Virtual Law Practice: How to Deliver Legal Services Online

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  • Edition: 2nd
  • Format: Paperback
  • Copyright: 2015-07-07
  • Publisher: Natl Book Network
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The Internet has made it easier for potential clients to find legal services. Virtual law firms have revolutionized the delivery of legal services, lowering costs as well as evening the playing field. Whether you are a large law firm or a solo practitioner, there are business models of delivering legal services online that can bring your law practice up to speed with the 21st century legal marketplace. What are you doing to stay competitive? Do you have the know-how to responsibly incorporate technology and online delivery into your existing law firm? The revised and updated Virtual Law Practice is the one resource you need to take advantage of this fast-growing market. This book will help you:
  • Identify and develop a law firm business model for the online delivery of legal services
  • Successfully set up and manage a virtual law firm
  • Increase law firm revenue by responsibly implementing the delivery of online legal services
  • Make use of the latest technology
  • Create a successful marketing strategy for the delivery of legal services online
  • Understand state ethics and advisory opinions
  • Find more flexibility and work/life balance in the legal profession

Stephanie Kimbro's practical guide also provides case studies of law firms that successfully integrate virtual law practice into their traditional business models along with client scenarios to show how web-based technology may be used by legal professionals to work with online clients and avoid malpractice risks.

Author Biography

Stephanie L. Kimbro, MA, JD, is a Fellow at Stanford Law School Center on the Legal Profession and Co-Director of the Center for Law Practice Technology at Florida Coastal School of Law. She is the author of Virtual Law Practice: How to Deliver Legal Services Online (2010, ISBN: 978-1-60442-828-5), Limited Scope Legal Services: Unbundling and the Self-Help Client (2012, ISBN: 978-1-61438-362-8), Consumer Law Revolution: The Lawyers’ Guide to the Online Legal Marketplace (2013, ISBN: 978-1-61438-706-0 ), and Online Legal Services for the Client-Centric Law Firm (2013, ISBN: 978-1-78358-065-1). Her current research and work involves the use of gamification and games to increase engagement with the public around legal issues and to increase productivity in law firms.

Stephanie practiced law for ten years delivering unbundled, online legal services to clients through a virtual law firm. In that time, she also founded a legal technology startup which was acquired by a larger legal tech company in 2009. She writes about ethics and technology issues of delivering legal services online and is interested in the use of tech to increase access to justice. She has presented and guest lectured for many state bars, law schools and other organizations across the country on the topic of legal technology and law practice management.

Stephanie is a member of the ABA Standing Committee on the Delivery of Legal Services and a recipient of the ABA Keane Award for Excellence in eLawyering. She has taught as an adjunct professor at several law schools and is currently developing two mobile games for legal services.

