The Path of the Cool Kids

When some of the staunchest defenders of legal tech go on a rant, it tends to provide an interesting look beneath the surface of the future of law crowd.  The suspension of Fred Barakat from the practice of law in Delaware gave rise to such a rant, and certainly lit up the tech crowd, starting with Niki Black:

At issue was whether Mr. Barakat, a Delaware lawyer, had engaged in a number of ethical violations, including whether he had violated the bona fide office rule. It was alleged that Barakat had access to office space in Wilmington such that he could rent a conference room, when needed. Additionally, employees of the landlord collected his mail and directed any visitors to the fourth floor where a receptionist was stationed who greeted visitors.

In response to the allegations, Barakat claimed “that advances in technology enabled him to handle client matters effectively, despite his lack of presence in the Wilmington office.”

All of which made for a nice debate, except there was a rule requiring a bona fide office and he violated it.

Silly Barakat! Technology is irrelevant. “Real” law offices have lots of unnecessary, costly overhead such as:  1) oversized mahogany desks with bottles of booze in the top right drawer, 2) big law libraries chock full of dusty books, 3) lots of carbon paper right next to the typewriter (some even have bulky desktop computers and copiers), 3) a number of abacuses (or maybe even new-fangled calculators), 4) Rolodexes, 5) rows and rows of cabinets for reams of paper files, and 6) quill pens (although the latest new trend sweeping antiquated offices everywhere is ballpoint pens).

Heh. She wrote “abacuses” and “rolodexes.” Ouch. Niki is not a fan of quill pens, which of course has nothing to do with the issue but reflects the false dichotomy of low/high tech.  But Carolyn Elefant at My Shingle chose a different path, going to the heart of the hypocrisy framing the debate:

Had Barakat been just a little hipper, he would have followed the lead of the cool law kids who reside in similar virtual store fronts just down the road, with names like
LegalZooms, Axiom, RocketLawyer, Clearspire, UpCounsel  and Priori Legal. If we’re being honest, these entities are essentially de facto law firms — but unlike Barakat who somewhat resembled a traditional lawyer, these #newlaw entities  shed most of the trappings of #oldlaw and thus, evade regulatory scrutiny.

Now this is some interesting stuff. As has been clear in its utter lack of clarity, the alternative law models so dearly beloved by the #Reinvent the future of law types are “de facto law firms” except that by claiming they’re not by hiding their nature behind an impenetrable wall of meaningless jargon, they aren’t required to comply with any of the rules and regulations created to keep lawyers honest and protect clients from harm.

Why don’t the same regulators who went after poor virtual Fred go after Axiom?  Well, they can’t, as they don’t claim to be a law firm, and thus fall without their jurisdiction.  What they are, if they are indeed the “de facto law firms” that Carolyn and I suspect, are criminal enterprises, engaged in the unlawful practice of law. That means it’s up to prosecutors to take them down for committing crimes.

But neither Carolyn nor Niki take issue with Barakat’s underlying premise of the virtual law office.

By the time the ethics regulators wake up and realize that imposing costly requirements on solos and smalls like bonafide offices serve little purpose but to increase the cost of legal service, it will be too late.

The costly requirement is an office, and it can indeed be a costly requirement, though one that most lawyers find enormously worthwhile. But to say it “serves little purpose” is to grossly overstate the point.  Where does a client go after he paypals a virtual lawyer a few grand to handle a matter and the lawyer then disappears on him? No return calls. No emails. The lawyer has money and original documents, and has vanished in the ether?

The problem is that this happens. My pal Andrew Bluestone, who does legal malpractice prosecution, has catalogued such nastiness for years, in its many permutations. The future of law folks presume all lawyers to be virtuous, and if that was true, then perhaps the rationale for need for an office would be significantly diminished. But to say it serves little purpose is to deny its very real purpose: to make the lawyer findable and protect the client from the vanishing, the dishonest, the lazy, the greedy lawyer who takes their money and runs.

Carolyn resolves the hypocrisy by damning Delaware with making the barrier to entry, a physical office, too high.  Niki just damns Delaware.

