By Sheila Blackford ©2009 The eLawyering Taskforce of the ABA Law Practice Management Section has a draft proposed set of guidelines for lawyers establishing virtual offices on the internet: Suggested Minimum Requirements for Law Firms Delivering Legal Services Online. The guidelines should prove useful for lawyers who wish to operate a web-based office, whether the lawyer has a traditional physical office and wants to expand law services state-wide on the web– the ultimate second office– or wants to establish the only office as a web-based office. I say state-wide, because you need to be very clear on the world wide web where you are authorized to practice law. Otherwise, you may find yourself in trouble with another state’s bar disciplinary board for unauthorized practice of law. If you are a member of the Oregon State Bar – only – then you must only serve clients who are Oregon residents or who have a matter within Oregon. Besides the Unauthorized Practice of Law issue, other critical ethical issues such as client confidentiality, the formal establishment of the lawyer/client relations, scope of representation, written fee agreements, advertising, legal fees, direct contact with prospective clients, and conflicts of interest issues needing to be considered are addressed in this draft Suggested Minimum Requirements for Law Firms Delivering Legal Services Online.
What is very important: the structure of the website of the law firm that is offering legal services online should require a secure client web space that is accessible only with a user name and secure password – much like the security of your online banking forum.
This is the new world of lawyering. Lawyers will need to address the best practices for their websites and then some. In 2003, the ABA approved the Best Practice Guidelines for Legal Information Web Site Providers. They are very helpful to review before creating your law firms website or checking to see if your existing website could be improved. A virtual office on the web should be very cautious. Sample disclaimers that make UPL limitations clear are being worked on by the eLawyering Task Force. The PLF provides sample disclaimers for e-mail and websites on the PLF website at www.osbplf.org under Loss Prevention > Practice Aids and Forms > Technology.
Last year, Stephanie Kimbro won the 2009 ABA Law Practice Management Sections James I. Keene Award for Excellence in eLawyering. Read about this Stephanie’s innovative firm that is a mouseclick away on the internet in the Law Practice Magazine article, Innovative Solo E-Practice Receives 2009 Keane Award.
It is important that even early trailblazers are diligent in making sure that their online practice meets best practices for the the delivery of legal services online to clients. The eLawyering Task Force with input from bar leaders across the U.S. and Canada will hopefully have a best practices document that the American Bar Association House of Delegates will adopt in the future. Guidelines so approved will give lawyers confidence that they are addressing essential issues, crossing all t’s and dotting all i’s.
If you are on LinkedIn, there is an ELawyering discussion group that you can join. If you are a member of the ABA, you can sign up to join the eLawyering email discussion list. I am a member of the eLawyering Taskforce and will be happy to forward any comments or input regarding this proposed Suggested Minimum Requirements for Law Firms Delivering Legal Services Online.
Welcome to the new world of lawyering where lawyer deliver legal services directly to clients from secure websites. Will it impact your firm and your clients? Very likely.