Table of Contents

About the Author xi
Acknowledgments xiii
Chapter One: Basics of Online Delivery 1
Introduction 1
What Is Virtual Law Practice? 5
What Is Not a Virtual Law Practice? 7
What Is Secure Access? 9
Case Study: Box 12
Changing Technology 14
What Are the Benefits of Online Delivery? 14
What Are the Risks of Online Delivery? 15
Chapter Two: Choose a Structure for Your Practice 17
Components of a Business Plan for a Practice with Online Delivery 19
Integrating Online Delivery into a Traditional Law Office 20
Case Study: Fraser Stryker 21
Delivering Online Unbundled Services from the Firm to In-House
or Corporate General Counsel 23
Moving Existing Clients from E-mail to a Secure Client Portal 24
Case Study: Jacoby and Meyers 25
Transferring Data and Compatibility Issues with Existing
Law Office Data 26
Completely Web-Based Virtual Law Office 27
Case Study: Rania Combs 29
Contract and Outsourcing Lawyers 33
Virtual Law Practice and BigLaw 34
Collaborating with Other Lawyers as Part of the Business Model 36
Case Study: Michael Chapnick 39
vi Contents
Chapter Three: Methods of Delivery and Engagement 43
Unbundled Delivery of Online Legal Services 43
Thinking About Restructuring Your Business to Unbundle? 49
A Team-Based Approach to Unbundling 50
Case Study: McAngus Goudelock & Courie 51
Case Study: Richard Granat 51
Document Automation and Assembly in Unbundled Legal Services 54
Case Study: Marc Lauritsen 56
Online Advising Tools 58
Expert Systems 58
Web Calculators, Web Advisers, and Mobile Apps 59
What Is Effective Online Engagement? 61
Including Client Experience in Design of Online Legal Services 63
Chapter Four: Choosing the Technology 69
Cloud Computing and Software as a Service (SaaS) 69
Case Study: Nicole Black 71
Research the Software Provider and Hosting Company 74
Security and Access 75
Downtime for Maintenance or Upgrades 75
Support Future Law Office Growth 76
Cost of the Product 76
Data Return and Retention Policies 77
Third-Party Hosting 78
Offshore Servers 79
Geo-Redundancy 79
Data Escrow 80
Compliance with Federal Regulations 80
Unlimited Liability for Confidentiality Breaches—Unreasonable? 80
Case Study: Larry Port 82
Transitioning from Filing Cabinets to a Paperless Office 86
Organization Is Key 88
Creating a Virtual Law Practice by Combining Separate
Software Applications 89
Document-Sharing Solutions Added to Law Firms Delivering
Legal Services Online 90
Social Networking or Collaboration Platforms 91
Videoconferencing 92
Contents vii
Online Dispute Resolution Tools 93
Electronic Signatures 95
Case Study: Robert N. Grossbart 97
What to Expect in a Provider’s Service Legal Agreement (SLA) 99
VLO Start-up Checklist #1: Putting It Together 100
VLO Start-up Checklist #2: Choose the Technology 102
Case Study: Erik Mazzone 103
Chapter Five: Practical Setup and How-to Basics 107
Branding the Firm’s Online Delivery 107
URL Address 108
Build a Website 109
Design Requirements for Professional Responsibility 110
Case Study: Susan Cartier Liebel 116
What Are the Start-up Costs? Laying Out a Business Plan
and Budget 118
When Can You Expect to See Steady Client Revenue? 118
Costs and Your ROI Analysis 119
Hardware Costs 120
Software Costs 121
Having a Home Office or Working Remotely 122
Expenses That You Don’t Need to Start Delivering
Legal Services Online 123
Forming the Business Entity for Your Virtual Law Practice 124
Billing Methods for Online Legal Services 124
Online Payment Options 126
Offering Fixed Fees on Your Virtual Law Office 128
Developing Law Firm Policy and Procedures Manuals for
Online Delivery 130
Collaborating with Other Lawyers to Create a Virtual Law Firm 132
Case Study: Jordan Furlong 134
VLO Start-up Checklist #3: Business Setup 137
Chapter Six: Managing a Virtual Law Practice 139
Providing Customer Service for Clients Receiving Online
Legal Services 139
eProfessionalism When Working with Online Clients 142
Terminating the Online Relationship 144
viii Contents
Daily Best Practices 145
Securing Mobile Devices 145
Checklist of Daily Best Practices for the Use of Technology 147
Set Up a Social Media Use Policy for the Law Firm 148
A Starting Point for Developing Social Media Use Policies 148
Create an Online Network of Lawyers for Referrals and Support 151
