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Virtual law firms allow practice on your own terms

Stacked3This week's Daily Record column is entitled "Virtual law firms allow practice on your own terms."  My past Daily Record articles can be accessed here.

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Virtual law firms allow practice on your own terms 

For years now I’ve been an advocate of Web-based computing and have asserted that it will change the practice of law as we know it. I felt so strongly about this that I wrote a book about cloud computing for lawyers that was published in 2012, and shortly thereafter, I was hired by a legal software company that develops Web-based practice management software.

So, of course you could argue that I’m biased. After all, I’ve got skin in the game.

But know that I speak from personal experience. Without the Internet, I’m not sure where I’d be today. Web-based computing has been integral to my career success ever since I returned to the practice of law in 2005 after a brief hiatus from my profession. During that short hiatus, I had my second child and re-grouped in the hopes of finding a career path best suited to my needs and interests.

It was in 2005 that I hung my virtual shingle, created a website, and began doing contract work for other lawyers. I also started my first blog, Sui Generis. The career trajectory that followed — contract attorney, of counsel for a local firm, legal columnist and then journalist, book author, national speaker, and New York-based director for MyCase, a legal technology company located in California — would never have been possible but for the Internet and Web-based computing.

Of course I worked hard, but even with hard work, my career path would have been impossible just a decade before. I was fortunate that my reentry into the legal profession coincided with the wide-scale proliferation of Internet-based technologies like cloud computing and social media. Otherwise, I’d probably still be handling occasional matters for local attorneys and struggling to find my way.

Rest assured, I’m not the only lawyer benefiting from the flexibility, convenience and tremendous possibilities offered by Web-based computing. As part of my job as a legal journalist, I often write about lawyers who use Web-based tools in their law practice. In fact, in just the past month, I’ve interviewed three different lawyers who have successful virtual law practices, which are online law firms that do not have brick and mortar offices. In every case, the choice to hang a virtual shingle rather than open up a physical law office was made because the lawyers sought to practice law on their own terms.

In one case, an attorney chose to open up a virtual practice because he and his wife enjoyed traveling. So they decided to pack up their family and move to Mexico for a while. They now plan to stay there indefinitely, since he was able to establish a busy law practice where he handles transactional matters such as estate planning and small business formation for clients located in the states in which he is licensed.

Another lawyer I spoke to has operated a thriving, full-time virtual law practice for over 6 years. Originally from Texas, she relocated to North Carolina due to her husband’s job and continues to handle estate planning matters for clients located in Texas, the state in which she is licensed. She originally hung a virtual shingle while living in Texas so that she could practice part-time and still have time to care for her children, but as they grew and after the family’s relocation, she gradually transitioned to a full-time practice.

In another case, an attorney told me that his family also relocated because of his wife’s career. Before they had kids they’d decided that one of them would stay at home and since she’s a surgeon, he made the choice to be the stay-at-home-father. But rather than leave the practice of law, he established a part-time virtual law practice handling estate planning matters for his clients.

Like the other attorneys I spoke to, he used a Web-based platform to store and access all of his firm’s files and for client communication purposes. That set up is what makes his virtual practice possible and he’s able to care for his children during the day and perform client work on weeknights and weekends. Eventually he envisions transitioning to a brick and mortar office while still handling some client matters virtually.

So the idea that Web-based computing will change the practice of law is no longer just a pipe dream — it’s reality. Lawyers are using technology to create law practices that allow them to practice law on their terms.So while cloud computing may not be changing every law firm, it’s changing the way that some lawyers practice law. It’s giving them more options, increased flexibility, and greater control — over their practices and their lives.

Nicole Black is a Rochester, New York attorney and Director of Business Development and Community Relations at MyCase, intuitive web-based law practice management software for the modern law firm. She is also a GigaOM Pro Analyst and is the author of the ABA book Cloud Computing for Lawyers, co-authors the ABA book Social Media for Lawyers: the Next Frontier, and co-authors Criminal Law in New York, a West-Thomson treatise. She is the founder of lawtechTalk.com and speaks regularly at conferences regarding the intersection of law and technology. She publishes four legal blogs and can bereachedatniki@mycase.com.