Armed with a computer and a credit card or PayPal account, you can shop for just about anything online – but legal services? Yes, indeed! Using new online technologies, lawyers can attract and service clients, opening up new channels of customers that would never be able to find them otherwise. Now, legal consumers can shop online for lawyers from the comfort of their own home or office.
Virtual Meetings are Preferred by Many Clients As virtualization continually becomes more commonplace and less scary, it’s more common than ever for people to interact online and forego the in-person element, either at first, or altogether. Giving clients the ability to interface with lawyers online is not taking a short-cut or being avoidant or antisocial – it is actually providing what today’s clients actually want from lawyers: convenience, quality legal advice and efficiency.
Lawyer Susan Cartier Liebel, who is founder and CEO of Solo Practice University, explains, “Clients today don’t necessarily have time or inclination to get in the car to drive to a lawyer’s office if there is a more efficient way to consult with a lawyer or sign off on documents. Therefore, the best strategy for lawyers is to leverage technology to service clients remotely as well as in person – not only as an add-on, but as a foundational part of their law practice.”
Cartier Liebel suggests that in order to establish and develop the attorney/client relationship, lawyers need to make the process as easy as possible for clients, being present online where they are, developing client portals for sharing documents and permitting digital signing. Some law firms provide their clients with iPads to make sure their clients can work with them. She cites a state-of-the-art example of a law firm that was completely digital and social from Day One – the lawyers did all
bank transactions and deposits on smartphones, incorporated social media elements into their website, and integrated all the technology required from the ground up which has set them up very favorably to service their clients on their terms and ultimately be profitable as well.
She projects, “Law practices will be more and more totally in the cloud in the future, not bound by brick and mortar facilities, at least not for many practice areas. Even doctors are doing ‘health calls’ via Skype now. Clients expect efficiency from their lawyers, which translates into both time and dollar savings to the client and that’s what lawyers must provide if they are to remain competitive.”
The LawZam Revolution – Creating a Nationwide Lawyer District Enter LawZam, a much-heralded new online social networking platform that allows lawyers and clients to conduct free videoconferences for initial consultations and beyond. Los Angeles lawyer and LawZam co-founder Claudio Dunkelman has described LawZam as “speed-dating for the legal world” and the concept has really caught on.
Dunkelman explains that he and co-founder Brendan Ludwick, also a practicing attorney, aim to create a “Lawyer District” where consumers can shop online for legal assistance. People seeking lawyer consultations can visit LawZam’s “digital storefronts” and see which lawyer they would like to talk to, with no commitment or travel time. Once the prospective customer requests a connection, lawyers receive a “push” on their cell phone or PC notifying them of the request. If they are available at the time, they can do the videoconference right then and there, or they can set up an appointment for later.
Dunkelman and Ludwick were roommates at Berkeley and launched LawZam to help lawyers connect with clients. They do not make any money off the site, regardless of how many leads and clients the lawyers gain from using it. So much for greedy lawyer stereotypes – LawZam is basically a pro bono undertaking at this point. Ludwick says that “LawZam may eventually introduce premium services to give opportunities more options to promote themselves on the site, but the site will always be 100% free to the client consumers.”
In his LawSites post on June 28th, Ambrogi wrote, “I tend to be skeptical about lawyer-client matching sites. Some are misleading and some are outright rip-offs. [LawZam], however, strikes me as a good idea. Brief initial consultations via videoconference make sense for consumers and for lawyers. Consumers are able to screen potential lawyers in a more informed way. Lawyers avoid often-unproductive and lengthy office visits and get to see the potential client face to face.”
In the next few months, LawZam will launch a mobile app which will allow people to video-chat directly from their tablet, phone or mobile device. LawZam requires a high-speed internet connection, a webcam if you want video (audio-only works, too) and it can be accessed from a PC or a Mac. iOS support is planned for late 2012/early 2013.
Big Data Fuels the Convergence of Social Media and Legal Software Examples like the pure virtual firm Carter Liebel mentioned and LawZam’s portal beg the question, “What does this all mean for the legal software industry?” I asked attorney Stephanie Kimbro, who is author of two books – one on virtual law practice and the other on the unbundling of legal services. Kimbro’s firm, Burton Law, is a virtual law firm that uses Clio for practice management, Box.net, Yammer (for firm culture), Total Attorneys (client portal) and works with a virtual assistant company, Interactive Assistants.
Kimbro explains, “Social media and legal software will converge, but I don’t think it’s going to be necessarily about using Twitter to communicate with your client online. I think [the internet] is still going to be used as a lead-generation tool. However, with the use of big data, there is the potential for law firms or non-lawyer legal service companies to access the collected data of a social media site or application and use that data to determine whether there is a potential legal need. When that need exists, the consumer is “pushed” a message that sends them to a network or directory of lawyers who handle whatever the particular trigger issue is. I see use of big data in identifying legal needs as something that will combine the ‘social’ aspect of online with the practical delivery of legal services.”
Lawyers Need to Change Their Thinking Donna Seyle, a lawyer and founder of Law Practice Strategy, a legal resource, information and service center addressing the intersection of law and technology, says there needs to be an attitude adjustment among lawyers who are still married to the bricks and mortar mentality. Until that happens, these folks will miss out on the online legal marketplace and all the business they could be in the running for, which is to their own detriment.
Seyle says, “There are still many lawyers, maybe even a majority, who believe that unless you are a face-to-face, hand-holding lawyer, you are not creating the kind of relationship necessary to do your job. This may be true in certain areas of law, where the ability to understand and communicate with your client requires an in-person experience. But technology has changed our culture’s understanding of relationship, particularly in a commercial or professional setting. Our methods of communication have evolved to where we are comfortable obtaining professional services via technology, and the convenience and efficiency of the process makes it all the more desirable for clients.”
Check Out the Lawyer District As Seyle says, the online lawyer district is not for everyone – there will never be a substitute for actual in-person meetings if clients want to see that awesome conference room or look deep into the lawyer’s eyes to make that the trust and connection is there. However, for many legal consumers, tools like LawZam are a great way to see if they have good chemistry with a lawyer before anyone drives, flies, rides or walks anywhere. The price of gas alone can be a motivator here, so what are you waiting for? Go shopping!