What does it look like to operate an entirely web-based law firm? Sharon Nelson and Jim Calloway talk to Brooke Moore about her expertise as a virtual practitioner. She explains the advantages of moving to this highly tech-driven method of practicing law, including greater efficiency, flexibility, and convenience in interactions with clients. Brooke also gives listeners a rundown of how her firm operates and addresses common concerns lawyers may have about starting their own virtual law firms.
Special thanks to our sponsors, ServeNow, Nexa, Answer1, and Clio.
The Digital Edge
Building a Cutting Edge Virtual Law Firm
Intro: Welcome to The Digital Edge with Sharon Nelson and Jim Calloway, your hosts, both legal technologists, authors and lecturers, invite industry professionals to discuss a new topic related to lawyers and technology. You are listening to Legal Talk Network.
Sharon D. Nelson: Welcome to the 139th Edition of The Digital Edge: Lawyers and Technology. We are glad to have you with us.
I am Sharon Nelson, President of Sensei Enterprises, an information technology, cybersecurity and digital forensics firm in Fairfax, Virginia.
Jim Calloway: And I am Jim Calloway, Director of The Oklahoma Bar Association’s Management Assistance Program. Today our topic is ‘Building a Cutting Edge Virtual Law Firm’.
Sharon D. Nelson: Before we get started, we would like to thank our sponsors.
Thanks to our sponsor Clio. Clio’s cloud-based practice management software makes it easy to manage your law firm from intake to invoice. Try it for free at clio.com. That’s clio.com.
Thank you to Nexa, formerly known as Answer1. Nexa is a leading virtual receptionist and answering service provider for law firms. Learn more by giving them a call at 800-267-9371 or online visit them at nexa.com.
Jim Calloway: Thanks to Scorpion. Scorpion sets the standard for law firm online marketing with proven campaign strategies to get attorneys better cases from the Internet. Partner with Scorpion to get an award-winning website and ROI positive marketing programs today. Visit scorpionlegal.com/podcast.
Thanks to ServeNow, a nationwide network of trusted prescreened process servers. Work with the most professional process servers who have experience with high volume serves, embrace technology, and understand the litigation process. Visit www.serve-now.com to learn more.
We are very pleased to have as our guest Brooke Moore, the Founder of MyVirtual.Lawyer, an online law firm providing flat fees and subscription-based limited scope services and Co-Founder of MyVirtual.Lawyer for Attorneys, which partners with attorneys in other jurisdictions under the MyVirtual.Lawyer brand to assist in integrating limited scope virtual components into their law practices.
MyVirtual.Lawyer for Attorneys also provides automation and consulting assistance. Brooke’s mission is to make legal help available and affordable for everyone and to offer a flexible sustainable law firm model that helps forward-thinking lawyers succeed.
Thanks for joining us today, Brooke.
Brooke Moore: Thanks so much for having me Jim and Sharon.
Sharon D. Nelson: Well, let’s start right at the beginning, because I know we have done at least one virtual law firm podcasts somewhere in history, but it has been a long while and we still find all the time as we go out and talk to people but they don’t understand what a virtual law firm is.
So could you define that for us Brooke?
Brooke Moore: Absolutely. So a virtual law firm is really about the way that you are interacting with your clients. It’s about the client experience. So it is a law firm. It’s web-based. There’s virtual interactions, paperless, it’s flexible, it’s convenient, and it’s also really tech forward and tech driven.
The confusion that I see is people misconfused virtual law firms with e-lawyering, or legal forums, maybe just that they have a website, or maybe it’s a software service, just remote work or remote office space and occasionally people ask me if it’s my hobby.
So it’s none of those things.
Jim Calloway: How does your virtual law firm come about Brooke?
Brooke Moore: Originally I started this virtual law firm because it provided me flexibility that I needed. I’m a military spouse, I had three very small children at the time and traditional legal roles were very difficult for me to perform and sustain long term, and so I wanted a way to stay meaningfully involved in the profession, because as we all probably have heard or know, women often tend to leave the profession due to these kind of issues with child rearing or conflicts with their spouse’s career.
And so I was looking for ways to do that. We also were facing a possible deployment stateside to Washington, DC.