Ironically, in trying to preserve the past and the old way of how law was once practiced, the Delaware court sacrificed lawyers’ futures. Inflicting costly bonafide office requirements on solos and smalls doesn’t accomplish anything but ensure solos displacement by cheaper options like LegalZoom or Rocket Lawyers or non-lawyer practitioners, all of whom aren’t subject to the same bloated regulatory mandates.

There is, of course, an opposite path to take to resolve what goes beyond irony and deep into wrinkly: Prosecute the altlaw businesses that practice law behind smarmy models and meaningless jargon.   That’s what makes them the cool kids.

Whether there is a future for virtual law firms, and there may well be within the confines of models that provide clients with the competencies and protection that are demanded of lawyers for the right to hold people’s lives in their hands, the alternative models that prey on profit margins gained from flying below the surface of accountability are certainly damaging the ability of many lawyers, particularly the new and recently displaced, to gain a foothold.

But when the primary virtue of a business model is that it’s good for lawyers at the expense of clients, then it’s not an acceptable model. Granted, many people favor the idea of cheap legal services because, well, they want cheap legal services. Until, that is, things go bad, in which case they will be the first to blame cheap legal services.

And when things do go bad, and they will at least for some, clients need some place to go to find the lawyer who burned their world. When that happens, and it will, the cool kids won’t seem nearly as cool.

49 comments on “The Path of the Cool Kids

  1. John Barleycorn

    Dot-Dash-Dot.

    Eerie tinkle us a ten key (not mentioned for reasons unknown as they still sell, sell, very well$).

    Fold a thousand and eat. Bid a ten no trump hand.

    The bricks don’t yield.

    Why keep pounding when the mortar
    will set above freezing every time and more than several degree below with a little help.

  2. BRIAN TANNEBAUM

    It’s sad when our colleagues’ only goal is to make it so lawyers can practice while sitting in pajamas on a couch at home while wearing Google Glass. The law is a serious profession. If the State Bar wants to be able to find you, that’s what you signed up for. The Rules aren’t there to exist until the tech crowd decides there’s a better way for them to do things. You don’t want to be regulated, resign from the Bar and find another way to make money at Starbucks. Tech is great, rah rah rah, but let’s stop treating this profession as just another app on a phone you stood in line for because you have no life.

    1. SHG Post author

      Wait. Are you trying to say that the legal profession doesn’t exist so that lawyers can earn money in whatever fashion best suits their personal needs, desires, quirks and peccadillos?

  3. rafiv

    Their rage is misdirected. The question isn’t whether or not virtual offices lack merit, it is whether or not such an arrangement satisfies the demands of the Rules of Professional Conduct. It doesn’t. As a member of the Bar he was charged with both understanding and complying with those rules. He didn’t and was sanctioned.

    Massachusetts has many Rule concerning technology that I feel are archaic, but I follow them nonetheless. When I wanted to avail myself of cloud back up and web based file management, I found the relevant asviusory opinion. I thought it absurd and cumbersome; but I dutifully added language to my fee agreements stating the client explicitly authorizes me to store identifying data in an encrypted off site storage facility. Why? Because it ain’t worth my license to do otherwise. Attorney Barakat should have done the same.

    1. BRIAN TANNEBAUM

      rafiv,

      you’re dealing with something akin to children not understanding that rules are there for a reason. Children think rules are there to make them unhappy, and they don’t like to be unhappy. To me, it’s simple, if you don’t like the rules, follow them until they are changed, if ever, or go do something else. This tech hack crowd doesn’t understand why the Bar won’t just do what they want.

      1. SHG Post author

        Children think they only have to comply with the rules they like and agree with, and rules they don’t like or don’t agree with are bad rules, and can therefore be ignored because they’re BAD, BAD, BAD!!!

        [Taken from the Avvo lawyernomic lecture on ethical rules on the internet.]

              1. SHG Post author

                You are beyond kind to other readers, helping them not to lose their way in light of your peccadillos (which, I note, are fascinating to everyone), and your kindness is only exceeded by your mad math skilz.

