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The days of hanging up a shingle, sitting behind the same immobile desk and keeping office hours could virtually become a thing of the past if law practice management firms have their way.

According to Nicole Black, director of business development for MyCase, a cloud-based law practice management company, her firm’s offerings allow an attorney to handle their caseload, billing and communications from anywhere in the world.

While it might sound incredibly convenient, cost-effective and time efficient to maintain a virtual law office rather than one of the brick-and-mortar variety, there are precautions. Maintaining secured communications is of utmost concern, says Dino Tsibouris of Tsibouris and Associates in Columbus, Ohio. “If Target can get hacked, so can you,” he says.

A Virtual World of Law

Just as online banking has gained a sizable foothold in the market, MyCase is banking that lawyers and their clients will favor interactions via technology.

Black is quick to point out that while virtual communications can’t supplant face-to-face communications, they offer efficiency and convenience. “Virtualization lets you run your office wherever there is a wifi connection, so you need [online] security wherever you are,” cautions Tsibouris.

For example, MyCase offers cloud-based law practice management software and document management, or storage, so a lawyer can access client files from anywhere. It also offers built-in portals so everyone involved in a case can join the group to access files, communications and case-related documents.

Permission is required to join a group and participate in it, thereby limiting access to people authorized to access that particular group. One of the major benefits of the built-in portal is that “lawyers can access documents and files, even in court, on an iPad,” says Black.

The software is also designed to allow the lawyer to bill time as it is expended, encouraging a more updated statement of services. Black says this type of virtual law practice adds a layer to security to attorney-client communications.

“In the late 1990s, the American Bar Association said all emails were okay. Today’s problem, though, is that emails are inherently insecure. It’s like sending a postcard written in pencil,” she says. However, with MyCase’s client portal, lawyer and client can communicate within their own secured virtual world.

Clients can even pay their lawyers using one of the three virtual methods offered through MyCase, such as via credit card or by directing money to be deducted from a trust account and transferred to the attorney’s account.

The costs associated with all maintaining a virtual practice through MyCase are surprisingly affordable. According to Black, there is no set-up fee for the service although there is a $100 one-time charge if the attorney wants to have their QuickBooks accounting system associated with their MyCase account. The monthly maintenance fee is $39 for lawyers and $29 for support staff.

Real Concerns for the Virtual World

Even an intangible law practice promises real-world concerns. According to Tsibouris, there are several considerations associated with establishing and maintaining a virtual law practice. They include:

• Ensuring client data is safe and secured

• The consistent ability to access information

• Assurances from your firm’s web site designer that your site offers enough high-speed bandwidth to run desired applications

He advises having a “healthy conversation” with your website developers so they know what you want and need in order to maintain an efficient and effective website. For his part, Tsibouris’s seven-lawyer-firm is both virtual and tangible. Not only does it maintain a standard office for meetings, conferences and depositions, the firm also utilizes three cloud-based apps, Skype, Office 360 and Skydrive.

He is also partial to Microsoft products over those manufactured by Apple since Microsoft promises to comply with the rigors of European privacy laws, while Apple does not. His firm focuses on technology, privacy and financial services and represents clients internationally, so that additional level of security is imperative.

He also urges lawyers considering venturing into the virtual to “test drive” the software or document management system they might purchase. “You need a clear understanding of what you want to virtualize and test it out,” he suggests.

“Virtualization lets you run your office wherever there is a wifi connection, so you need [online] security wherever you are,” cautions Tsibouris.

Tami Kamin Meyer is an attorney and writer licensed to practice law in Ohio, both the Southern and Northern Districts of Ohio and the US Supreme Court. She serves as Of Counsel for the Consumer Attorneys of America, a national law firm based in Florida. Her byline has appeared in several publications including Ohio Lawyer, Ohio Lawyers Weekly, Ohio Super Lawyer, Corporate Secretary, GC Mid-Atlantic and the ABA Small and Solo Practitioners newsletter. In 2007, a study guide she wrote about filing personal bankruptcy was published by Quamut, a division of Barnes and Noble.

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