Tuesday, December 18, 2007

KLS Virtual Law Office Fall Update

This fall I’ve connected with several other attorneys across the nation who have similar goals of using the most current technology to better serve clients and facilitate collaboration between attorneys. Roger Glovsky (The Virtual Lawyer) has a great website, Lexpertise, with the goal of linking attorneys nationwide. Grant Griffiths is an attorney who also runs a home based law practice and is the author of two blogs: Home Office Warrior and Home Office Lawyer. Both of these websites have a wealth of information for anyone wanting to find better ways to strike a better work/life balance.

With a virtual law office, I sometimes have people who reside in states other than North Carolina who will contact me asking for referrals to attorneys who are licensed to practice law in their state. So, these networks are an important way of serving people who visit my website. Over the past year or so, I've built up a decent referral bank for visitors to my website whom I am not able to assist and I'm hoping that will continue to grow.

As many others have written, the legal profession is quickly changing thanks to the available technology. The most successful practices of the future will be those that have embraced these changes and kept up with the technology. An attorney doesn't have to be a software programmer or computer expert anymore in order to use and maintain software applications that make his or her law practice run more efficiently.

I am anxious to introduce the vlotech software to the legal profession. It will not happen overnight, but expect it to happen and expect an impact. The public is ready for something different than prepaid legal plans or fill-in-the form legal document websites like legalzoom. (And for the hundredth time, the virtual law office is not anything like legalzoom or nololaw or prepaid legal. It is my law office with all the administrative, management, accounting, etc. functions right there for me and my clients. All online. No lack of parking spaces, no secretary, no appointments necessary. It sometimes baffles me that the public gets this more easily than some attorneys. Give it less than five years and it will be a different story.)

As for professional development, I attended the annual Estate Planning and Probate Practice CLE in Greensboro this past October so I feel up to date in this area of the law. I was hoping one of the speakers would go into more details about the recent N.C. law changes to the statutory form Health Care Power of Attorney and Living Will. From what I have learned from speaking with other estate planning practitioners, many of their offices are still using the older versions of the documents because they feel that the newer versions are too complicated and wordy for their clients. Many want to wait and see the application of the changes in practice before switching over. Personally, I find the new Living Will statute to be clearer than the old. It would be interesting to know what medical practitioners think about the application of both revised documents.

Aside from the home based, online practice, I've been asked to speak to several mothers' groups locally about estate planning. I am also posting an educational thread about estate planning on an online forum for mothers. The material and dialogue online between myself and the other women will be the same as my in-person talks, but the forum will most likely reach a larger number of people and be more accessible for many of them. I'm grateful to have these opportunities.

What strikes me the most after these talks and the question/answer sessions that follow is that a lot of people do not have any estate planning in place for their young families and many do not understand how it can be important to them at this stage in their lives. Yet, most of them have insurance policies in place for the "what ifs" in life. There is still this strongly held presumption among people in their 30s and 40s that estate planning is only for individuals at the end of their lives and only if they have sizable fortunes. I enjoy sharing what I have learned with these groups, and if nothing else, hopefully it helps them start a productive dialogue with their families.

Also interesting to report, some skeptical people suggested to me that I would only be able to attract clients to the vlo who were in their 20s and 30s because that demographic is most comfortable with obtaining services online. I'm happy to report that I see a wide mix of clients in their 40s and 50s who use their vlo homepages, download and upload drafts and documents for review and pay me online. I even have had a couple clients in their late 60s this past year. This should say something for the ease of the website. That, and North Carolina has a large number of people who retire down here and need their estate planning updated from another state.

Adding to the content of my virtual law office and this blog are on the top of my priority list for the upcoming new year so please check back. I'm looking forward to a productive and prosperous new year. I wish anyone reading this the same.

Virtual Law Office Receives National Press

In October, the national publication, Lawyers USA, ran a feature article on my virtual law office. The article also discussed the development of the software that Virtual Law Office Technology, LLC (VLOTech) plans to release to a select group of attorney clients next year. My law office runs on the proof of concept version of the software and I'm looking forward to being upgraded to the full bells and whistles version of the vlo.

Monday, September 03, 2007

Online Law Office Receives Local Press

The Wilmington Star News ran an article in the Business Section regarding my online law practice and the VLO software. (You may have to register to view the article.) The article neglected to mention all of the ABA or North Carolina Bar resources supporting virtual law offices. So, I'm posting that information below just to supplement the article.

“The highest leadership of the ABA knows we need a catalyst for lawyers to adapt and flourish in the new technology-driven economic order. The Internet presents us with unparalleled opportunities and powerful new tools to provide legal services. Innovative law firms and web-based companies (many run by lawyers) have already cast off -- successfully -- into these uncharted waters. They have set up web sites that go far beyond a list of partners, practice areas and a map to the law firm.”

American Bar Association Law Practice Management Section: E-Lawyering Task Force

According to the American Bar Association’s E-Lawyering Task Force, “[l]awyers… are exploring the new Internet landscape. These lawyers have the vision to see a wholly new market of un-met legal needs.”

