heritage Law, you can have it all: a professional practice, competitive compensation and work-life balance. … You control how many hours you work, where you work, what client files you work on and what your billing rate is. Achieving a balance between your professional and private lives is one of our key goals. We seek talented lawyers who want to balance family and personal interests with a professional career, but find it difficult to do so in a traditional firm or on their own.”

Click here to see the benefits of joining Heritage Law as described on their website.

Valkyrie Law Group – a virtual five lawyer firm focusing on local government and First Nations law.

  • What Valkyrie says: “Our firm has adopted the innovative approach of being entirely virtual, such that we have no central office nor the overhead associated with a central office. Instead, our partners are situated in various municipalities throughout the Lower Mainland, and we utilize the advantages of technology to bring identical legal services to our clients, as may be found in more traditional firms. Versatile and mobile, the knowledge-based business of law needs no bricks and mortar!”

Find out more about Valkyrie here, in the fall 2010 Law Society Bencher’s Bulletin.

When I contacted lawyers at Valkyrie about writing this article, one of their lawyers had this to say: “Our model was developed for business reasons given our practice area and the nature of our clientele. The model likely would not suit every practice area, or every lawyer. We would hope, however, that we all love life!

While a virtual model that works for one firm or practice area may not work perfectly for another firm or a different practice area, the beauty of technology is the POSSIBILITIES are ENDLESS.

There are AMAZING and INSPIRING things happening all around.

Here’s to us all creating and sharing a LIFE we LOVE in LAW. Maybe the next news story will be about YOU!

Check back tomorrow for more real life LAW LOVE STORIES.

xo,

Danielle