                Now, if I could only get you to press gently on the cap lock key when typing in your name…

          1. rafiv

            But they are $&%# Lawyers! We spend much of our time counseling people in trouble for not following the rules! And the BBO is like the mafia, IRS and your Sicilian grandmother: you cross them at your peril. /facepalm

            1. SHG Post author

              Unfortunately, it’s remarkably rare for disciplinary action to be taken for violations like the bona fide office rule (or deceptive websites, for that matter), which encourages both the lawyers inclined to ignore the rules and tech gurus to believe that the internet is an ethics-free zone.

              1. Noah Waisberg - DiligenceEngine

                You make a good argument for Barakat being punished—he broke a rule of professional conduct. That said, Black and Elefant criticize the rule requiring a bona fide office itself, as well as Delaware regulators for exercising their discretion in applying it to Barakat. And this is obviously a different issue (which I realize you spend most of the rest of your post covering).

                1. SHG Post author

                  I take no issue with a lawyer arguing against a rule with which they disagree. That’s how rules get changed, and that’s certainly fair game. However, that doesn’t mean they get to pretend there is no justification for the rule. They may not like it. They may think the rationale for the rule can no longer pass muster. They may think that the arguments against the rule are more worthy than the arguments for the rule.

                  But to ignore the rule, the rationale for the rule and suggest that rules that are “arcane” (meaning don’t conform with what #newlaw wants the rules to be) are no longer worthy of following is not acceptable. As for Barakat, his 2 year suspension wasn’t just about the bona fide office requirement violation, so let’s not forget that wasn’t his only violation.

                2. Noah Waisberg - DiligenceEngine

                  I suspect the Delaware regulators wouldn’t have gone after Barakat without other problems. He also:

                  “knowingly made false statements to the Office of Disciplinary Counsel regarding his bona fide office (Rules 3.4(c), 8.1(a), 8.4(c) and 8.4(d)), he failed to provide competent and diligent representation to a client (Rules 1.1 and 1.3), he failed to safeguard client funds (Rule 1.15(a)) and he failed to maintain his law firm’s books and records in compliance with Court Rules”

                  (emphasis added)
                  [Ed. Note: Link deleted per rules.]

                  I think there is a rationale for the rule. I wonder if there is empirical proof that the rule helps solve the problem it exists to solve (presumably protecting clients from lawyers gone bad). There might be better ways to protect clients (that could also work for virtual law practices and maybe even altlaw businesses).

                3. SHG Post author

                  Did you not read my response to you?

                  As for empirical proof, the burden falls on the side seeking change. Got any?

                4. Noah Waisberg - DiligenceEngine

                  I only put the detail on why Barakat got hit because I thought others might be interested and I hadn’t seen it anywhere else. Don’t think we have any disagreement on this. Barakat did a bunch of stuff that got him in trouble.

                  Should the burden of empirical evidence fall on the people trying to overturn or preserve a possibly arcane rule? Either way, a law student or legal academic might be able to make a useful law review article out of figuring out if there is a difference in lawyer behavior in jurisdictions where there is no bona fide office rule and ones where there is.

                5. SHG Post author

                  I thought others might be interested…

                  Then start a blog. This is mine. You don’t get a vote here in what others might be interested in. Ever. Do I make myself clear?

                  As for the “burden of empirical evidence,” the burden is always on the movant. Lawyers know this.

                6. Noah Waisberg - DiligenceEngine

                  Lawyer self regulation is a tricky thing—it exists for the benefit of the public, not lawyers, but lawyers make the rules and can use them to hold off competition. Given the serious conflict of interest here, I’m unconvinced challengers should bear the burden of proof. Your arguments may be right. Or not. But don’t kid yourself they are also as convenient for you as dropping them would be for altlaw providers. (I use “you” broadly here—I doubt altlaw competition would make much difference to your specific practice.)

