Every year, the ABA Legal Technology Resource Center (LTRC) publishes TECHREPORT—a collection of easy-to-read breakouts of the annual ABA Legal Technology Survey Report, one of the leading surveys on how attorneys use technology. Practitioners, firms, and legal tech companies alike can use TECHREPORT to get a better grasp on legal technology trends and predictions.
Let’s think about the use of mobile technology in the context of modern client service. We remain in a time where lawyers are trying to find work from any angle they can (especially solo and small firms). Competition is tough because there are companies who exist to help consumers get access to the legal system and this does not always include lawyers. There is a shift where people want to get help for legal services the same way they buy stuff from Amazon: online and at their convenience from a smartphone. This need is being filled by companies like LegalZoom, Avvo, and Rocket Lawyer, among others.
At the same time, we have the next wave of regulators trying to stifle innovation. Recent ethics opinions limit the ability for lawyers to take referrals from companies like Avvo that leverage their marketing power to reach consumers, and then refer such cases to a lawyer in return for a marketing fee (e.g., Ohio and New York). In other words, lawyers who can get referrals from companies that have significantly larger marketing budgets are precluded from doing so because some regulators want to take a self-preservationist approach to how lawyers serve clients.
What does this have to do with virtual law firms? A ton. Lawyers who run modern law firms expect to get cases in modern ways—such as the internet. Oftentimes, referrals from online referral sources such as Avvo are paying less than what a traditional firm would charge. This means that the law firm has to be able to do the work for less. If the law firm has a lower overhead, it is more likely to handle such cases from a financial perspective. The correlation is that modern law firm delivery models result in more revenue to the lawyers and more access to legal services to the public. Regulating against options that achieve both of these goals is harmful to the profession and the public.