As I sat on my hospital bed, staring at my laptop and contemplating which of the topics in my mind I should write on, then it hit the possibility of being temporarily indisposed and still able to write an article for our readers due to technology, and they would not know the condition of the writer when the article was written.
This situation made me remember how this column started, without any physical contact with the then editor of the law section, and management of Media Trust. We had come to an arrangement on how to produce legal content to attract more readership for the law section, starting from “Young Lawyers Column”, even the decision to change to “The Advocate” was made without parties physically meeting. Every correspondence was made via email and calls, and yet we provided result to the satisfaction of our readers with the help of technology.
In the legal profession, with the coming of smart phones and information communication technology, every partner of a law firm does not necessarily need to come to the office physically every day for the firm to effectively deliver on its services to clients. If a firm has the employ of one or two support staff, then they are the only staff mandated to come to work daily from 08:00am to 05:00pm.
According to Wikipedia, “A virtual law firm is a legal practice that does not have a bricks-and-mortar office, but operates from the homes or satellite offices of its lawyers, usually delivering services to clients at a distance using technological means of communication.” In simple terms, different lawyers can have a contact point from which they provide legal service to clients either from home, or wherever distance must have placed them.
The American Bar Association in Virtual Law Basics defines virtual law firm as “A professional law practice that exists online through a secure portal and is accessible to both the client and the lawyers anywhere the parties may access internet.”
What this means is that lawyers use technological advancement to service clients’ needs without having an office space, but then, due to the traditional practice of law in Nigeria, and the fact that we are yet to transform all activities to digital, our genre of virtual law firm would be having an office address with a computer literate person as a secretary to operate the affairs of the firm and provide a contact place to effectively serve clients.
The secretary will be responsible for receiving and dispatching correspondence, schedule appointment for partners (lawyers in chamber), setting cause list for matters in court, sending reminders to partners and the office email, that way, everyone can be engaged elsewhere and still be fully aware of the activities of the firm.
Nigerian clients are not yet used to communicating with their lawyers through internet, especially with the fear of being duped by yahoo boys. So when they want a lawyer they prefer to visit an office to communicate with a lawyer directly. Likewise service of correspondence and court process is yet to be fully digital, so an office space is needed to attend to this essential aspect of legal service delivery.
However, in a virtual law firm lawyers need not come to office on a daily basis to offer their service, as long as the firm has a universal email that everyone is logged to, communication can be seamless. This provides an easy mode for lawyers to come together to form a partnership and practice law at the comfort of their homes without having to carry the burden of the profession alone, and also improving legal service delivery in the country.
Someone may ask, “How can this work?” Partners can make monthly contribution for the upkeep and running of the firm like payment of salary and monthly utility bills to keep the office going, thus, when a lawyer has an appointment with a client, he has an office environment to attend to the client, and at the same time, as long as the secretary is always in the office, this does away with the presence of any partner, except for research purposes and the likes.
A virtual law firm is not without its disadvantages, most especially the fact that it is still alien to our practice of law, but then when one considers all the elements of legal practice and operating a successful law firm, this new generation lawyers would discover it can be done, for the betterment of both our practice and the legal profession. Godspeed!
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