                  As for your “You don’t get a vote here in what others might be interested in. Ever. Do I make myself clear?”, why bother? I was providing further evidence on a point we both agreed on. Think this is a silly comment by you though you are right that this is wholly your blog. I’ll now leave you to it.

                7. SHG Post author

                  I’ve allowed you a lot of liberty here. You’ve used not only your name, but your business name on every comment. This isn’t an advertising opportunity for you, but I let it go. But when you start acting as if this is your soapbox, and you’re going to enlighten my readers here because you think it might “interest them,” you cross a line of propriety. You think this is silly? Who cares. I showed you more courtesy than you deserved, and you repaid me by behaving poorly.

                  Whether you’re convinced is similarly meaningless. You care deeply about the poor? Become a PD. Open a clinic. Do pro bono. But instead, you started an online contract business to make money and everything else is total, unadulterated bullshit. You want to be a great humanitarian? Give it away for free. But you don’t. You sell it, just like the other altlaw businesses who wants to pretend they’re doing people a favor when it’s only about the money.

                  You are in a business. I am in a profession. For you, the money comes first, For me, the client comes first. Third and final time. Bullshit gets called here.

                8. Andrew

                  SHG-

                  Haven’t you figured out yet that every time you try to have a discussion with one of these frauds, you end up being the butt of bullshit wrapped in a box. They can’t help themselves. It always ends the same, with them talking bullshit.

                9. SHG Post author

                  I have to give them the chance to make their case. But yeah, it always devolves into self-serving bullshit. Just once, I would love to have someone stop pretending to do it for world peace and admit it’s only about making a buck. There’s nothing wrong with making money, but there’s a lot wrong with lying about it.

                10. Noah Waisberg

                  Your website autofilled my title line. Sorry if it offended you. Would be shocked if I get any advertising value out of this comment exercise.

                  My company sells contract review software to lawyers. We do what we do for a number of reasons, and one is to hopefully make ourselves money. But, since we sell to lawyers, we’re clear of any ethical rule issues—whether they change to be more altlaw friendly does not impact our business one bit. On the other hand, rules like no-outside-law-firm-ownership and stricter UPL enforcement benefit traditional lawyers. So, if economic incentive=bullshit, where does that leave you?

                11. SHG Post author

                  As I already said, the different between a business and a profession is the former puts money first, the latter puts clients first. I’m a member of a profession. That’s where it leaves me.

  4. Noah Waisberg - DiligenceEngine

    Your (1) support for bona fide office requirements and (2) view that altlaw businesses should be prosecuted seems to stem from a common source: a concern for how to protect clients from poor legal help. Is this correct? I have further comment here, but would like to make sure my understanding of where you are coming from is right before trying to write further.

    1. SHG Post author

      Kinda. I understand and generally agree with the bona fide office requirement, not because I don’t think virtual offices can be ethically run, but because most lawyers aren’t as ethically focused as, say, Steph Kimbro, and go to the lengths she does to assure her clients are protected.

      As for altlaw, if they are practicing law and they are not a law firm, then you bet they should prosecuted. The reasons are threefold: protect against poor/dishonest representation by providing regulatory oversight, keep non-lawyer ownership out of law and prevent an unlevel playing field for lawyers who are constrained to adhere to ethical, disciplinary requirements.

      1. Noah Waisberg - DiligenceEngine

        Wouldn’t insurance requirements (in addition to strong client protection funds and up-to-date contact detail requirements ([already required everywhere?])) be as effective in protecting clients as a bona fide office rule? Perhaps sufficient insurance (however defined) could be an alternative to a bona fide office.

        Not hard to come up with examples of lawyers who have real offices and run off or neglect their clients. At least insurance could make their clients whole.

        The altlaw enforcement argument is too long to go into here (and I suspect there are a lot of people who could make it better than me). For what it’s worth, a number of those places are providing services to in-house counsel or law firms (e.g., Axiom, Clearspire, LPOs). This makes a big difference, as far as the ethical rules go.

