[Note: Another in the series of posts republishing many of my articles on my blog. This article has probably generated a greater ratio of private discussion to public discussion than any other of my articles. I wrote this at the end of 2003, a period when I felt that what I was writing was not finding an audience, only to find later that several of the articles I wrote then have become quite influential. The article, by design, raises more questions than answers. I would note that blogging has brought the issues raised in the article into higher focus, but the changes in the legal ethics in the past few years have created a landscape that is more hostile to the idea of "virtual law firms." I've noticed lately that people are talking these days about approaches that are somewhat different than "virtual law firms." Will virtual law firms and other forms of collaboration be topics for discussion at BlawgThink 2005? Yes, they will. If that's the type of thing you want to be talking about, let me know and let's get you registered for BlawgThink.]
A Vision for Virtual Law Firms – Questions You Should Be Asking
I’ve had a couple of interesting conversations lately about where we are on “virtual law firms.” To me, virtual law firm simply means an affiliated group of lawyers connected by technology rather than co-existing in common physical locations.
What struck me as odd in these conversations was how applicable the arguments I set out in 1998 as part of a draft of an ill-fated book project (the publisher went out of business – I have thought about resurrecting the project from the existing draft).
Several years later, the environment is more conducive to virtual law firms, yet you tend to hear much less about the idea. New efforts and ideas, however, are still bubbling.
Consider the recent rebirth in interest in the DuPont Legal Model. One of the key reasons this ambitious plan for lawyer-client collaboration has now started to work is the increase in sheer horsepower. With broadband, today’s chips and storage and workable software platforms, the tools actually exist to accomplish things that were barely workable just a few years back.
Here are a few thought questions about virtual law firms:
1. What happens when you find that the mentors, experts and authorities you grow to rely on are not the people down the hall, in your offices, or even in your geographic area? With email lists [and blogs], this phenomenon is increasingly common.
2. Do you best serve your clients by referring work to your partners when you have professional contacts clearly able to do a better job for your clients?
3. One of my favorite businesses is The Teaching Company, which offers audio and video of great teachers on a variety of college-level subjects. If we are going to learn something new, why not learn it from the best teachers, no matter where they are located. Isn’t it a small jump to say why not use the Internet to find the best individual lawyers for your project rather than sticking with whatever lawyers get assigned by your law firm to your project?
4. Tom Peters talks about the “Hollywood model,” in which a variety of skilled contractors are pulled together on a project basis because they are the best choices for the project. Once the project is completed, some may work together on another project, or they may split up and then later work together in one combination or another. If you consider this Hollywood model to be a more appropriate model for the future of professionals than the industrial model of most law firms, doesn’t it make this approach desirable for lawyers? Again, how likely is it that we can find these teams in today’s law firms? Let’s face it, if we had a complex legal problem, we would want to assemble the best team and would not want to be limited to other choices in a single firm.
5. The great thing about a law firm is having great partners who you enjoying being around and practicing with. How often are you finding that your most interesting conversations are with people online?
6. Location, location, location is the mantra in real estate. Most of us hate commuting, especially going in to the office on weekends or in bad weather. Prime office locations are expensive. How often do our clients come to our offices? Is physical local or even proximity all that important anymore?
7. Talk to any lawyer who is truly enthused about the application of technology to the practice of law who is in any firm and I guarantee that it will not take you long to uncover a good amount of frustration with the firm’s technology tools, practices and procedures. After all these years, you have to wonder: is client-driven, cutting-edge, cool and attorney-centered technology ever going to happen in today’s law firms? Will it take a different model?
8. Do current rules on licensure and multijurisdictional practice that are overwhelmingly tied to physical location make much sense in today’s world?
9. To the software vendors and others in technology, why not help put together the showcases of your technology in the context of virtual firms and help facilitate them as an alternative to pounding on the same closed doors year after year?
10. If not you, then who? If not now, when?
Discussion of virtual law firms and related topics always interests me. Let me know what is going on out there and what ideas and approaches are working.
[Originally published on DennisKennedy.Blog (http://www.denniskennedy.com/blog/)]
This post brought to you by LexThink(TM) – The Conference, Re-imagined. LexThink! – Think big thoughts, do cool things, change the world. November 11 & 12 – LexThink’s BlawgThink 2005.