ABA Ethics Commission 20/20

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Nov 14, 2013 (4 years and 1 month ago)

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ABA Ethics Commission 20/20


Presentation by Stephanie Kimbro, Esq.,
Owner of Kimbro Legal Services, LLC and Co
-
Founder of Virtual Law Office Technology, LLC
(VLOTech)


Contact Info:

Email:
slk@kimbrolaw.com

Twitter: @StephKimbro

Blog: www.virtuallawpractice.org

What is virtual law practice?


A virtual law office is a professional law
practice that is located online through a
secure portal and is accessible to both the
client and the attorney anywhere the
parties may access the Internet.



Other terminology: VLO, virtual law firm,
web
-
based law practice or online law
practice.


What virtual law practice is not


Virtual law practice is not :



an online website that sells legal documents without attorney review,
such as LegalZoom and other web
-
based companies selling online
legal forms


a law firm website with an email “contact us for a free quote” form for
prospective clients


communication by email even if sent through a law firm’s website


a rented physical office that may be shared with other professionals
along with a receptionist service


VPNs, extranets and other services, such as GoToPC and LogMeIn


a conglomeration of attorneys in remote locations pooling resources
and communicating over the Internet


a law practice based in a virtual reality world, such as Second Life




Not all legal SaaS products providing web
-
based practice management
tools create virtual law offices.

How Attorneys Use Virtual Law Offices


Completely Web
-
based


Unbundled or limited legal services


Integrated into a traditional law office


Unbundled and full
-
service


As a transition method to allow them to continue
to practice law while meeting other personal and
professional needs:


To raise families


To care for ill spouses or aging parents


To ease into retirement


After layoffs, to start a solo practice or work while
searching for another legal job

Why is Virtual Law Practice Important?


For the Public


Greater access to justice


Affordable and accessible legal services for lower and moderate income
individuals


Pro
-
se litigants


Pro bono opportunities



For the Legal Profession


Better quality of life through work/life balance and flexibility


Technology streamlines and automates much of the routine work
allowing the attorney to focus on practicing law


Technology may help prevent malpractice through automated checks
and processes


Lower overhead, less office waste, eco
-
friendly


Expanded client base, increased competition


What are the concerns?


Many of these risks are similar to the ethics and malpractice risks
seen in a traditional law practice. However, here the risks may be
decreased through the use of the checks and processes built into
the technology.



Some concerns unique to VLOs include:


UPL


In other jurisdictions


By non
-
licensed professionals


Competency


Establishment of the Attorney/Client Relationship


Defining Scope of Representation Online


Security


Protecting client confidentiality


SaaS




What should the response be to those concerns?



It should be the responsibility of the
individual attorney

to do the following:


Make the determination on a case by case basis: Can I competently
handle this legal matter online or does it require in
-
person
representation?


Understand the technology and the security risks


Thoroughly question the prospective SaaS provider on the following
issues:


Data Return and Retention Policies


Backups


End
-
to
-
end encryption


Confidentiality and non
-
disclosure statements


Privacy policy


who has access to the law office data


Customer support


Other terms of the license or service agreement


Is the software designed for attorneys or the general public?


Is sharing or security the primary focus?



To avoid a chilling effect on future innovation in the delivery of legal
services, any regulations on virtual law practice should be kept broad and
easily adaptable to advancements in technology.


How Can We Support Virtual Law Practice?


Education


Committee for the Delivery of Legal Services


Unbundled Legal Services


Malpractice Insurance Carriers


State Bars


Law Practice and Ethics Advisors



Broad, updated guidelines


For technology and security



Emphasis on access to justice


Encourage providing legal services online to lower and moderate
income individuals


Pro bono opportunities



Looking Ahead


Features of a virtual law practice will continue to expand beyond
what currently may be imagined.


The core function of a virtual law practice should remain the
same
-

the ability to securely deliver legal services and work
with clients and other legal professionals online through an
online portal.



The growth of online legal services is largely consumer
-
driven.


The legal profession should step up to meet this need or the
public will continue to use methods that are not safe or in
their best interest to acquire online legal services.



Legal professionals are seeking guidance from the ABA and their
state bars about how to safely and responsibility operate a virtual
law practice. Well
-
informed and regularly updated guidance is
needed.