How rapidly is the practice of law changing?
I want to share with you a story I came across today. It really shows how absurdly fast things are changing in the practice of law, all thanks to technology and its adoption in the legal system.
And it probably gives us a hint about what future of lawyering looks like.
There is a lot to learn for many of us about how we can design sophisticated systems that breeze past old ways of doing things,
The story opens like this: “I know it’s not very common but I’ve been practicing US law as a digital nomad for about three years now living mostly in Asia and Latin America.”
What kind of law can one practice in the USA while living in Asia? Certainly not litigation?
Oh no, this person is a full-time litigator! This story is all about how he manages to litigate in the USA while living mostly in other countries, only occasionally flying into the city where the matter is. According to him, he has to get back to the USA about 4-5 times a year. In 2016, he made about USD 425000 through his practice, in profits (not revenue), which is a very impressive figure.
According to him, everything he does is mostly on the internet. Obviously. Let’s get into the details.
Never meet clients.
The first rule is that he never meets his clients in person. He says that 98% of them have no problem with this. None of them knows that he is not even in the country, as long as he replies to emails promptly and calls in a timely manner.
How does he find his clients?
Online, of course. He advertises online, especially on Google AdWords. Unlike in India, advertising on Google AdWords is not banned for lawyers. He also gets referral clients.
How do clients get in touch with him?
When he is working remotely in Asia, it is difficult for him to make direct calls on his cellphone due to time zone differences. So he uses a call answering service where his clients, as well as potential leads, can call. The service provider charges him around 90 cents per call, and write down brief messages for him. He can then call back at his convenience.
He has multiple internet US phone numbers with Google Voice, Sonetel and Plivo. The cost of such services ranges from free to $1.99 a month. These look like any generic US phone number.
He uses a $2 a month service to receive faxes. Faxes once received are scanned and emailed to him. He can send faxes at 10 cents a page via eFax.
What about a physical address where you can receive documents? He has multiple virtual offices that cost $20-30 a month. These offices scan the documents sent to these virtual office addresses and email the same to him. He has to pay for the scans. On an average month, he has to spend about $50-75 for each virtual office including scans depending on how much work he is getting.
He also uses an internet mailing service to send mail from a US address. It costs slightly more than sending mails directly from US soil, but he says that it has been a very useful service and even if he lived in the US he would use it because it’s cheaper than hiring an assistant.
So for any client interacting with him, nothing looks out of the ordinary. They are calling US numbers, sending documents to US addresses, receiving snail mails from within the USA and even sending and receiving faxes like they would with any law firm. Except, they never meet the lawyer in person.
I bet that saves time and energy for the lawyer and clients both. Not bad at all.
All that is fine, but how does he appear in court hearings?
Apparently, in the USA you can attend a court hearing over a call. Wow. That is just insane. I had no idea. Would we ever have that in India? Lawyers would definitely love that.
In his own words: “… for court hearings I almost always can appear by telephone. Just the other night I did one where I was in Asia and the hearing was in the US. It’s easy to appear by phone usually and the Judge has no idea whether you are in Chicago or Baghdad.”
Another big challenge was doing depositions. He started by flying back for depositions. However, that soon changed. He began to hire other lawyers to do the depositions for him on a freelance basis. He pays anything from $250 to $600 per deposition, but this is rarely a problem because he makes around 11-12 thousand dollars per case. Most cases usually have no more than one deposition, and a lot of them don’t even have any).
According to him, the biggest problem that he can’t get around is mediations. He has to go back to the USA for the mediations. So he tries to bunch them together and schedule 1 or 2 months ahead so that he can fly in, do them one after another, and fly back to the tropical paradises where he prefers to live.
So how often does he have to fly back to the USA?
Usually, a set of cases takes him 15 months from the beginning to the end. In the first 6-7 months, he does not have to go back to the USA at all. For the last 8 months, though, he has to go back to the US every 4-8 weeks for a few days at a time. However, the flight costs do not bother him at all because he saves a lot of money by not having to pay rent in an expensive US city, or having to rent expensive real estate as office space! He does not like flying back to the USA, but since it’s no more than 5 times a year it has become tolerable for him.
So the bottom line is that he lives in a nice place in Asia for a fraction of the cost, and enjoys a significantly better quality of life than what he would have in the US.
A lot of lawyers are very stuck up about having fancy offices, cars, assistants, a lot of juniors and what not. They feel that without these trappings you cannot build a real and successful law practice. The lawyer who posted this story on Reddit shattered this myth and showed how you can be frugal and build a very profitable practice with nifty use of technology, without even having to be in the same country.
Trappings do not create a great law firm. Getting a fancy chamber will not grow your practice much. You don’t need to drive a BMW to raise your rates.
A lot of lawyers need to rethink their business models. It may not be your dream to become a digital nomad, but I hope what this lawyer is doing makes you question some of the basic assumptions you have entertained about how to build a law practice.
How can you cut through the clutter? How can you cut wastage of time, energy, and other resources? How can you use technology better and integrate it into your practice to create more efficiency?
I want you to think about these things.
You can read the story on Reddit here:
What is your take away?
Do share with me what you take away from this story. Is there something you can implement?
Do you want to build a profitable solo practice or grow your own law firm? Let’s talk about how.
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