The Nontraditional Law Practice

A nontraditional law practice can be anything a lawyer wants it to be:

  • Hybrid or alternative fee arrangements;
  • Unbundling;
  • Virtual law practice;
  • Home-based practice;
  • All the above; or
  • Something else entirely

Hybrid or Alternative Fee Agreements (AFAs)

As more clients push back against the hourly rate model, lawyers are looking for unconventional ways to price legal services.  One of the most popular?  The hybrid or alternative fee agreement (AFA).

Before you enthusiastically embrace this option, read this post and make sure your AFA satisfies the 5 “C’s” test:

  • Clarity
  • Completeness
  • Compliant
  • Common sense
  • Can’t be excessive

Hybrid or alternative fee agreements are often combined with other elements of a nontraditional practice.  Used correctly, they can be a huge asset.

Unbundling: Have it Your Way

With unbundling, clients pick and choose discrete services from a menu of available choices:

Providing limited legal services is not a new concept. Transactional lawyers have long served in the role of document reviewer or preparer. So how is unbundling different? It takes the idea one step further by employing a team approach in which the lawyer and client decide who will do what based on the legal services required by the client’s case. The client takes a much more active role in the matter and often assumes responsibility for pro se court filings and appearances.

Keep in mind that unbundling has its risks: Unbundling in the 21st Century: How to Reduce Malpractice Exposure While Meeting Client Needs and its ethical limitations.  See Unbundling Legal Services: Limiting the Scope of Representation and The Ethics of Unbundling:  How to Avoid the Land Mines of “Discrete Task Representation.”

Virtual Law Practice or Home Practice?

A virtual law practice or virtual law office (VLO) is a term of art referring to online delivery of legal services through a secure client portal.  If you are interested in creating a VLO, Stephanie Kimbro’s book Virtual Law Practice: How to Deliver Legal Services Online is a must.  [Available on the ABA Web store here. If you are not an ABA member, save money at checkout by using the Professional Liability Fund’s (PLF’s) discount code OSBPLF.]  Also see this post about click wrap or click through fee agreements.

VLOs aside, most lawyers who express an interest in practicing virtually mean they want to work from home – due to economic necessity, personal choice, or both.  In next week’s post, I’ll discuss the nine steps to establishing a successful home-based practice.

[All Rights Reserved 2014 Beverly Michaelis]


Are Click-Through Fee Agreements Ethical?

If you are working to establish a paperless or virtual practice, you may have struggled with the issue of how to transform your paper-based fee agreements.  Oregon Rule of Professional Conduct 1.5(c) provides, in part:

A lawyer shall not enter into an arrangement for, charge or collect:

* * * (3) a fee denominated as “earned on receipt,” “non-refundable” or in similar terms unless it is pursuant to a written agreement signed by the client …   OSB Formal Opinion 2005-151 [Revised 2011].

There is no doubt that a printed fee agreement signed by the client fits the definition of a “written agreement signed by the client.”  But what if you and the client arrange to sign the fee agreement electronically using DocuSign or a similar service?  Or perhaps you’ve set up a virtual law practice and intend to use clickwrap or click-through fee agreements.  Is a click-through fee agreement a “written agreement signed by the client?”

To answer this question, take a look at Rule 1.0(q) of the Oregon Rules of Professional Conduct (RPCs):

(q) “Writing” or “written” denotes a tangible or electronic record of a communication or representation, including handwriting, typewriting, printing, photostatting, photography, audio or videorecording and e-mail. A “signed” writing includes an electronic sound, symbol or process attached to or logically associated with a writing and executed or adopted by a person with the intent to sign the writing.

The rule tells us that:

  • Written fee agreements can be tangible (paper) or electronic
  • Signatures include a “process attached to or logically associated with a writing and … adopted by a person with the intent to sign the writing.”

Therefore, a clickwrap or click-through fee agreement is “a written agreement signed by the client” provided the click-through process is adopted by client with the intent to sign the fee agreement.  To ensure that your clickwrap or click-through fee agreements are ethically compliant, incorporate a step requiring the client to agree or consent to the click-through process.  I also suggest you discuss the click-through process with your client over the phone if possible – give them a heads-up so they know what to expect.  More importantly, make sure they understand they that the click-through agreement is a legally binding contract with the same enforceability of a printed fee agreement signed in ink.

Copyright 2013 Beverly Michaelis

It’s Here! How to Deliver Legal Services Online

Earlier this week, I shared a post about Virtual Practice in Oregon.  Turns out I have good timing!  Stephanie Kimbro’s book, Virtual Law Practice: How to Deliver Legal Services Online is now available in the ABA Bookstore.  (Product Code 5110707.)

Stephanie is a pioneer and recognized expert in virtual practice.  Her book is an excellent value at $79.95, but there are two ways to get all of Stephanie’s great advice and save money.  If you are a  Law Practice Management Section member, you can shave off $32 and get Stephanie’s book for $47.95.  Non-ABA members can save money by ordering through the Professional Liability Fund.  From the PLF home page, select ABA Products.

I’m excited to share this resource with you.  Visit the product page to read an excerpt or view the Table of Contents.