So I wanted to be able to take my clients with me and I had also been serving with Arkansas Access to Justice and I had learned about limited scope and I was really excited about limited scope representation, but I wasn’t sure the best way to provide that and I started reading and doing research and realized that there were a lot of underserved Arkansans in rural areas of the state and I wanted to be able to reach them as well.
So I really wanted to have a practice where I could serve my clients better, I could reach them from wherever I was, but also reach them from wherever they were and meet them where they were at and that’s kind of how I came about.
Sharon D. Nelson: I think a lot of people when they think about, well should I start a virtual law firm, they’re concerned about the benefits and risks and which ways out, it’s hard for them to figure it all out and see what’s most advantageous.
So could you talk to us a little bit about the benefits and risks?
Brooke Moore: Sure, well obviously I am partial and believe that there are way more benefits than risks, but as far as things that are beneficial, if you have a virtual law practice, you can significantly reduce your overhead, which is especially appealing to solo and small firm attorneys and especially, if you’re a newer attorney.
It’s also very flexible like I mentioned, it gives me a lot of flexibility to be able to be a mom, to be a military spouse, to do things I enjoy and also serve clients in a meaningful way. You get accessibility with virtual law firm, not only accessibility for your clients to be able to reach you, but it’s accessible for you, you can take it on your mobile device, if you’re on vacation, traveling doing other thing. You don’t have to be tied to a physical location. It’s very efficient.
Having a virtual law practice really hit some pain points for me that I had in traditional practice, because I felt very inefficient as a solo practitioner prior to practicing law this way, because I didn’t have time to set up some of the systems and processes the way I was practicing and I didn’t make it a priority.
And so, I didn’t have technology assisting me and being virtual, that’s a key component. So I’m able to be very efficient with my time and with my client’s time and systems and processes.
Also it’s really approachable. Attorneys are scary if we don’t know that, clients don’t necessarily always like going to a big fancy scary office, and sometimes, it’s not real convenient for them.
So being online they are able to more easily approach you, and in my opinion, it also decreases liability and some people balk at that, but what I mean by that is, it reduces human error because again it goes back to the technology and the automation and the way you set up your virtual law practice. We spend time using template documents and reentering information into that same document over and over again, but if you use technology and create a virtual practice then you actually are going to reduce some of those human errors that you may make by using that technology.
Some of the risk though since you asked and I need to throw that out there also. Privacy is one. If you’re working from home or in some kind of shared space at a coffee shop whatever, you still have to make sure that you’re following all of the rules out there on securing that information. So if you’re in a coffee shop you don’t want to be on public Wi-Fi, if you are at home, you don’t want to be working on a shared computer. So that’s one risk.
Another risk is the security of your technology. You just really need to make sure that you read and understand the technology that you’re using, read all the privacy components, the functionality, and also typically what I say is if it’s HIPAA compliant, it’s probably going to pass the test.
So that’s kind of one rule I go by when we start looking at new technology, but also tech competency. So make sure you’re taking the time to learn your tech and be careful with unauthorized practice of law, because when you go virtual, sometimes you will have people reaching out from other places, so you need to make sure you have a way to screen that and you need to also make sure that if you are offering services somewhere else that you’re paying attention to the pertinent rules and regulations in place there.
Jim Calloway: Brooke you and I’ve discussed your business model many times, sometimes one-on-one and sometimes in front of audiences of lawyers, but could you explain to our listeners just how your virtual law firm model works?
Brooke Moore: Right. I’ll just kind of give a brief overview of what we do. So we primarily serve family, estate and business law clients, individuals and self-represented litigants and the way that works is that we have an initial consultation upfront, that is a 30-minute phone call and there are two ways for clients to access us and get on our calendar.
They can either go to our website and sign up on our cloud-based calendar system there, or they can actually call our answering service 24/7, 365 and be able to get on with the person and get scheduled on our calendar.
And from there, we make our phone call, during that call, it’s a 30-minute call and during that call, we spend that time evaluating their competency with technology, their ability to actually do the things we need them to do, because we are a limited scope representation, really explaining how the virtual relationship works.
And then once they decide to move forward, we put them into our law practice management systems’ client portal. That is where we communicate unless there’s some kind of emergency situation for the remainder of our relationship. So we share documents there, we send invoices there, we send things for signature there. We do all of our communication back and forth.
So everything is within the Practice Management Client Portal.
