Saturday, March 3, 2007

Virtual Lawyer vs. Virtual Law Practice

Yesterday, I helped a lawyer in a mid-sized firm by sharing some information about how to perfect a security interest in a patent. She expressed her appreciation and asked how she could help me. I said, "read my blog called The Virtual Lawyer". Her response was "Oh, I have a friend who turned down a partnership at a big firm to start a virtual law practice with a few others and they have no office. I'll tell her about your blog."

I wanted to say, "Wait! The Virtual Lawyer is not just for lawyers without an office. It's for you too!" But I didn't say that because I didn't realize it before. The Virtual Lawyer is not just for solo practitioners and virtual law practices. It's for all lawyers that want to evolve their practice virtually.

On Tuesday, I made a first attempt at defining "virtual lawyer". Upon reflection, that initial definition seemed to confuse the notion of a virtual law practice with a virtual lawyer. It makes more sense to separate them, as follows:

A "virtual lawyer" is a professional authorized to practice law, who works with people all geographically dispersed, and whose law practice is carried on by means of a computer or computer network.

A "virtual law practice" consists of one or more professionals authorized to practice law, whose law practice is carried on by means of a computer or computer network, without a physical office space.

These definitions suggest that there is a difference between a "virtual lawyer" and a "virtual law practice." The virtual lawyer may or may not have a physical office. The virtual law practice has no physical office.

The concept here is that as the legal profession evolves, most lawyers will work virtually by means of a computer or computer network even if they are sitting in the office next to you. I don't mean to dehumanize the profession or offend anyone. Virtual lawyers will continue to work with people, but their primary means of communication and delivery of work product will be by email, telephone and computer networks. This is quite different from traditional lawyers whose primary means of communication was meeting in person and whose primary means of delivery of work product was on paper.

Most of us are working "virtually" already, but we still think about the law practice in physical terms. We try to make the virtual practice fit into the traditional law practice. The next generation of lawyers is going to think virtually first. They are going to think about how to take the traditional law practice and fit it into the virtual world. This is what will open people's mind to a new and improved profession.

The purpose of The Virtual Lawyer blog is to help lawyers think about how to change and develop their lawyering skills for an increasingly virtual world. This is for all lawyers, not just solos and office-less lawyers.

What are you doing to adapt your legal skills for a virtual world? How will it affect your practice?

2 comments:

D. Todd Smith said...

Oh, is that what you meant by "virtual"? I was thinking "virtuous." I clearly have the wrong site!

In all seriousness, the clarification is useful. I think both "virtual lawyers" and lawyers who work virtually will benefit greatly from your blog.

Chris said...

I just wrote a post that takes your idea and extends it a little bit further. Check it out and tell me what you think.
http://christopherjohnston.blogspot.com/2007/03/my-law-technology-startup.html