Practicing Law Without an Office Address: How the Bona Fide Office Requirement Affects Virtual Law Practice
28 Pages Posted: 23 Jul 2011
Date Written: December 1, 2010
An increasing number of attorneys and law firms are beginning to deliver legal services online to clients, using technology to create and maintain a law practice structure that is entirely web-based. Virtual law practice is being integrated into traditional law firm structures or being used to set up completely virtual law offices that provide unbundled or limited legal services online. With the increasing globalization of the legal profession and trends in outsourcing legal services by law firms, solo practitioners and smaller firms, as well as larger multijurisdictional law firms, are turning to virtual law practice as a practice management solution. In order to keep up with the public demand for more affordable and accessible online legal services and changes in the legal marketplace, the evolution of law practice management to include some form of virtualization is imperative.
This Article will examine virtual law practice as a necessary and inevitable solution to the globalization of law firms and the lack of access to justice in our country, and it will consider how bona fide office requirements in some states may work against this practice management method. Recent changes to the legal profession due to the globalization of law firms, trends in outsourcing of legal services, and the public demand for online legal services all indicate the need for a wider variety of law practice management structures with continued accountability and connection between the legal practitioner and the state bar. While in some instances there are clear reasons why the bona fide office rules are in place, the text and comments of these provisions should be reevaluated to take into account the value to the public and to the profession of the use of technology to deliver legal services online. Not every client’s legal needs will be the same. Allowing for a variety of forms of law practice management structures, including virtual law practice and other e-lawyering methods, provides the public with options that fit appropriately with their legal needs. These structures also limit and take into account other factors that might keep the public from receiving legal services, such as time, location, intimidation, and the ability to budget for those services. This Article will propose ways in which the bona fide office requirements might be amended to include a virtual law practice that will benefit both the public and the profession.
Keywords: virtual law office, virtual law firm, virtual law practice, bona fide office, legal, ethics, technology, professional responsibility
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