Virtual Law Firms Offer the Next Big Thing – Online Wills Bundled With Attorney Review

Despite the proliferation of the many opportunities to purchase online legal documents, you should probably think again before buying do-it-yourself wills and the like. After all, legal documents are the most important items you’ll leave behind in the event of your demise. Rather than trust your intuition to handle the many details of a complicated legal document, you may want to take advantage of the numerous benefits of a virtual law firm.

You can buy anything online these days. The Internet offers so many choices, ranging from established, world-wide companies to local, single-owner businesses. In addition to brick-and-mortar stores, every company needs a web presence. Goods of all sorts are sold online, from jewelry to comic books, vintage guitars to designer clothing. After the successful sale of digital downloads for ebooks and music, legal documents were the next logical candidate for online sales.

Famous attorneys attached their names to the first few sites selling legal documents. However, those attorneys were merely representing the company selling the forms. They certainly weren’t there to represent their customers. That means that no matter who was the celebrity spokesperson, you still had to do all the research, enter all the data and take the chances if you didn’t complete the legal forms correctly.

A virtual law firm removes that risk by offering far more than a successful form download and directions. With a virtual law firm, you get valid advice from an attorney licensed in your state – an attorney who can handle all sorts of estate matters like wills, living trusts and powers of attorney. But that’s not all they do. They can also help you prepare living wills, health care proxies and deeds. Their advice is available to their customers for free by email and telephone. They also offer a review of your legal documents for free, adding expertise to the purchase.

Any estate planning is a serious undertaking. While it may be less-expensive to bypass the attorney fees and time spent in appointments, you surely don’t want to trust your will to a novice like yourself, unless your will is going to be as simple as bequeathing everything to one person. If you have a family, you want to be sure your will provides for everyone as you had intended. An attorney can assure your intentions are followed to the letter.

Some firms will even print your forms after you’ve filled them in online. That way, they can check them over for errors or omissions. If you decide you forgot something or want to make a change, most virtual law firms will permit changes and a reprinting of your documents within thirty days from the day of the document’s creation. They use expensive, official-looking paper to give your documents the legal appearance and feel you’d expect.

Like everything, virtual law firms aren’t for everyone. Here are some conditions for which you probably wouldn’t want to use a virtual law firm.

• If your will is likely to be contested.

• If you have substantial wealth.

• If you’re a citizen of a foreign country.

• If you plan to disinherit someone from your will.

• If you own a business that provides substantial income.

• If you want to establish a dedicated fund for a relative with special needs.

• If you are a property owner in a foreign country.

In some of the above instances, there are additional tax issues to consider when planning a will, so it’s best to not use a virtual law firm. In other cases, settling the estate may become complicated – more complicated than an online attorney can handle. But these cases are less common than the estate planning required by most folks, so most people are likely to be able to use an online attorney.

You’d expect that the fee charged for online attorney services is high. It’s not. It’s comparable to the fees charged by non-lawyer websites that offer forms without legal advice.

The obvious advantage to employing a virtual law firm is the same as for any Internet purchase. The convenience results in savings of both time and money – two things everybody can use. Why bother making an appointment and wasting gas and your afternoon by driving into the city to see an attorney? You can enjoy the same advantages of online shopping – 24 hour per day, seven days per week access – by using an online lawyer. You don’t have to miss time at work or sacrifice your weekend.

Of course, if you don’t need any advice or a review of your legal documents, you can simply get the desired legal forms to handle your estate planning on your own. Then, if you find yourself in a bind, you can always ask for assistance or a review of your document. The advice you need is only an email or phone call away.

The virtual law firm is an idea whose time has come. By working online, the attorney fees are lowered but the end-result remains the same – a legally sound document. Online attorneys are regulated by their State Bar. They’re required to follow the same rules as any other attorney in your state. Plus virtual law firms use SSL, the most robust, safest method of transmitting private information online. That guarantees a secure transmission of your personal data.

Unless you have a friendship with your local lawyer, the benefits of using a virtual law firm for your legal needs should be apparent. You can save time and money thanks to the convenience of their 24/7 service. An online attorney can help you make sure your will, power of attorney, deed or living trust is completed properly so it may be executed according to your wishes.

Estate planning is incredibly important. Why take a chance when you can have access to your own virtual law firm? If you’re already planning on buying legal documents online, step up and buy them from a virtual law firm. You’ll get value added to your purchase – the value of the expert advice of an online attorney.

Factors in Setting Law Firm Goals and Objectives

Factors in setting law firm goals and objectives are different from objectives and goals for any commercial or industrial enterprise. This is so because of the difference in the nature of the services rendered by the two. There are certain characteristics of law firms, other than the well-known differences between industrial enterprises and professional organizations, which can be set and defined to come up with a model for the organization. Basically, the process of planning and setting goals involves building a model to serve as the development guide for the firm and determination of the way to achieve the goals and the time it will take. There are a number of characteristics of a model which are the factors that affect setting of goals and objectives in a law firm. Throughout this article, the various factors that affect the setting up of goals and objectives in a law firm will be discussed.

