The Advisory: Volume 9, Issue 1, March 2011

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Alternative Law Firms Leverage Technology to Meet Client Needs

An Excerpt of Panel Presentations made at the Law Society of Alberta’s Plenary

LEVERAGING TECHNOLOGY, entering new markets, fixing fees for service and inventing new ways of doing business while managing costs and keeping clients happy were some of the topics discussed at the Law Society of Alberta’s plenary.

Approximately 90 lawyers attending the Alberta law conference heard about some of the innovative and creative ways being used by law firms to deliver legal services.

Panel moderator and Law Society President Doug Mah, QC, noted that “a variety of pressures over the past few years have given rise to new and creative approaches to the practice of law.”

“There has been a great deal of discussion in different legal publications and by legal futurists on the direction that the legal profession is moving in. Recent economic factors appear to have increased the pace of change within the profession.“

Leveraging Technology

Nicole Garton-Jones, a Vancouver lawyer and mediator, illustrated how she practises family law. Her virtual law firm has the ability to provide legal services through a secure client portal which allows its lawyers to interact with their clients from anywhere they can access the internet. In addition to interacting with lawyers online, clients can view their documents online, and pay their bills online, among other things, at their own convenience.

Lawyers work primarily from their homes, and use a phone system that allows staff in different locations to use the same phone line and system. The firm also retains traditional offices for meeting with clients.

Flat Fee Billing and Digital Firm Platforms

Plenary panelist Edward Gallagher’s own law firm in Onoway, Alberta provides legal services on a fixed fee basis for family and litigation services. His law firm focuses on using technology to improve the speed and accuracy with which legal services are produced and delivered.

He shared with the audience his research and experimentation to develop his retainer agreement, how he arrived at a fixed fee for specified legal services, how his firm has approached unbundled legal services, and the impact of these decision has been on his practice and his relationship with his clients.

Entering New Markets

The Edmonton firm of panelist Roy Nickerson, QC, is a provider firm in Alberta for Pre-Paid Legal Services Inc., providing prepaid legal plans for the public.

For a monthly fee, members of the program are served by a Provider Law Firm, which has been screened and selected by Pre-Paid Legal. Different levels of coverage are available, but for the basic plan, members simply call their Provider Law Firm directly at the toll-free number on their membership card when they have a legal question or problem. Benefits include phone consultations with a lawyer, phone calls and letters on the member’s behalf, will preparation, legal document review by a lawyer, and so forth. In addition, members receive a preferred member rate (discount of 25% of the participating lawyers posted standard fee) for services required that fall outside of the plan.

Enhanced Legal Benefit Plans

The Chief Operating Officer of Law Assist Inc., Karen Kotansky, described how the Canadianowned and operated legal benefit plan connects beneficiaries to quality legal counsel with just one phone call.

By marketing themselves to employers, benefit providers or loyalty program marketers, Law Assist connects lawyers to clients or “beneficiaries” which are accessed through these programs. Law Assist recruits panels of lawyers in various areas of practice and geographic locations to serve on their panels.

The Law Society’s plenary was held on January 27, 2011 in Edmonton.

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