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The Virtual Attorney
Michael Brennan lives in Grayslake but practices fulltime as The Virtual Attorney, serving clients in three states from his office in the cloud. He gave the IBJ some insight into how virtual practice works.
IBJ. How and when did you come up with the Virtual Attorney idea?
Brennan. I graduated law school in 2010, one of the worst times to start out as a lawyer in recent history. When I looked at the legal services industry, it didn't seem like it was responding to changing times and consumer needs. As they say in the tech industry, I saw a system ripe for disruption.
I soon realized I wasn't alone. Across the country, practitioners are delivering legal services virtually. So, while I did not come up with the concept, I embraced it.
IBJ. Do you ever meet face to face with clients? If so, where and how does that happen?
Brennan. I never hide behind the computer screen, and for clients in the same geographic region I make an effort to meet in person. Meetings happen anywhere from a client's office or home to coffee shops and restaurants. But, even for clients I meet in person, all work is done online.
At minimum, I connect with every client by phone. They need to know I'm a real attorney and I need to know they are who they say they are. I use video conferencing when the client is comfortable with it, but most people are completely comfortable working through electronic messaging after that initial conversation.
IBJ. What's your marketing strategy?
Brennan. While I do not tie my practice to a specific town, companies like Yelp and Google require an address to create a local business listing. Naturally, folks around me in Lake County see The Virtual Attorney pop up in results and reach out. I also have the typical network of clients and referral sources developed through family and friends.
I came to realize that just because my model is different does not mean my client acquisition strategy should be. I do many of the same things other attorneys do, from developing relationships with lawyers and professionals in complementary industries to speaking at conferences and writing articles. But as a virtual practitioner I also put a strong emphasis on social media and content marketing.
IBJ. You really go head to head with LegalZoom, pointing out what you do that they don't. Do clients respond to the pitch?
Brennan. Like other attorneys, I'm asked by prospective clients why they should hire a lawyer when they can use a DIY site for a fraction of the cost. I thought, why not just point out that LegalZoom doesn't hold itself out as a substitute for an attorney's advice?
I think people who are legitimately weighing the pros and cons of LegalZoom versus an actual lawyer are receptive to the idea that they're looking at two different products.
IBJ. Do you regard what you offer as limited scope representation? Is that reflected in your engagement documents?
Brennan. I do and it is. During client onboarding, I am clear about what is and isn't included in my representation. For example, when I draft a will and other estate plan documents for a client, I explain up front that I won't be present for execution and that specific steps need to be taken before those documents become legally valid. That's all included in the engagement letter, which clients are required to sign.
Additionally, I invite the client to ask questions about the scope of my representation and its limitations. It's my job to find the best solution for every client. If a client needs more than my model permits, I make sure to find someone who can deliver that.
IBJ. The avatar on your website sort of looks like you. Is that by design or coincidence?
Brennan. Pure coincidence, but thanks for pointing it out!
Find our more about theThe Virtual Attorney at www.thevirtualattorney.com