Jim Calloway: Before you move on to our next segment, let’s take a quick commercial break.
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Sharon D. Nelson: Welcome back to The Digital Edge on the Legal Talk Network. Today our subject is ‘Building a Cutting Edge Virtual Law Firm’, and our guest is Brooke Moore, the Founder of MyVirtual.Lawyer, an online law firm model providing flat fee and subscription-based limited scope services and Co-Founder of MyVirtual.Lawyer for Attorneys, which partners with attorneys and other jurisdictions under the MVL Brand to assist in integrating limited scope virtual components into their law practices.
I think Brooke that folks would be particularly interested to know about the technology that you use to run your practice if you could share that with us.
Brooke Moore: Sure. So one of the primary things that we use that I believe is key to a virtual law practice is our law practice management system, which that’s key to the functionality of most law firms, but specifically, we look for practice management systems that integrate a client portal.
And the client portal is the secret sauce to a virtual law firm in my opinion, because again a virtual law practice is the client experience in the way you interact with the client. We also use a cloud-based calendaring system, so that we’re able to put that on our website for clients to sign up at their convenience and they can also call and our answering service has that, and they’re able to actually go on and place people on our calendars.
Internally, so we use a lot of things. So internally, we have a messaging platform that is secure and encrypted to the individual and device and we are able to communicate with each other within the team, with attorneys and anyone else that we’re working with inside that basically instant messaging app.
We had the functionality to share documents, messages and also video communications within our internal app. We also have a community that we’ve built on a platform where we can bring all of our attorneys together to work, to communicate and to collaborate.
We use merchant services provider to process all of our payments. So people can pay with their bank accounts, they can pay with their credit card just as long as it’s the functionality to pay online and inside of our practice management, we have a document management system that’s integrated.
And then externally for clients which they rarely want to do this, but they do ask sometimes to have video chats and when they do we have an external video chat platform that we use and for our external calls that we make, we just use a cloud-based telephone system.
We have a dashboard that keeps track of key performance indicators and other important data that we’re tracking for the firm and we also use e-signature platform for all of our signatures, which is primarily going to be on the intake. And we use an e-signature platform to generate and gather signatures from our clients.
Sharon D. Nelson: Which platform do you use?
Brooke Moore: We use DocuSign.
Sharon D. Nelson: DocuSign, okay. A lot of people would be asking that question so I figured I’d ask for them.
Brooke Moore: Right.
Jim Calloway: Brooke, you sort of gave us a laundry list of various technology tools. What would you say that it was the most important technology for someone to invest in for a virtual law firm?
Brooke Moore: Absolutely the Client Portal, because with the portal, you’re able to have that connection to your client. You can keep all of your communications and documents in one place. You can be more transparent but also within the portal, you have the functionality to do other things like gather information.
You can also invoice your clients or set them up on payments and so that functionality is extremely important to be able to foster the virtual relationship.
Sharon D. Nelson: What ethical rules Brooke should you pay attention to if you’re considering starting a virtual law firm? Is it really the practicing in some other jurisdiction where you’re not supposed to be? Is that really the unauthorized practice of law the big thing?
Brooke Moore: I mean I would say that is a big thing but probably the most important ethical rule to pay attention to when you are considering a virtual law practice is the bona fide office requirement. That looks different in different states, so here in Arkansas, we do not have a bona fide office requirement.
What I mean by bona fide office is going to vary from jurisdiction to jurisdiction but essentially it is a level of physical presence in the state. So some places are going to require you to actually have a brick-and-mortar, some places are going to have you have an actual brick-and-mortar where you are physically present two to three days.
Some people can do an office share, some people can just do a PO Box, so it’s really going to vary from state to state. Also again, ethical rules on security competency for yourself or your client and advertising rules, you do have to pay close attention to advertising rules when you’re advertising from your website or virtually just as anyone else does but you just have to make sure that you clarify for instance if you have attorneys practicing in more than one state, you need to clarify where that attorney is licensed so it does not look false or misleading.
Jim Calloway: Brooke, as you know, I’ve been spending the last couple of years talking to lawyers in Oklahoma about delivering limited scope of services. And so I just like to note that it’s not just important to follow the ethical rules, but to have sufficient record-keeping so you can demonstrate that you followed the ethical rules.
Brooke Moore: Absolutely.
