I've had a couple of interesting conversations lately
about where we are on "virtual law firms." To
me, virtual law firm simply means an affiliated group
of lawyers connected by technology rather than co-existing
in common physical locations. It struck me as odd how
applicable the arguments I set out in a 1998 article (www.denniskennedy.com/connectedbook.htm)
still are. Five years later, the environment is more conducive
to virtual law firms, yet you tend to hear much less about
the idea. New efforts and ideas, however, are still bubbling.
Consider the rebirth in interest in the DuPont Legal
Model. One of the key reasons this ambitious plan for
lawyer-client collaboration has now started to work
is the increase in sheer horsepower. With broadband,
today's chips, storage, and workable software platforms,
the tools actually exist to accomplish things that were
barely workable just a few years back.
Here are a few thought questions about virtual law
- What happens when you find that the mentors, experts
and authorities you grow to rely on are not the people
down the hall, in your offices, or even in your geographic
area? With e-mail lists, this phenomenon is increasingly
- Do you best serve your clients by referring work
to your partners when you have professional contacts
clearly able to do a better job?
- One of my favorite businesses is The Teaching Company,
which offers audio and video of great teachers on
a variety of college-level subjects. If we are going
to learn something new, why not learn it from the
best teachers, no matter where they are located?.
Isn't it a small jump to say why not use the Internet
to find the best lawyers for your project?
- Tom Peters talks about the "Hollywood model,"
in which a variety of skilled contractors are pulled
together on a project basis because they are the best
choices for the project. Once the project is completed,
some may work together on another project, or they
may split up and then later work together in one combination
or another. If you consider this Hollywood model to
be a more appropriate model for the future of professionals
than the industrial model of most law firms, doesn't
it make this approach desirable for lawyers? Again,
how likely is it that we can find these teams in today's
law firms? Let's face it, if we had a complex legal
problem, we would want to assemble the best team and
would not want to be limited to other choices in a
- The great thing about a law firm is having great
partners you enjoy being around and practicing with.
How often are you finding that your most interesting
conversations are with people online?
- "Location, location, location" is the
mantra in real estate. Most of us hate commuting,
especially going in to the office on weekends or in
bad weather. Prime office locations are expensive.
How often do our clients come to our offices? Is physical
location or even proximity all that important anymore?
- Talk to any lawyer who is truly enthused about
the application of technology to the practice of law
who is in any firm and I guarantee that it will not
take you long to uncover a good amount of frustration
with the firm's technology tools, practices, and procedures.
After all these years, you have to wonder: is client-driven,
cutting-edge, cool, and attorney-centered technology
ever going to happen in today's law firms? Will it
take a different model?
- Do current rules on licensure and multi-jurisdictional
practice that are overwhelmingly tied to physical
location make much sense in today's world?
- To the software vendors and others in technology,
why not help put together the showcases of your technology
in the context of virtual firms and help facilitate
them as an alternative to pounding on the same closed
doors year after year?
- If not you, then who? If not now, when?
Discussion of virtual law firms and related topics
always interests me. Let me know what is going on out
there and what ideas are working.
Dennis Kennedy (firstname.lastname@example.org)
is a computer lawyer and consultant based in St. Louis,
Missouri. He speaks and writes frequently on legal,
technology, and Internet topics and was named the
2001 TechnoLawyer of the Year by TechnoLawyer.com.
His highly-regarded Web site at www.denniskennedy.com
collects many of his articles and is the home of his