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American Bar Association

"Third Thursday" Teleconference

Ethics and the Virtual Law Office in Pennsylvania
Thursday, January 20, 2011

1:00 p.m. - 2:30 p.m., Eastern 12:00 p.m. - 1:30 p.m., Central
11:00 a.m. - 12:30 p.m., Mountain 10:00 a.m. - 11:30 a.m., Pacific

About the Program
The Pennsylvania (PA) Bar Association Committee on Legal Ethics and Professional Responsibility published its FEO 2010-200 in October 2010. The opinion provides basic guidelines for operating a virtual law office (VLO) in PA and differs greatly from many state bar opinions that still only address e-mail as the primary form of electronic communication.   

The PA opinion addresses:

  • whether an attorney may operate a VLO in the state;
  • using a VLO to work from home or in locations outside PA to serve PA clients online;
  • listing a physical address in ads for the VLO or letterhead and whether using a PO box address will provide adequate contact information;
  • if a geographic location must be given to the client letting them know where the attorney will handle the services or meet with them;
  • firms with multiple attorneys, if it is necessary to disclose all of the cities and states from which those attorneys are performing their services;
  • if the firm or attorney with a VLO can claim that fees are lower than a traditional law office;
  • compliance with the duty of confidentiality to the client; and
  • if the attorney does not meet face-to-face with clients, if there are other steps required to confirm client identity and handle issues such as diminished capacity.

Get answers and analysis on these questions from experts

  • Different structures of virtual law practice and methods of delivering legal services online
  • Establishing the online attorney/client relationship and defining the scope of representation that will be handled online using technology
  • Building an online client base: compliance with rules and regulations for attorney marketing and advertising while using online social media, networking and other online tools to grow your virtual law office
  • Ethics issues, including conducting “due diligence” in researching the software provider, establishing daily best practices for use of the technology

Review specific ABA Model Rules of Professional Conduct that may come into play with a virtual law office, including:

  • Rule 1.18, “Client-Lawyer Relationship: Duties To Prospective Client”
  • Rule 1.6 (a), "Confidentiality of Information"  
  • Rule 5.5, regarding UPL and multijurisdictional law practice.
  • Rule 7.1–7.5, advertising of legal services, updated in 2002 to cover advertising by electronic communication.

Lessons learned and comparison to other states opinions on VLOs, including:

  • New Jersey 2010 joint opinion on the “bona fide office” rule
  • North Carolina 2006 opinion on virtual law offices and the current proposed ethics opinion on cloud computing in practice management
  • California

Protect yourself and avoid a malpractice claim  

  • Best security practices for the operation of a virtual law office
  • Using the technology to avoid malpractice: jurisdiction checks, malpractice checks, conflict of interest checks, digital case and client filing systems, etc.
  • Providing good customer service online

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