-American Bar Association Law Practice Management Section: E-Lawyering Task Force

A 2003 American Bar Association’s Report of the Modest Means Task Force stated that one method by which attorneys may improve the fairness of the American legal system is to provide limited legal services “to people who cannot afford ‘full-service’ representation.” The North Carolina Bar Association and other state bars, including Maine, California, New Mexico and Maryland, support attorneys who provide “unbundled” legal services.

- Handbook on Limited Scope Legal Assistance, A Report of the Modest Means Task Force, American Bar Association, Section of Litigation, 2003 and “Unbundled – A New Way to Practice,” North Carolina Bar Association, CLE Manuscript, May 24, 2002, featuring Alice Neece Mine, Assistant Executive Director of the North Carolina Bar Association responsible for Professional Responsibility and Ethics matters

As detailed in the findings of the American Bar Association's Standing Committee for the Delivery of Legal Services: "The unmet legal needs of consumers are well documented and dramatic."

-"Improving the Delivery of Affordable Legal Services Through the Internet: A Blueprint for the Shift to a Digital Paradigm", Hornsby, William, American Bar Association's Standing Committee for the Delivery of Legal Services, November 30, 2006

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Sunday, August 05, 2007

Billable Hour Must Die - ABA Article

This is the comment I posted to an article entitled, "The Billable Hour Must Die", by Scott Turow, published in the ABA Journal's August issue.

“I am hoping that lawyers, especially litigators, will more often be bold enough to consider offering clients alternative billing arrangements.”

I agree with this statement made by Turow in his article. It was taking an initial risk professionally, but I have been practicing law online from a virtual law office where I can offer clients price quotes and fixed fees for my services. It's similar to the "fair fee" system Turow mentions in the article. It lets my clients know upfront what they can expect to pay so that they may budget for it.

The system has a learning period for the attorney to figure out the balance of how many hours it will take to do a project and then equate that with a fee based on the initial consultation with a client. However, the client response to this system of paying for legal services has been great. I'm hoping more attorneys will consider this or at least integrate it along with their current billing methods. Virtual law practice is also a great way to provide cost-effective services to clients. Without the overhead of a physical law office it also makes sense for the attorney.

If anyone is interested in how it works, Virtual Law Office Technology (VLO Tech) provides software that sets up virtual law offices for attorneys (patent pending). Again, I've been practicing law completely online for over a year now and the public response has been very positive. It provides a good alternative to the traditional billing system.

Supporting Virtual Law Practices

Keeping up with blogging has been impossible between running my online law practice, raising an 18 month old and forming a new software company. I'll do my best to provide a brief update.

In June, we filed a patent for the virtual law office software and business method. We formed a company called Virtual Law Office Technology, LLC (VLOTech). The company provides software that connects legal professionals to the online community. To view a beta version of the software, please visit my law practice, Kimbro Legal Services at www.kimbrolaw.com. We have drafted a detailed business plan and are currently seeking angel or other investors to assist in getting the company up and running.

A handful of attorneys in several states have shown interest in being some of the first attorneys in their states to set up virtual law practices. A couple are interested in integrating them into their existing practices and others are interested in having a completely virtual, homebased law practice. I have about a couple attorneys a month contacting me and that's with zero marketing effort. I'm very excited about the potential that this has not only to offer a greater work/life balance for attorneys and another way to profit in their businesses, but also that it will offer more affordable and accessible legal services to the public.

After over two years of research on the virtual law office as a business method for the legal profession, I feel very strongly that it is a great alternative way of providing unbundled legal services. An attorney could combine it with an existing brick & mortar law office and expand their client base to anywhere in the state(s) in which they are licensed to practice law. The software and business method provide for a number of different business applications. When we have more marketing materials ready for the company, I'll post a link to those and the demo of the software. For now, we are working hard on the website content for VLOTech.

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Update on progress

I have been enjoying the personal contact with clients that I think only can really happen in a small law practice. My clients don't have to wade through the secretary and paralegals to communicate with me. I'm available 24/7 through the website and I check it at all hours of the day and night which makes it more convenient for everyone. At some point, I would like to put testimonials up on the website from some of the clients. I think some people may still have the misperception that practicing online removes you from real interaction with the clients, but I've not found this to be the case. People communicate online today more than they do in person. I know I shop and bank online more than I visit a mall or stop in to chat with my local bank representative. I see my online law services as an extension of services available to the community in a more efficient and affordable manner through the Internet.

There is a great article in the San Francisco magazine by Natasha Sarkisian about how younger generation lawyers are starting their own law firms as a way to escape the "biglaw" partnership track as the traditional, end-all-be-all of practicing law. It is definitely a trend that I'm thrilled to be a part of. The writer of MyShingle.com is another lawyer who started her own small firm and really supports the efforts of other attorneys in making that life change. My practice may be a new concept right now, but give it a couple more years and there will be more competition out there! The more the merrier!