November / December 2003  Volume 29, Issue 8
ABA Law Pracice Management Magazine, November/December 2003 Issue
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Big Idea: Legal Services Online, Big-Time
Merrilyn Astin Tarlton
For a number of years, these pages have covered the buzz about a future that would unavoidably have lawyers providing legal services directly over the Internet. Many scoffed in disbelief. Others embraced the idea, but couldn’t quite get their minds around how it might work. In the background, a small number of others have gone about the business of making the eventuality a reality—setting up shop online to sell, deliver and receive payment for legal services in the virtual world.

Ron Friedman has made it his mission to catalogue the Web sites of such firms on his Prism Legal Technology site, www.prismlegal.com. He currently lists 40 law firms or legal departments—and the number keeps growing.

Going beyond. One of my favorites is Mallesons Stephen Jaques, www.mallesons.com. This 10-office Australian firm, with offices in Hong Kong, Beijing and London as well, assists major corporations and financial institutions with complex legal work in the Asia-Pacific region. With that type and scope of market, the firm has chosen to proactively use the Web to respond to the drive for efficiency by in-house legal departments, the leveraging of technology to reduce transaction costs and the commoditization of some professional services. Go to the firm’s home page and click on “Online Products” to see how they do it—by “developing numerous products that enable delivery to clients of online services that include document repositories, client instruction, document drafting and assembly, legal analysis and guidance, risk management and training.”

Wow. The firm’s brand line is “Going Beyond”—it appears the firm members take the meaning seriously.

Mallesons clearly approaches online legal services with unbounded energy and enthusiasm, listing a range of separate products and services on its site, including these:

  • Virtual dealrooms
  • Virtual datarooms
  • Interactive documents
  • ClientNet, for client extranets
  • OfferDocs, for prospectus drafting
  • PrivacyOnline, for privacy compliance
  • TutorWorks, for compliance training
  • Promotions Online, a lotteries law guide

Endlessly out there. Masons, www.masons.com, with offices in the U.K., Dublin, Brussels, Madrid, China, Hong Kong and Singapore, also offers an impressive slate of online services. Go to the firm’s dedicated Web site at www.out-law.com to find out about its “IT and e-commerce legal advice and support” offerings. From the home page, you can subscribe to receive free legal news by e-mail, download any of 28 guides addressing specific legal questions, get a free online initial consultation with a specialist lawyer, trademark your brands, create a contract for extranet services, join in a series of seminars on the use of Web sites … the list seems endless. One difference between this site and Mallesons’ online offerings is that you must be a registered user to benefit from Masons’ resources. Registering, though, is a simple matter of providing the firm with personal contact data and demographic information, expressing interest in a precise issue that will allow consent marketing at a later date. Pretty savvy.

Unbounded homegrowns, too. Lest you think this is merely a movement among international firms, let’s take a look at a firm that grew out of St. Louis, Missouri. Go to www.bryancave.com, and click on the “eCave: Technology at Bryan Cave” tab. The firm’s Web-based TradeZone tool offers legal advice and opinions on international trade transactions. Its NoZone for Supervisors and NoZone for Employees are customizable online learning resources for employers seeking to avoid harassment issues.

Employment practices seem to adapt comfortably to online delivery. Ten-office Seyfarth Shaw has created the Seyfarth Shaw at Work program, www.seyfarthshawatwork.com, to provide training and consulting to clients and others on workplace issues. According to the site, e-learning options like these are provided via the Internet:

  • “WorkRight Training LLC: Flexible, customized and extremely effective, WorkRight’s attorney-led training will change attitudes, promote understanding and build the culture your business needs to succeed.”
  • “WorkSharp Technologies, Inc.: Focusing on the same issues as WorkRight, WorkSharp’s e-Learning approach delivers advanced, interactive, expert workplace training directly to the desks and laptops of your managers and employees—anywhere, any time.”

And then there’s Keller & Heckman, an interesting Washington, D.C.-based multidisciplinary practice consisting of lawyers, scientists and engineers who “help companies bring new packaging materials to market for foods, pharmaceuticals, cosmetics, and other products on a global scale.” The firm’s www.packaginglaw.com provides feature articles, e-mail notifications and Q&A pages specifically for the packaging industry. A user can also submit a legal question for consideration by a member of the firm’s packaging practice group, while they cautiously advise that it is merely a forum for general discussion. (“We would like to hear from you, but we cannot represent you until we establish an attorney/client relationship through our usual client intake process.”)

Another well-known representative of a niche practice making the most of the Web is Siskind Susser, www.visalaw.com. The firm has 16 lawyers spread across the globe in 10 different offices, handling all aspects of American, Canadian and Mexican immigration and nationality law for individuals and corporations. (It makes one wonder, how could a firm like Siskind Susser function without the Internet?) Gregory Siskind, a pioneer in Internet use for law firms, provides an immigration law newsletter via electronic mailing list and uses Web-based voice and videoconferencing software to serve clients. The firm’s site invites visitors to request a consultation online, chat, subscribe to immigration bulletins, sign up for the Green Card Lottery and check out numerous other services.

Panoramic prospects. So what does all this mean? It means that law firms are well into experimenting with the ability to package their services and deliver them unbound by geography. Online delivery is opening new markets and reviving existing ones. It is providing leverage against tough competition. It is growing the storehouse of potential clients for in-person delivery of services. Isn’t it time you thought about what all this means in your firm?


Merrilyn Astin Tarlton is Editor-in-Chief of Law Practice Management and a full-time management, strategy and leadership consultant to law firms.