Some notes on the virtual law firm

  •   Axiom law's website
      The "virtual world" of Axiom law, a firm with lawyers around the world, as portrayed on its website. 
    Wikipedia credits an English lawyer with setting up the first recorded virtual law firm in 1996. 
  • There are several in the United States, including one based in New York — Axiom — that was founded in 2000 and now boasts nearly 300 lawyers.
  • There are competing definitions of what constitutes a virtual law firm: 
    • some argue it simply means an affiliated group of lawyers connected by technology rather than co-existing in common physical locations, and that they may still have traditional offices;
    • the American Bar Association Law Practice Management Section’s eLawyering Task Force defines a “virtual law practice” as one that offers its clients a secure client portal, as part of the law firm’s website, where the client can log in with a user name and password, and interact with an attorney, as well as consume other online legal services. 
  • Some bloggers argue that virtual law firms aren’t new and that for years, lawyers have gone to clients’ offices instead of their own, communicated with colleagues and clients on a daily basis by telephone, fax machine and snail-mail.
  • The 2010 ABA Legal Technology Survey Report states 19 per cent of sole practitioners report having a virtual law practice. (Some bloggers believe that number is inflated because of the way the question was asked, but there is general consensus that the trend is on the rise.)
  • In the US, the ABA advocates “eLawyering” initiatives to reach lower and middle-class citizens in need of legal services.
  • The 2009 winner of the ABA’s annual James Keane Memorial Award for excellence in eLawyering was Stephanie Kimbro, a woman who founded a sole practitioner virtual law office in North Carolina:
    • Kimbro has blogged that her website was programmed so that potential clients send her legal questions over an “https” website, “which is more secure than email. I have an administrative backend to the site that allows me to organize everything from checking for conflicts of interest to where my referrals come from. I send the potential client a price quote for the service and if they accept it, they pay online and then I post or upload whatever legal service they requested.”
  • The ABA’s eLawyering Task Force fully embraces technology and legal practice on its website, saying: “There are great dangers, but also great opportunities for attorneys in the coming decade. To be successful in the coming era, lawyers will need to know how to practice over the Web, manage client relationships in cyberspace, and ethically offer ‘unbundled services.’”