Jim Calloway: So a lot of lawyers use outsourcing especially in small firms now for various roles. What role does outsourcing play in virtual law firms in your opinion?
Brooke Moore: The biggest thing that we outsource is our reception services, because they can screen out calls, they can put people on our calendar and they’re always there to answer the phone which frees us up to actually do the legal work. So it makes things run a little bit more efficiently.
That’s the primary place that we outsource, but there are a lot of ways that people can outsource, there are services that provide paralegal assistants, virtual assistants and virtual assistants can mean actually drafting and things that overlap with paralegals. That can also mean doing things like organizing your email inbox.
So anywhere that you have a pain point where you don’t have enough time, you can outsource, you can outsource marketing, you can outsource web design, just different things like that.
Jim Calloway: Sounds good. Before we move on to our next segment, let’s take a quick commercial break.
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Sharon D. Nelson: Welcome back to The Digital Edge on the Legal Talk Network. Today our subject is ‘Building a Cutting Edge Virtual Law Firm’ and our guest is Brooke Moore, the Founder of MyVirtual.Lawyer, an online law firm model providing flat fee and subscription based limited scope services.
Brooke, I have always wondered what practice areas are most conducive to a virtual law firm?
Brooke Moore: Yeah I get asked that question a lot. I think almost all practice areas can at least at a minimum have a virtual component. There are a lot of things that you can do remotely and interact with your client remotely. It is very conducive for limited scope representation services or things that are transactional, for sure. Transactional areas of law tend to work better for virtual law firm.
But pretty much any practice area can be adapted to at least have a virtual component.
Jim Calloway: Brooke now that you have talk to many lawyers for many different jurisdictions about this concept. What would say are the most common lawyer concerns about the opening a virtual law firm?
Brooke Moore: A lot of attorney cannot let go the idea that clients want to see you face-to-face and that may be true in certain situations with certain clientele. But generally speaking, clients are comfortable communicating with you remotely because it is convenient for them. So that is one I guess myth that I hear often is that there will be client pushback and in the five years that I’ve been doing this, I have never had a client pushback because they had to talk to me on the phone as opposed to seeing my face.
So that is one of the most frequently expressed concerns that I’ve come across. Another is again security of technology. Some attorneys don’t necessarily trust technology or understand it and how it is important and plays a role in their practice. And so, the security again if you go through and read security provisions, and policies, and place for some of these vendors, talk to them one-on-one, they can answer questions, talk to them about how you practice, you’ll be able to get some good insight into the security of your technology, also accessibility for clients.
A lot of attorneys especially in rural America say, well my clients don’t have access to Internet. Being virtual, you bring legal help to them but yes, there are still individuals who — whether it’s because of limited means or just geographical location may have more difficulty reaching you virtually. There are a lot of people out there who can’t necessarily afford a computer or Internet but they have a mobile device.
So it’s very important you make your virtual law firm mobile friendly. But there are also resources like public libraries that they can go to, to be able to interact with you. And so, you just have to be a resource and provide them resources for those types of things when that comes up.
And the other problem that I hear people have concerns with is adaptation and implementation of the systems and processes to create a virtual law practice, and this is more people that are in small or maybe even mid-sized law firms, they feel like their attorneys or their staff maybe resistant to this implementation and change. And to that, I just say lead by example, you learn it well, and you teach it to them, and you set that in place and then they will follow.
Sharon D. Nelson: Well, this has been a most instructive podcast to be sure and you really explained this stuff very well, very clearly. It’s so easy to understand and I know we haven’t always had that experience. So thank you for bringing — Jim is laughing but it’s true, so thank you for bringing such clarity and expertise to a subject that many find difficult to understand because I really think anybody listening now knows what a virtual law firm is and whether it might be something they want to explore. It was great to have you with us.
Brooke Moore: Well I appreciate that. Thank you. It was great to be here.
Sharon D. Nelson: And that does it for this edition of The Digital Edge: Lawyers and Technology. Remember, you can subscribe to all of the editions of this podcast at legaltalknetwork.com or on Apple Podcasts. And if you enjoyed our podcast, please rate us on Apple Podcasts.
Jim Calloway: Thanks for joining us. Goodbye Ms. Sharon.
Sharon D. Nelson: Happy trails, cowboy.
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