        1. SHG Post author

          Is the answer to a problem with a lawyer who won’t return phone calls to provide insurance or a lawsuit, or is it the ability to go to his office and speak with him directly? Clients don’t want to take one bad lawsuit and turn it into two. And even though it may not be a perfect fix (as lawyers with offices can run off, etc.), we don’t legalize murder because we can’t stop it or catch them all. We do the best we can to provide viable, simple and effective solutions for clients. They just might not be what lawyers in bathrobes would prefer, but nothing is more effective than for a client to go to a lawyer’s office and ask him why his head is up his ass.

          As for the altlaw argument, it’s pretty hard to seriously consider arguments supporting the commission of a crime as well as flagrant violation of ethical and disciplinary rules based because some non-lawyer really wants to make money that way. Any other crimes we should ignore because it would be good for business?

          1. Noah Waisberg - DiligenceEngine

            For a law school paper (empirical study of the performance of foreign educated lawyers in NY), I once spent some time speaking with New York lawyer disciplinary authorities on violations. My sense from that was that lawyers who neglect cases tend to have lower end practices in high volume practice areas (e.g., immigration). They likely have secretaries to run off irate visitors. Anyways, this is an empirical question. Would be interesting and not too hard for a law student to go through all the public discipline cases in a jurisdiction over a few years and see if virtual law practices were an issue. Someone should.

            The argument for altlaw is partially about people making money, but also about the idea that the current way legal services is delivered doesn’t work for a lot of people. Lawyers are too expensive for most and also make mistakes. Altlaw businesses might deliver cheaper services, and they might even deliver better services in some practice areas. While I recognize your argument that the main cost of legal services is lawyers, systematic use of tech and processes can help. I work on something tangental to this (building software to make lawyers (and people at companies and LPOs) better at reviewing contracts) and am a slow typist, so will leave this argument for people who are more focussed on it than me to take up. Thanks for the interesting discussion.

            1. SHG Post author

              …and see if virtual law practices were an issue.

              Because there are a sufficient number that have been around long enough to make a viable sample? I don’t think so. Ironically, per a study that Kevin O’Keefe wrote about, even virtual practice lawyers deny they’re in virtual practice, because they’re ashamed that people should know they’re sitting in the jammies on the couch.

              …but also about the idea that the current way legal services is delivered doesn’t work for a lot of people.

              Didn’t you just say they weren’t a problem because these companies were working for corporate legal departments? It’s all about money, and nothing but money. Bullshit gets called around here. This is not about unicorns, rainbows or delivering lower cost legal services for the benefit of the poor, downtrodden masses. It’s about making money for the non-lawyer owners.

              1. Brian Tannebaum

                “The current way legal services is delivered.” I still wish I was at the conference where that script was invented.

                1. Noah Waisberg - DiligenceEngine

                  In a lot of areas, maybe people who don’t currently pay for lawyers would if they had cheaper options. Cheaper doesn’t have to mean free, and doesn’t have to necessarily mean lower quality (due to tech and process being used).

              2. Noah Waisberg - DiligenceEngine

                Re: the study, good point on the limited history of virtual law practices. Could perhaps look at disciplinary neglect cases and try to figure out what drove them. Either way, think a rule should rest on more than a maybe-compelling rationale (“nothing is more effective than for a client to go to a lawyer’s office and ask him why his head is up his ass”). This is a problem that exists across most bar rules—lots of arguments but little data.

                Some altlaw providers do work for companies. And I’m sure most or all would like to make money for their owners. That said, people think there is a vast market here because of limitations with the current legal services delivery system. Fixing these limitations would benefit legal consumers (as well as altlaw business owners).

                1. SHG Post author

                  We’ve had the discussion about the “current delivery of services” many times.

                  One of the VLO supporters, Rich Granat , twitted:

                  OUr latest survey shows that over half of consumers (56%) want to deal with their lawyers on-line.

                  My snarky response :

                  Our surveys show that 97.4% of clients would like their lawyers to work for free. And validate parking.

