Those of us who grew up reading science fiction novels and stories love to compare 21st century reality with the predictions of the past. Sadly, we still don’t have colonies on the moon or flying cars, but smart phones, iPads, voice recognition software and video chat apps were all common features in early science fiction stories, movies and television shows. A few far-seeing authors understood the enormous potential of the Internet in the early days.
Some forecasters predict that brick-and-mortar businesses may be a thing of the past. Once powerful retail chains, like Sears, are closing stores every day, and more and more consumers buy goods online. If we can shop online for goods, why not shop online for professional services? Will there a come a time where you interact with your attorney, accountant or therapist completely online? Probably not for a while, but virtual office technology is allowing smaller law firms to exist almost entirely online, minimizing the necessity for expensive office space.
Using Virtual Technology to Serve Clients Today
Online docket control and case management is not new – most courts throughout the country have been using those systems for years. All federal courts and most state courts are allowing pleadings, depositions and exhibits to be filed online. Using e-signature software like DocuSign, a Monroe car accident lawyer can reach a client anywhere in the world, obtain his or her signature and file the document with a court in North Carolina within days or even hours.
Legal research can be done by anyone, anywhere. A small or medium-sized firm does not need to hire a full- or part-time researcher – competent, experienced freelancers are available through dozens of online recruiting platforms.
Large-scale document review projects can also be done by freelancers working remotely. Many firms are employing AI technology to sort through thousands of documents in a fraction of the time it would take for humans to do it.
Settlement conferences, conferences with expert witnesses and depositions can be accomplished with any one of many video chat systems, including free apps like Skype, FaceTime and Marco Polo. The top-rated Buffalo attorneys at The O’Brien Firm, PC, for example, often represent clients in large tractor trailer accident cases can utilize these apps to make their case load more efficient. The insurance companies and law firms representing the defendants may be located anywhere in the country. Both sides can save money and time by conducting settlement conferences by video, rather than flying attorneys and witnesses all around the country.
Many attorneys use virtual assistants to handle scheduling, answer phones, type correspondence, transcribe minutes of meetings – in short, to do anything an on-site secretary, receptionist or paralegal could do. It is possible to run a virtual firm, renting conference room and office space only when face-to-face meetings are necessary.
It might seem strange at first, but eventually, even initial consultations with clients may be done online. Suppose a vacationer is injured in a car accident while travelling in New York. If he wants to consult an attorney about pursuing a personal injury claim, he will look for a local law firm. If he visits obrienandford.com, or another New York firm, to arrange a consultation, he may feel more comfortable seeing the person who might be representing him. A video consultation would make it possible for that potential client to meet with a lawyer face-to-face, without having to travel from his home back to New York.
Are we going to see the end of the traditional, wood-paneled law offices? Not likely, at least for the foreseeable future. We will see more and more tasks being handled virtually, allowing for greater efficiency, and perhaps giving smaller firms a greater chance to compete.