Size

According to many lawyers, size is the status in the legal community, prestigious clients, the ability to handle more interesting as well as complex legal work and stability. In most case, these are accompanied by other characteristics like minimal opportunity for significant participation in management, impersonal atmosphere; need to follow the policies and procedures that are already in place and little direct contact with clients which are not attractive to some lawyers. Generally, lawyers in larger firms earn more as compared to those in smaller firms. This is because the large firms attract the large corporate clientele who pay higher rates. As a result, if the model objective is to be a considerably larger firm than the current firm size, a top notch litigation department should be emphasized.

Ownership

Ownership is one of the factors in setting law firm goals and objectives that should be considered keenly. Maintaining high partners to associates ratio in a law firm is a key factor in increasing the income of the partners. The associates actually are the ones that make profits for the partners and that is why the ratio of partners to associates in large firms is always between a third and two thirds of the lawyers. This ratio is mainly affected by: the turnover of associates, the general growth of the firm and the time required to become a partner. For instance in a firm where the rate of turnover of associates is high, the average time needed for an associate to become a partners is six months, there will be a phenomenal growth rate in order to maintain a low partners to associates ratio.

Type of law and client

The type of client and the type of law are two closely related factors that have to be looked at when setting the goals and objectives of a law firm. The large firms normally serve the professionals, the affluent and the corporate clients. These firms increase expertise in legal areas corresponding to their clients’ needs. On top of the regular law areas which include: tax, general corporate, real estate, probate and litigation, some firms are developing distinct specialties either by industry or by function. Some areas of specialization are: labour law, banking natural resources and health care.

Each of the factors in setting law firm goals and objectives explained above should be considered carefully by the law firms during their planning. Planning should be based on the current strengths and weaknesses of a firm. Other external factors like competition and the local economy should also be considered.

Without Disruptive Innovation, Many IP Law Firms Destined to Meet Same Fate As Buggy Whip Makers

A possible upside to the recent economic downturn is that many previously accepted business models are being revealed as in need of substantial reinvention or even total elimination. The billable hour/leverage law firm model for legal services is one of these increasingly maligned business models, and is now appearing to be in danger of ending up in the dustbin of history. Specifically, even those who benefit handsomely from the billable hour, such as the Cravath firm’s many $800 per hour lawyers, now realize the fundamental irrationality of charging a client for time spent instead of value provided. This alone should signal that change is in the air.

Notwithstanding the growing conversation about the need for alternative client service models, I fear that the majority of IP law firms will either try to ignore the desire for change or will respond by offering only incremental modifications to their existing methods of providing legal services to their clients. As someone with considerable experience dealing with IP lawyers, I believe that, unfortunately, the conservative nature of most IP attorneys means that IP firms will likely lag behind in client service innovations. Thus, I am of the opinion that many prestigious and historically highly profitable IP law firms will in the foreseeable future cease to exist.

I reach this conclusion as a result of various salient experiences. In one of these, several years ago, I approached a managing partner of a well-known IP law firm with suggestions of how to decrease the number of attorney hours expended on client matters. At that time, the firm was beginning to experience considerable push back from clients about the cost of routine legal services. I noted to the managing partner that he could lower the cost non-substantive e.g., administrative client IP matters, by assigning such tasks to lower billing paralegals. His response to this idea: “If paralegals did the work, what would the 1st and 2nd year associates do?”

Of course, the central premise of the managing partner’s response was that in order to keep the gears of the firm’s billable hour/leverage partner model turning smoothly, he needed to keep the young associates busy billing by the hour. The existing paradigm of his law firm required that it keep hiring associates to increase partner leverage and ensure that they efficiently billed clients by the hour, with a significant portion of each associate’s billed time directly going into the partner’s pockets. Left out of this business model was whether the clients’ best interests were properly served by the model that best served the law firm’s partnership.

Clearly, this law firm was not well managed, which might serve as an excuse for the managing partner’s self-serving perspective on client IP legal services. However, my experience as a corporate buyer of IP legal services further revealed that that the billable hour/leverage partner business model was an arrangement that frequently ut the client–which was now me–after the law firm’s interests.

As an in-house counsel spending several $100K’s per year for legal services at a number of respected IP firms, I consistently felt that when I called outside counsel for assistance the first thought that popped into the lawyer’s mind was “So glad she called–I wonder how much work this call is going to lead to?” More often than not, I got the sense that my outside IP lawyers viewed my legal concerns as problems for them to solve on a per hour basis, not as issues that might affect the profits of the company for which I worked. The difference is subtle, but critical: the context of the former is lawyer as a service provider, whereas the latter is lawyer as a business partner.