                  No one can blame clients for wanting ease and low price. Who doesn’t? They also want competent legal services, responsibility and, when things go south, a warm body to scream at. Clients want it all, as they should. Lawyers want to recognize only those parts that coincidentally work for them, pretend that they are doing it for the benefit of clients when it’s really for their own personal gain. That’s just good marketing. Sure, it’s a lie, but it sounds good.

                  Like I said, bullshit gets called here.

  5. Carolyn Elefant

    OK, there is quite a bit here that warrants response – partly in Scott’s post but more so in the comments.

    First, in deference to my host. Scott, though I do not agree with your conclusion, as always, you accurately captured my argument and I thank you for that. I do not believe that we should prosecute these companies for UPL but instead, evaluate existing ethics rules and determine whether modifications are needed to force non-lawyer providers to be more transparent. To me, it is not fair that Legal Zoom can advertise on the radio about its forms created by specialists but that a seasoned contract lawyer with 40 years of experience can’t do the same. I think that more information and transparency and more choice, not less, is the better approach, with safeguards in place to protect clients. In that regard, one of the most significant concerns about virtual offices is the inability of the bar to effect service on a fly by night lawyer who skips town. I think that requiring lawyers to register to do business (like a corporation) and maintain a registered agent for service (could even be the bar) would address this problem.
    Also, it is important to realize that even lawyers with physical space can skip town. A few years back when I was looking for new office space, I visited an office that had apparently been vacated by a “lawyer on the lam.” A once prominent DC lawyer, the guy was going through a rough divorce and was no where to be found. After a year of no rent and no contact, the landlord consulted the bar and was getting ready to dispose of the lawyer’s property in the space. No way I would have leased that creepy space – but the point is that physical space is no obstacle to abandoning a practice.

    As for the commenters, first, I agree that rules are rules are rules and the appropriate response to rules that lawyers disagree with is to challenge the rule, not to violate it. (See MyShingle post 8/13/2011; I’m not linking to comply with Scott’s rules). I am not “a child” who thinks that we can ignore rules when we feel like it (even when I was a child I did not ignore rules; I spoke out against the ones I didn’t like). In fact, because we are lawyers, our compliance is subject to an even higher standard. I know that there are others who endorse ignoring rules or who pretend they don’t exist – and you will find multiple posts at MyShingle about this. However, I do not fall into the category of lawyers who ignore rules and Niki is not either; if we were, we would not post about ethics so frequently.

    Nevertheless, – in this instance, I believe that the rules are open to interpretation. Delaware Supreme Court Rule 12(d) specifically states in part that:

    “(d) As used in these rules, an “office for the practice of law” means a bona fide office maintained in this State for the practice of law in which the attorney practices by being there a substantial and scheduled portion of time during ordinary business hours in the traditional work week. An attorney is deemed to be in an office even if temporarily absent from it if the duties of the law practice are actively conducted by the attorney from that office. An office must be a place where the attorney or a responsible person acting on the attorney’s behalf can be reached in person or by telephone during normal business hours and which has the customary facilities for engaging in the practice of law. A bona fide office is more than a mail drop, a summer home which is unattended during a substantial portion of the year or an answering, telephone forwarding, secretarial or similar service.”

    Barakat’s office had staff and presumably had conference rooms and staff who could greet clients. And whether one agrees or not, with cloud technologies and online e-filing, lawyers can access client files anywhere. He showed the office on his website ([Ed. Note: Link deleted per rules.]) which seems pretty silly if he didn’t want clients to go there to find him. In fact, the case appears to have resulted from a bar audit rather than client complaint.

