Richard Granat created one of the first virtual law firms in the country in 2002, and established DirectLaw, a client-centric virtual law firm platform for solos and small law firms. He was awarded the ABA’s Louis M. Brown Lifetime Achievement Award for Legal Access and the James Keane Award for Excellence in eLawyering. In 2009, the ABA Journal recognized Richard as one of 50 Legal Rebels throughout the United States. Richard is co-director of the Center for Law Practice Technology at Florida Coastal School of Law, which has developed an online curriculum in law practice management for law students nationwide.
What projects or ideas have you been focusing on recently?
A network version of DirectLaw, so that a manager can coordinate and manage cases for a network of virtual lawyers. We are implementing this first in the public sector, with a network of pro bono lawyers in New Mexico and Massachusetts. We have just launched the network version of DirectLaw for private law firms that are working together collaboratively. We think that networks of virtual lawyers serving clients nationwide will continue to evolve, and our platform is designed to manage and support these networks.
What could lawyers look at in a new way that would benefit their clients and society?
A big challenge for solos and small law firms is to figure out how to serve the latent market for legal services—the approximately 80 percent of US consumers who can’t afford today’s legal fees. One solution is to offer software-powered unbundled legal services online for a fixed fee. This kind of service is scalable, and can generate net revenues which are comparable to typical hourly billing rates of solos and small law firms.
What one thing about the practice of law would you change if you could?
For consumers, moving away from the “job shop” business model with hourly billing rates towards the “value-chain” business model with fixed fees for discrete legal services.
What is the most exciting development you have seen recently in the practice of law?
The “unbundling legal services and online delivery,” as it’s the path towards the “value-chain business model” and opening up service to the latent legal market.
What technologies, business models, and trends do you think will have the biggest impact on the practice of law over the next two years?
Solos and small law firms will incorporate into their web sites a secure client portal to enable them to work with the clients online securely and confidentially. Software as a service (SaaS) legal applications will continue to evolve, enabling software-powered legal services that manage the details better than a person. Web-enabled document automation is a good example of an application that creates a first draft of a document instantly from the client’s answers to questions in an online questionnaire for the lawyer’s further review, revision, and analysis. Software-powered legal services enable lawyer’s to practice law at the “top of their license,” devoting more time to analysis, counseling, negotiating, and advocacy.
What’s the best new law practice management idea you have heard recently?
CMS: client management systems that are integrated with a law firm’s web site to help the law firm manage and nurture the flow of leads and unique visitors hitting the web site.
About the Author
Nicholas Gaffney is managing partner at Zumado Public Relations in San Francisco and is a member of the Law Practice Today Editorial Board.