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January 01, 2022 The TECHSHOW Issue

Virtual Lawyering in a Pandemic and Beyond

A virtual practitioner’s perspective on what has worked and what needs work.

Laura O'Bryan
Virtual interactions are one of the biggest success stories to come out of the pandemic.

Virtual interactions are one of the biggest success stories to come out of the pandemic.

via Prathanchorruangsak / iStock / Getty Images Plus

My law firm has exclusively practiced virtual law since 2015, so we were uniquely prepared for the (hopefully) once-in-a-lifetime chaos that slammed into us in March 2020.  The legal world was forced to adapt, sometimes against its will, to the fact that in-person events were no longer safe. What did that mean? It meant closed courtrooms, empty offices and panic. When lockdowns lasted longer than initially anticipated, it became clear that things had to change to survive. New and existing client interactions had to be approached in a different way. Courts began holding video hearings and trials and relaxed certain rules like allowing more e-notaries instead of requiring in-person verification. Remote work was accepted as a necessary standard. Now that we’re nearing the end of 2021, let’s look at what has worked, what is still a challenge and what we can expect in the future.

Virtual Successes

Virtual interactions are one of the biggest success stories to come out of the pandemic. Even reluctant attorneys were forced to embrace the idea of video consultations and client communications. As it was demonstrated that attorneys could expand their reach and client base, there has been dramatic, long-term adoption. For example, my practice serves clients in the entire state of Arkansas because I practice virtually. I’m not limited to a specific geographical location, nor do I require rural clients to drive to Little Rock to come sit in my fancy office for a face-to-face.

Attorneys who offer clients the opportunity to book a video consultation or meeting, perhaps using their smartphones, will reap the benefits and increased revenue and dramatically increase access to justice for citizens of their jurisdiction. Even traditional litigators have fully embraced virtual court hearings. While in the main part of my practice, I provide pro se assistance litigation, I also do pro bono work with immigrant minor guardianships and absolutely love virtual hearings. The time savings for attorneys and cost savings for clients is significant.

Instead of having to drive to court, park, wait your turn, then have the hearing, you just click on a link to join the video hearing from your computer or phone wherever you happen to be. What would normally be a minimum of a one-hour time commitment for an uncontested hearing has been cut down to 15 minutes or less—and bonus, no high heels needed! Sure, there may be legitimate pushback that is valid for larger cases, but small hearings like uncontested guardianships, adoptions and divorces lend themselves very well to continuing this practice.

It's Not All Roses and Sunshine

Let’s be real. Challenges still exist. Legal professionals, Americans and just human beings in general can be very stubborn. Some attorneys and courts begrudgingly accepted the virtual tools forced on them but loudly proclaimed their desire to go back to traditional ways as quickly as possible. Some went back to the status quo before it was safe to do so.

In the pro se assistance family law cases I handle, clients who are still required to appear at in-person hearings for uncontested divorce cases sometimes must wait months for their seven minutes in front of the judge. Some judges have never allowed for divorce by deposition while others embraced that convenience even before the pandemic. Some attorneys feel the same about holding onto the way things have always been done. I’ve often said that the legal profession is a “walk uphill both ways in the snow” kind of world. The “I did it, so you have to do it” mentality persists. That mindset is difficult to overcome, and certainly there is still a place and a clientele for those traditional practitioners.

However, as more attorneys embrace technology and virtual offerings, and listen to what their clients want—not what they want to force on their clients—the quicker the profession will move into the modern era.

Resistance is Strong, But is it Futile?

Along with that traditional mindset stronghold, some virtual tools that were used as emergency measures last year have already been yanked away. For example, in 2020, notary publics in my jurisdiction were allowed to verify identity signers via video conference as an emergency solution to combat the spread of the virus. That convenience has already been discontinued even though transmission rates are high and are still a significant safety factor. Needless to say, notaries are a required tool in the arsenal of the legal world, for transactional and litigation matters, and we are now struggling to get this service performed.

The Client Experience is Key

Optimistically, attorneys hope that not only will certain virtual and remote tools remain in use, but also that we will be able to grow and expand offerings to increase access to justice for clients and provide significant benefits to attorneys. Personally, as a fully virtual attorney, I can tell you that I’ve never had happier clients. The convenience, communication and transparency we provide using virtual tools like cloud appointment booking, payment and portal make them feel secure. We don’t have communication issues that frustrate or anger our clients because they’re waiting for a response to an email that got buried or a phone call that I don’t have time to return.

The client portal is the client’s direct link to their lawyer; it’s easy for me to respond to my alerts when I have the time to do so. On the back end, the software virtual attorneys use can be a challenge. For example, in my practice we use one tool for customer-facing interactions but have multiple tools running behind the scenes to fuel those interactions. Cynthia Arevalo, The Law Offices of Cynthia J. Arevalo, an MVL Partner Firm, can provide virtual client assistance to her entire state from the convenience of her location in Hollywood, Florida, and would like to see more of a one-stop-shop experience that would integrate practice management with better tools for a more seamless client experience.

I love my client-facing software, but clunky document automation tools and practice management software still need improvement and integration. Looking forward, more client interactions will be via video chat; new software development should keep that in mind. Allison Beckham, A. Beckham Law, an MVL Partner Firm in Texas, sees an electronic calendar system being developed for courts and attorneys or litigants. She reports that so much time is wasted on scheduling that any technology to streamline the process will be gold. As a (mostly) recovering litigator and practitioner who cherishes my client-facing, cloud booking calendar, I wholeheartedly agree with this idea. Of course, there will be situations where a phone call or email will need to be had to secure unique needs, but a majority of scheduling burdens could be taken off the shoulders of trial court assistants and litigation personnel. A great idea that someone could explore.

Looking Forward

Moving forward in a virtual legal world, practitioners really need two main things: an easy-to-use client-facing tool and a background software that ideally organizes and helps to streamline their workflow process including more adept document automation. In the early days of MyVirtual.Lawyer, we had no fewer than six separate software tools for what we considered basic functions to deliver services to our clients. The fact that a few years later, we were able to cut down to just two is a sizeable improvement, so let’s keep going! I don’t know that we need to reinvent the wheel; just make the rims shinier and connect better with the tires.

Like it or not, virtual lawyering is here to stay. I’m thrilled with the movement of more attorneys in the virtual arena because it provides legitimacy and opportunity where we’ve sometimes struggled the last seven years. Let’s hop on board and make the legal world a better, more convenient place for all. 

Laura O’Bryan

Co-Owner & Operations Director

Laura O’Bryan is the co-owner and operations director for MyVirtual. Lawyer and O’Bryan & Moore, the flagship MVL Partner law firm located in Arkansas. laura@

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