When It’s Virtual, Nothing Else Matters

Bob Ambrogi, who apparently spends part of his day reading ads on Craigslist for lawyers, found a curious yet troubling offer in Boston.  A virtual law firm seeking lawyers from anywhere to staff its virtual offices, and interest in the offer being to overwhelming that it couldn’t handle the bandwidth..

[A]n ad appeared on Boston Craigslist, Virtual Law Firm Seeks Lawyers. For further details, it said, go to www.wenhamlaw.com. Within a short time after the ad went up, the site went down. Visits to the URL showed only an error message, “Bandwidth Limit Exceeded.” No doubt, every unemployed lawyer for miles around was clicking through to learn more.

When the site eventually went back up, it revealed what is described as a new, online law firm focusing solely on the needs of companies, all for a flat rate of $150 an hour.

And as for that Craigslist posting, the firm’s site says that it is expanding rapidly and seeks experienced attorneys who want to work online and flexibly. Pay is expected to be $75 to $100 an hour.

Not quite Biglaw, but apparently close enough to capture a whole lot of unemployed lawyer interest.  The model is paperless, meetingless, officeless, and everywhere.  All the lawyers would be “senior lawyers,”  On its homepage, it states:

Our legal staff is extremely high quality.

On the page soliciting lawyers to join up, it says:

We seek attorneys with a JD, admission to a bar and several years of corporate-law experience.

Because they just don’t attorneys with years of experience but not JD or admission to a bar.  And who do these experienced lawyers get to work for?

Notably, one of the firm’s three founders is also the founder of one of Boston’s leading technology law firms. The site lists one of its founders as Andrew Updegrove, who is a founder and name partner in Gesmer Updegrove.

Certainly an interesting and provocative person to found a virtual firm.

Also notable is that another of the firm’s founders is not a lawyer. Inder-Jeet Gujral is identified as CEO of Enfold Inc., a provider of online filing cabinets to consumers and small businesses, and a former VP of WebMD.

The third founder, Elizabeth Gujral, is outside counsel to two Boston-area companies. “Her current role represents a re-entry into the workforce after she took a few years off to have and raise three children,” the website says.

Interesting as well, but for very different reasons.  While I may not be up on the latest news out of the Boston legal market, I’m pretty sure that non-lawyers still aren’t allowed to own law firms, even if their wife is a lawyer who wants to re-enter the workforce.

Nonetheless, this doesn’t seem to concern the lawyers looking to sign up.

A Google search indicates that the Gujrals live in Wenham, Mass., thus explaining the firm’s name. A search of Mass. attorney registration records does not bring up a result for Elizabeth Gujral.

But who needs founders who are lawyers or, if they are in th existential sense, currently licensed to practice?  This is the 21st Century. This is technology. This is virtual. Ethics, adherence to the rules and the unauthorized practice of law is so yesterday.

While it’s hardly surprising that lawyers in need of work will respond to an ad for legal jobs, no matter the pay or dubiousness of the prospect, it is surprising, and disturbing, that no one seemed to be troubled by the fact that this virtual law firm was founded by a real lawyer, a non-lawyer and his maybe-lawyer wife.

Bear in mind, anyone working for this firm is likely to never actually meet any of these people. Clients clearly won’t, as the firm expressly says that all contact will be handled from a distance.  The firm address, 143 Grapevine Road in Wenham, is an  1870 shingle house on 7 “magnificent acres,”  which happens to be where the Gujrals live.

And as a commenter to Bob’s post says:

For a solo needing to fill in gaps in work due to econ. changes, it sounds like a good idea. I am going to investigate further.

Is this the future of law?  Seriously?  As long as there’s a possibility you could make a few bucks, can you shut your eyes, hold your nose and just not care?

On the internet, nobody knows your a dog. Or a lawyer. Or not a lawyer. Or a lawyer working for someone who’s not a lawyer. 


2 thoughts on “When It’s Virtual, Nothing Else Matters

  1. Bob Ambrogi

    Not looking for a job, thanks. But a friend of mine is and she and I debated the non-lawyer ownership issue. I said what you said. She pointed out that the non-lawyer is identified as a “founder” and suggested that does not necessarily equate with “owner.” I said, “What’s the difference?” She said, “A founder could have contributed knowledge and skill to the start-up without taking an equity stake.” In my opinion, the site should be clear about all this, so we don’t have to try to guess.

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