    To characterize the office v. virtual debate as a battle between Starbucks fake-sters versus Main Street or Wall Street firm-sters with a no-man’s land in between is really an over-simplification of today’s trends and does a disservice to clients. Generally speaking, I too believe that if a lawyer can afford it, he or she should have an office space to meet clients. But – the reality is that many lawyers – even those who solo after 3-4 years of practice – may still be servicing student loan debt of $1000/month. I don’t think it makes sense to spend $1000/month on rent if it means that you have to defer paying down debt. Or, consider a lawyer who wants to spend three days a week in the office and work from home for two days for family. The reality is that even a lawyer on this schedule is probably not going to be earning a full time income – so does it make sense to pay for a full time office. An obvious solution would be to allow two lawyers to share single office space and “swap off.” But most landlords won’t allow this – and there is also a risk under current ethics rules that this kind of arrangement could give rise to an imputed partnership.
    Office rentals also vary in different areas. In my area, I could easily rent out a full suite in places like Rockville or Silver Spring for what I pay for a sublease in a Class A building in DC. Sometimes you can get lucky (for the first decade of my firm, I sublet a massive, beautiful office (albeit with a view of an alley) and secretarial bank for $425/month from a generous, seasoned energy practitioner who eventually retired) For lawyers in high-rent jurisdictions like NY or Boston or San Francisco, if the choice is a dump for $600/month or a beautiful virtual space, the latter may make more sense.
    I think that when we paint the options as Starbucks or full-service, we prevent the emergence of a market for different types of space that might suit more solos and smalls and help them become more sustainable.

    1. BRIAN TANNEBAUM

      Carolyn, you really don’t need to continuously defend yourself over comments that are not targeted towards you. You are not a “tech hack,” nor is anyone claiming you are a “child.” You have always offered both sides of the issue (even though sometimes I wish you would just take a side).

      The profession doesn’t exist to make it cheap for lawyers to practice law. Operating a profession is expensive, and law students should know that when they incur debt and then go in to private practice. Just because things are expensive doesn’t mean the profession needs to cheapen itself to help lawyers save money.

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  7. Timothy P. Flynn

    Managing a small general practice firm of 8 lawyers is the most challenging thing I’ve ever done in my life. Although I consider myself more “plugged-in” than most lawyers half my age [I'm 51], I cannot imaging doing it without some bricks and mortar. When you are heading into an actual courtroom, as opposed to a virtual courtroom, with a real client’s life entrusted to you, I’ve found that 100% of our clients love it when they meet with us in an office before-hand to discuss their pending fate.

    Ever the optimist, I’ve gone to a few seminars over the years that have featured the “rock stars” Greenfield mentions; I’ve even occupied the same panel with one once [and could not get a word in edgewise]. While a paid-for trip to Seattle is great, I’ve always come away from those “jargon-festivals” wondering: “do any of these tech lawyers actually practice law?” And I’d bet if anyone did a survey, we’d find out, to our horror and shock, that 97.4% of them do not have real clients, or go to real courtrooms to practice real law.

      1. Timothy P. Flynn

        SHG wonders why he’s not invited to Seattle. What I wonder is whether any of the law books collecting dust in the unused law libraries of these brick and mortar law firms are books with titles like: “Social Media for Lawyers”, “Cloud Computing for Lawyers” or my favorite, “The 21st Century Retainer Agreement”…? Just sayin.

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  9. markm

    “But to say it serves little purpose is to deny its very real purpose: to make the lawyer findable and protect the client from the vanishing, the dishonest, the lazy, the greedy lawyer who takes their money and runs.” The bona fide office requirement is neither narrowly tailored for this purpose nor very effective in accomplishing it. Possession of an office would only make the lawyer findable if he was chained to the desk. If the lawyer is inclined to take your money and run, he will have no compunction about running and leaving behind a rented office and rented furniture, probably with all rents and utilities in arrears.

    But rafiv is mistaken about cloud computing – and so is his bar association, when it says that you can use it with your client’s permission. That permission form doesn’t mention that, under the third party doctrine, client data stored in the cloud may be accessed by government agencies without a warrant, and maybe without even a subpoena.

    1. SHG Post author

      I agree with your second point about the cloud, and have long argued against the cloud for just this reason (as well as using email to transmit privileged information), as well as the third party doctrine.

      As to you first point, your argument is silly. While it’s not impossible for a lawyer who rents a physical office to run away, it’s a zebra argument and of no consequence. A physical location provides a client with a physical place to go. A virtual does not. Not even tech lovers are allowed to ignore the laws of physics.

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