In the past year, virtual law offices and cloud-based services have become commonplace in many law firms because they offer attorneys new ways to manage their practice both in the office and on the road, organize documents in a centralized and accessible location, monitor billing and timekeeping and add ways for attorneys to communicate and collaborate with co-counsel and clients.
In addition, these web-based services often offer attractive, efficient and economic solutions to practice management and client communication issues that may come up within the four walls of a traditional brick and mortar office.
While most internet-based services operate on secure systems and offer regular back-ups and encryption for confidential data, it is still important to be aware of malpractices risks that are unique to virtual practices.
Recently, Stephanie Kimbro did a great article on these risks on her Virtual Law Practice blog. Here is a quick overview of the malpractice-related issues that may come up in a virtual law practice:
- Keep in mind that rules and statutes of limitation may vary state-by-state if you plan to accept clients from more than one state via your virtual law office. In addition, it is important to avoid the unauthorized practice of law in states in which you are not admitted to practice.
- Be sure to check for conflicts of interest. VLOTech offers a conflict of interest checking system that rates the relevancy of entries so that attorneys can see which cases have names of parties that are similar to prospective clients.
- Be picky when selecting clients. You may never see your client face-to-face, so it is important to choose carefully and reject or refer-out clients that have matters that may be better suited in a traditional law firm setting.
- Always require a retainer or engagement agreement. Be sure to clearly define the scope of your relationship with the client, what services you will and will not provide, and any risks that might exist. This can be done through a signed agreement or via a click-through button on your law office website.
- Do not go out of your comfort zone. If you do not feel that you can represent the client competently because you are not familiar with a particular area of law or you feel that a traditional firm would better serve their matter, you should refer the client to another law firm or collaborate with another attorney.
In addition to some of the issues that can come up when running a web-based law practice, a virtual law office can also help you avoid malpractice with automatic reminders and thorough client communication mechanisms. Virtual law offices have many benefits that are missing in most physical offices:
- You can set up a calendar or ticker system to remind you of important deadlines and meetings.
- Virtual law offices make collaborating easy since you can authorize multiple users to access a case file from more than one physical location. If you plan to collaborate with an assisting attorney, however, it is important that you acquire consent from your clients.
- A virtual law office can help you communicate better with your clients because you can give them 24/7 access to case files and status updates, and you can set up auto-responders to let clients know when you have read their messages or reviewed their files. In addition, automatic time and date stamps will allow clients to clearly see any progress or changes in the case file. This lets clients know that you are working on their case and this type of transparency can helps build up value and trust in your work.