General Practice, Solo & Small Firm DivisionMagazine

How Lawyers Are Leveraging the Internet

Will Hornsby, a member of the task force and staff counsel to the ABA Division of Legal Services Commission on Advertising, has made the following list to illustrate how lawyers are using the Internet today to reach consumers, including examples of how some lawyers are reengineering their practices for the digital age.

Automated client intake. Some aspects of intake can be automated for some practices www.hornsby-littman.com/piquest.html.

Online advice. This could be a stand-alone information/advice service, from which the lawyer charges for any legal advice; www.rapidlaw.com is an example. Or it may be advice that’s given as a feeder to enable the firm to generate clients, as at no-error www.wedolaw.com. Some of these methodologies are almost certain to raise ethical issues in several state jurisdictions.

Client libraries. Lawyers spend considerable time explaining fundamentals of both substance and procedure in some practice areas, for example, in divorces and bankruptcies. Websites for corporate clients frequently contain a good deal of information for potential clients in sophisticated areas, but it is uncommon for personal service law firms to post or even link to fundamental information. One example of a large firm’s client library, which it denotes as a resource center, is www.perkinscoie.com/resource/ecomm/ecomm.htm. For nonprofit information resources adaptable to this model, go to www.neighborhoodlaw.org/legal_information.htm.

Online form preparation. The Internet is a natural for online form preparation. Some lawyers may find it valuable to keep this as a back-office function, but many will recognize the convenience of having clients involved in the preparation of their own forms, or in having forms ready to sign before the client leaves the office. Like the function of online advice, online form preparation may be a stand-alone service for which the lawyer charges, or it may be an aspect of the practice of law.

A sampling of some online form preparation services now available include:

  • www.alllaw.com/forms
  • www.expertease.com
  • www.nolo.com
  • www.netlawtoos.com
  • www.quickforms.net
  • www.2invent.com
  • www.taxware.com
  • http://cs.anu.edu.au/software/shyster
  • www.cyberstation.net/paralegal/divorce.htm
  • www.legaldocs.com
  • www.easylegalforms.com

Distance lawyering. In a notion closely related to online form preparation, distance lawyering allows lawyers to serve clients from afar without having to meet. Like all of these methods, it is not suitable for every law practice. However, where geographic constraints are obstacles, this has a potential of expanding access considerably. Examples include www.startcorp.com and www.willworks.com.

Electronic court filing and interfacing. Main Street lawyers will be able to save substantial time when they can file cases and access status from their desktops. Some jurisdictions are advancing electronic filing and interfacing.

Case status extranets. This is another idea borrowed from law firms that provide corporate legal services. Personal services lawyers can spend an enormous amount of time doing nothing more than telling their clients that nothing is new. If a lawyer can set up extranets, much like investment accounts that identify transactions for specific individual accounts, clients with Internet access could track the developments of their cases 24/7, without taking the time of the lawyer.

Case updating would be an administrative function and could also serve as a verified notification system of client obligations such as discovery deadlines and hearing dates. The lawyer would post the information and the client would confirm receipt. Some extranets can be "leased," making them affordable for small firms.

Periodic preventive law e-mail. Preventive law has never gotten a good foothold at the personal legal services level, yet I think there is a great opportunity here for lawyers to enhance their marketing in a cost-effective way. I have not seen this done, but my idea is for lawyers to e-mail periodic checklists of potential legal issues to former clients. If the Tech2000 Task Force could assemble basic preventive law checklists, they could be a quick, front-end mechanism to be used by lawyers and clients with e-mail.

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