Pilot project tests virtual meeting platform

A virtual practice is an appealing alternative for lawyers that appeals to clients, too, argues Tara Vasdani

Tara Vasdani

In today’s legal landscape, clients are demanding the best advice possible at a reasonable cost. The digital age has not only allowed us to access information at our fingertips, but provided us with communication tools that our clients employ and expect their lawyers to begin to implement, to remain efficient.

Although an obvious shift from in-person meetings to email communication is evident across the board, in the legal industry, face-to-face meetings for client identification and verification purposes continue to be a hurdle for law firms attempting to move toward a wholly digital operation.

Creating a virtual meeting platform that lawyers can use to “meet” with their clients and permitting them to execute legal documents, including wills, online, has the potential to dramatically improve the public’s access to legal services. It also has the potential to revolutionize the practice of law as it removes geographic barriers for lawyers, who can now more easily act for clients across a province.

Recently, I had the opportunity to observe a pilot project created by Jay Krushell, a partner at Witten LLP in Edmonton called “The TreeFort.” The TreeFort ultimately aims to mend the client identification and client verification hurdles by allowing lawyers, governments, businesses, and members of the public to interact in a secure online meeting space and connect virtually. The platform’s features include:

  1. Identity verification using SecureKey Technologies’ Verified.Me ID platform, which was launched in May and is now used by the Canadian Revenue Agency; and,
  2. Document execution and certification using the Notarius Consigno Cloud electronic signature platform.

In October 2019, an agreement with the Law Society of Alberta (LSA) was finalized between Krushell and the LSA, to allow the Law Society to participate in the launch of the product.

“The Law Society of Alberta wants to allow for innovation, creativity and modernization in legal service delivery,” says Elizabeth J. Osler, Chief Executive Officer & Executive Director of the Law Society of Alberta. “We want to enable the development of innovative legal service delivery models that are regulated in the public interest because our goal is to help the legal profession meet the unmet legal needs of Albertans.”

To date, qualitative and quantitative information on the performance of the platform and its incorporated technologies has been collected. Once concluded, a final report containing the information collected, several white papers and recommendations for changes to the Rules of the Law Society of Alberta to allow for virtual meetings between lawyers and clients, and recommendations to the Innovating Regulation Task Force of the Law Society of Alberta will be submitted to the LSA. The report will also include recommendations for changes to statutes and regulations in the Province of Alberta, and other provinces in Canada.

According to Krushell, this is likely the first initiative of its kind in Canada. Lawyers and law firms have the tools today to streamline face-to-face meetings, and tools like The Treefort minimize the time and effort that law firms and their partners need to spend communicating, and traveling.

“Using technology to allow lawyers to meet with their clients and sign documents, including affidavits, guarantees and wills remotely is revolutionary but necessary in this digital age. Innovation in the legal profession is slow and difficult and pilot projects like this one are a practical and safe way to introduce new technologies into the profession,” says Krushell.

Lawyers and law firms are already leveraging new age technology. According to Forbes, law firms need to leave the past behind and further adapt to the digital age. The introduction of new legal service providers, increased outsourcing, excessive billing rates, and other changes in the field have created new challenges for law firms. Digital business models, as well as marketing technologies and data analytics, have thereby created new incentives for firms to change their ways — or risk being left behind.

I left a traditional law firm this year and launched Remote Law Canada as a semi-virtual law firm, meaning my staff and law clerks work from wherever they please and remain connected through cloud computing. This model appeals to clients, who end up saving significantly on legal fees for simple automation of tasks and high-use electronic document generation, signing, and simple communication.

In addition to providing lawyers, clerks and other staff with more control over their schedules, law firms that forgo the high overhead associated with renting office space can pass along those savings to clients, which is a strong selling point for potential clients. Moreover, I have offices available to me across the city and province for those sometimes-necessary in-person meetings, creating flexibility benefits for my clients.

To date, the one hurdle facing “digital” lawyers was meeting with clients, as no one had yet created a technology that was a substitute for face-to-face interaction — until now.

Looking at the day-to-day operations of a virtual law firm that works in the cloud compared to those of a traditional firm, it’s no wonder that a virtual practice is an appealing alternative. The benefits are reduced overhead costs allowing for more flexible fee structures; work-life balance and access to a wider client pool for lawyers; better client service through the use of electronic communication, which allows for timelier responses; increased collaboration through the cloud; the ability to track tasks and deadlines using a single software; better technology allowing for more agility; and a resulting healthy profit margin. 

Like many legal tech initiatives, this one is both constructive and avant-garde, and a glimpse of what’s to come.

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