Against these experiences, I was not surprised at what I heard recently when discussing my feelings about the billable hour/leverage model with a partner friend at one of the top IP specialty law firms in the US. This partner echoed my sentiments about the need for innovation in IP client services. However, she also indicated that most of her firm’s partners do not recognize that there is a problem with the way they currently provide IP legal services to their clients. As she told it, many of her more senior partners have been living well on the billable hour/leverage model, so they currently see little need to modify their behavior. My partner friend nonetheless realizes that her law firm is critically ill and is likely to soon experience something akin to sudden cardiac arrest. Sadly, she is not a member of her law firm’s management and, since there is no upper level recognition that change is needed, it would serve little purpose for her to raise her concerns to those partners who could effect change (and would probably not be politically expedient for her to do so).

The failure of these currently well-compensated IP law firm partners to recognize the shifting winds of their client’s acceptance of their billing practices–the fundamental basis of their law firm’s business model–mirrors the response of entrenched interests throughout history to innovations that did not mesh with their existing business model paradigm. Moreover, the inability of many IP law firms to recognize the climate for change leads me to believe that many of these venerated law firms will soon meet the fate of buggy whip manufacturers if they do not innovate in the manner by which they provide legal services to their clients.

Playing out this analogy, buggy whip manufacturers met their demise because they thought they were in the buggy whip business when they were actually in the transportation business. When buggy whips became obsolete, so did these formerly prosperous manufacturers. Notably, buggy whip manufacturers possessed the ability to change and thrive in the new world of the automobile. They already held strong business relationships with the buggy manufacturers that became the first automobile companies. They also employed skilled craftsmen who could have turned their efforts to making leather seat covers or other aspects of the automobile. These buggy whip manufacturers needed only to accept that they needed to ride the wave of innovation occurring at that time and reinvent themselves as suppliers to automobile manufacturers instead of buggy makers.

Like buggy whip manufacturers, I believe that many lawyers have become so entrenched in the law firm business that they have effectively forgotten that they are first legal services providers. As people charged with ensuring the continued vitality of the business, law firm lawyers often become primarily fee generators in that the fees are obtained from billing clients by the hour for legal services. Care and feeding of the law firm and its partners by ensuring constant creation of billable hours therefore often takes precedence over the legal needs of clients. Also analogous to buggy whip manufactures, IP lawyers working in law firms have the ability to change to prevent obsolescence. Indeed, these lawyers possess the requisite skills to continue practicing their craft outside of the existing paradigm of the law firm. Still further akin to buggy whip manufacturers, lawyers also have the existing relationships with customers i.e., clients, which gives them a valuable head start over newcomers who wish to enter the IP legal service arena using innovative, but unfamiliar, client service models.

Using the well-known picture of obsolescence presented by buggy whip manufacturers more than 100 years ago, I believe that IP lawyers who recognize that they must embrace innovation in the way they provide IP legal services to clients will be poised for success when their clients decide that the time for change has arrived. On the other hand, lawyers who believe they are in the IP law firm business will invariably be left behind when innovations in client service enter the marketplace that render the law firm business model obsolete.

IP lawyers should not expect that they will be able to predict when their clients will demand change. As with the customers of buggy whip manufacturers, law firm clients will not serve their IP counsel with notice warning prior to taking their business to lawyers who provide them with innovative, and more client-centric, service models. To the contrary, when clients are finally presented with acceptable alternatives, they will naturally migrate to the innovation that best meets their business needs. The result will be that one day, these currently successful IP lawyers will likely wake up to realize that they are losing their clients in droves to lawyers who succeeded in developing and introducing an innovative client service model to the world. And, as most lawyers will tell you, once a client is gone, they are likely gone forever.

Not only will clients fail to announce that they intend to leave their law firm before they do so, they also will not tell their lawyers how you can serve them better. Why should they–they are not in the business of providing legal services. Accordingly, mutually beneficial client service innovations must be generated by and because of lawyer action. But, because of their inherently conservative nature, I believe that many IP lawyers may fail to realize that innovation is critical until it is too late to preserve their client base.

Some might contend that complaints about the billable hour model have abounded for many years, but no major changes have occurred to date, thus indicating that most clients may be all bluster and no action. While it is certainly true that clients exerted no real pressure on lawyers for change in the past, circumstances are markedly different today than before. Disruptive innovation is rocketing through society, and many formerly solid business models, such as newspapers and recorded music, are now teetering on the cusp of demise as a result.

The signals are there that law IP firms that rely on the billable hour/leverage model appear poised to experience significant stress from clients and critics in the near future. Those relying on this model for their livelihood would be well-served to look for innovative ways to address this changing environment. In short, those who think that the billable hour/leverage law firm model will escape the transformative business innovations of the current era are merely “whistling past the graveyard.” IP law firms, as well as other types of law firms, must innovate now and innovate big or I fear they will suffer the fate of the buggy whip makers.