Keep Your Clients Updated 152
Working with Virtual Assistants and Virtual Paralegals 153
Other Resources for Outsourcing 154
Case Study: Tina Marie Hilton 155
Case Study: Denise Annunciata 160
Case Study: Laurie Mapp 162
Chapter Seven: Marketing Your Virtual Law Office 165
Branding and Positioning 166
Case Study: Dave Ryan 168
Website Development 170
Before You Speak to Your Website Developer 174
Calls to Action 176
“Contact Us” Forms 176
White Papers and Newsletter Subscriptions 177
Real-Time Chat 177
Blogging 178
Before the Law Firm Begins Blogging 179
How Often Do I Need to Blog? 181
Who’s Going to Write It? 181
If You Hire a Ghost-Blogger . . . 182
Find Your Niche 182
Establish Yourself as an Expert 182
Open Your Door 183
Be a Human 183
Spread the Word 183
Review and Refocus with Each Post 184
Social Media Integration 184
Some Tips to Help Minimize Risk When Using Social
Media Applications for Marketing Online Legal Services 186
Collaborating with Branded Networks 188
Leverage Free Press 192
Advertising Methods to Avoid 193
Case Study: Meaghan Olson 193
Make a Video 193
Contents ix
Check Out Google’s Marketing Tools 194
Daily Deal Sites 194
Mobile Applications to Market Online Legal Services 196
Combining Online Marketing Methods 196
The Art of Listening and Revising the Strategy 198
Expert Tips: Meaghan Olson 200
Rules and Regulations for Online Advertising by Lawyers 203
Case Study: Carolyn Elefant 204
Case Study: Ruby L. Powers 209
Chapter Eight: Ethics and Malpractice Issues 213
How to Approach Ethics Issues When Delivering Legal
Services Online 214
Where Do State Bars and the ABA Stand on Virtual Law Practice? 214
Malpractice Insurance Coverage 217
Insurance for Your Hardware 219
Case Study: Camille Stell 220
Preventing Malpractice through the Use of Technology 223
Unauthorized Practice of Law 223
UPL in Other Jurisdictions 225
UPL with Multijurisdictional Virtual Law Firms 227
Residency Requirements and UPL 228
Providing Competent Online Representation 231
Conflict of Laws 235
Authentication of the Client’s Identity: Is It Our Duty to
Prevent Fraud? 236
Defining the Scope of Representation Online 238
Establishing the Attorney-Client Relationship Online 240
Clickwrap Agreements 241
Duties to Prospective Online Clients 244
Instant and Public Online Communications 246
Expected Online Communication 247
Protecting Client Confidences 249
Storage and Retention of Client Data 251
Electronic Discovery 253
Case Study: Sharon D. Nelson 255
Succession Plans That Include Online Clients 256
Ethics Issues in the Marketing of Online Legal Services 257
ABS and the Growth of Online Delivery in Other Countries 262
Case Studies of Online Delivery Overseas 264
x Contents
Chapter Nine: Online Delivery and Access to Justice 267
Self-Help Centers Online 267
Document Automation 268
Video Legal Guidance 269
Law Firm Collaboration with Legal Services to Deliver
Pro Bono Services Online 270
Chapter Ten: Conclusion 273
Appendix A: Terminology 277
Appendix B: Sample Process for Legal Services Delivered Online 281
Appendix C: Sample Firm Policies and Procedures for a
Law Firm Delivering Online Legal Services 283
Appendix D: Sample Provisions from Limited Scope Engagement
Letter Used in a Completely Web-Based Virtual
Law Office 293
Appendix E: Sample Virtual Law Practice Terms and Conditions
for a Virtual Law Practice Providing Unbundled
Legal Services Online in Conjunction with a
Physical Law Office 299
Appendix F: Further Reading 307
Appendix G: State Bar Ethics and Advisory Opinions and
Other Resources by Topic 309
A. Delivering Legal Services Online or Specifically Addressing
“Virtual Law Offices” 310
B. Specifically Addressing Unbundled Legal Services 319
C. Addressing Electronic Storage of Law Office Data/
Cloud Computing to Store Law Office Data 321
D. Multijurisdictional Practice Issues 324
E. Advertising on Websites and Use of Domain Names for
Virtual Law Office 324
F. Electronic Communications in General 328
G. UPL Over the Internet 330
H. Establishing the Attorney-Client Relationship Online 331
I. Duty to Prospective Clients Online 332
J. Accepting Credit Card Payments from a Client 332
K. Residency Requirements Affecting Virtual Law Practice 333
Index 335

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