The online legal industry has greatly expanded in the last few years. From e-discovery procedures to lawyers leaving law firms to be called "freelance lawyers," the internet seems to be providing legal professionals with more opportunities than ever before. A 2009 survey shows that 72.8 percent of all fees to outside lawyers were paid on a contractual basis rather than the billable hour. This reveals that more clients are willing to hire freelance attorneys online for assistance with their legal matters.
According to a recent article in the Wall Street Journal, the traditional law firm office is on its way out. Traditional law firm offices can no longer compete with virtual legal practices and freelance lawyers. Virtual law offices have become more successful than traditional law offices as they require low start-up costs and are often comprised of young attorneys with expansive knowledge of technology and the internet.
Virtual legal offices are outshining the competition, as evidenced by the recent bankruptcy filings of several traditional, old law firms. Dewey & LeBoeuf, Howrey & Simon, Heller Ehrman and the Coudert Brothers are just a few of the law firms that have filed for bankruptcy as a result of a change in the legal market. The legal establishment and paradigm has radically changed to allow younger generations to enjoy greater access to the legal profession through the internet. No longer do new attorneys have to feel forced into working at a large law firm upon graduation from law school. Instead, attorneys can hang their own shingle and start a virtual legal practice.
Major corporations are actually choosing to do away with the traditional in-house legal counsel. Instead, they are hiring freelance attorneys on a contractual basis. This allows corporations to pick and choose attorneys for projects based upon their strengths. Also, a corporation only has to pay a contractual rate to an attorney instead of a high salary for the year.
Individuals are also empowered to take advantage of all of the online legal tools that are at their disposal. They have access to legal document preparers and virtual assistants that can help them file for bankruptcy or divorce. No longer does an individual have to hire an attorney from a law firm for filing these legal matters.
The online legal industry has also grown in other ways. Social media has allowed attorneys to market their services to a large audience at a low cost. With access to social media, an attorney may also be able to challenge the credibility of witnesses in a trial. It is not uncommon for a witness's reputation to be questioned due to postings on Facebook or Twitter. Social networking tools like LinkedIn and Twitter allow a lawyer to market his or her services to the public at a discounted rate.
One of the most dramatic changes in the legal industry has been the change in e-discovery rules. Just recently, the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure were amended to allow electronically stored information to be discoverable. During litigation, an attorney may present evidence of voicemails, instant messages, e-mails, graphics, data and e-calendars. New companies that only specialize in providing e-discovery support services have become multi-million dollar endeavours. Large law firms rely on e-discovery companies to provide support during complex litigation.
In addition to changes in e-discovery procedures, the legal establishment is changing due to the individual desires of attorneys. Attorneys no longer want to sacrifice their personal lives to work never-ending billable hours at large law firms. As a result of this change in attitude, attorneys are choosing to open virtual law offices from their home. An entire law office may be operated from only one laptop. Attorneys can enjoy greater balance between their work and life by choosing to open a virtual office. They can also travel and complete case work from anywhere in the world. These attorneys are increasingly becoming successful in taking work from major corporations that would otherwise have gone to a large law firm. Corporations simply no longer want to pay exorbitant fees to large law firms for work that can be completed on a contractual basis.
Globalization has also expanded due to the rise of the internet. Globalization now allows attorneys to network with other lawyers across the globe. They may take up projects in another language in which they are fluent. Attorneys who speak more than one language are at an advantage in the number of projects that they can take due to globalization.
The dramatic change of the legal industry has resulted in positive changes for the most part. The legal profession is no longer a cartel profession, and a greater number of otherwise marginalized individuals have the opportunity to make a career in law with the use of the internet. It is easy for any lawyer to start a virtual practice that becomes extremely successful and compared to traditional law firms that have not adjusted to technology.