Sep 28 2012

Are Law Firms Ready to Embrace the Freedom of Digital Business?

The rules have changed, and the work is changing along with it.

As enterprises enter the new frontier of work in the 21st century, it’s a given that technology will change how and where we do work. And law firms are certainly no exception.

Most people’s idea of a law firm is influenced by popular TV shows of yesteryear, such as Law & Order and Ally McBeal. In those shows, the law office is the nerve center for everything. It’s where strategies are hammered out and last-minute, game-changing discoveries are made and, more importantly, where clients walk through the door for the first time.

But we’re fast approaching an era where clients never step foot into a physical law firm.

Think that’s a bit extreme? Well, consider the fact that LegalZoom filed for an IPO last year on revenues of $156 million. That means legal services have already gone virtual for millions of customers.

In a blog post for Legal IT Professionals, Christy Burke, president of legal-technology PR firm Burke & Company, shared some of the ways that lawyers and firms are becoming much more digital.

Burke spoke with lawyer Susan Cartier Liebel, who believes that virtual conferencing and consulting is the inevitable wave of the future.

“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,” Liebel said.

And as lawyers increasingly become digital creatures, some of them might find that the tools of the online collaboration trade weren’t quite built with lawyers’ needs in mind. Which is exactly why LawZam, a legal-services social-networking tool,, hopes to grow its budding platform with the legal-services community.

Claudio Dunkelman and Brendan Ludwick co-founded the platform with the hope of doing far more than just being the legal version of LinkedIn or Facebook. According to Burke’s post, consumers will actually be able to shop for legal services on the platform, and lawyers will be able to set up digital storefronts. And best of all, it’ll be free to the clients.

In reality, the biggest barrier to change in the legal industry isn’t the technology itself — it’s the people working in the industry.

Lawyer Donna Seyle, founder of Law Practice Strategy, told Burke that it’s time for lawyers to stop playing ostrich and get their heads out of the sand.

“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," Seyle said.

To borrow a popular phrase, there’s no putting the genie back in the bottle, so law firms who insist on bucking technology trends might find that they’re waging a losing battle.

There’s a new world order, and it’s digital. Embrace it.