Technology has become more integral to our lives. We do our shopping and banking online and have apps that help us manage aspects of our lives such as our health, and careers. Legal counsel is among one of the aspects of our lives that has migrated to the web. Virtual lawyering is a model of legal practice that uses web-based tools to interact with clients. Virtual lawyering has numerous benefits for both the lawyer and the client. Julie C.Hancock speaks about founding a virtual immigration law firm that provides expert legal and business advice on copyright, trademark, employment and artist-based visas. Hancock is the Managing Immigration Attorney and Artist Advocate for the firm. . She received her J.D at the Barry University Dwayne O. Andreas School of Law. Hancock has over 20 years of legal, compliance, managerial, project and client relationship experience. Through her work, Hancock is redefining how legal practices operate and the services they offer.
Julie Hancock: I started my own virtual practice in April 2018. Several factors drove the decision to create a virtual practice. I am the kind of person who finds it hard to stay in one place for a long time. I need the adventure of travel and moving around. When I worked as In-House Counsel with Transamerica Life Insurance, many people worked remotely. Every person I interacted with on a day-to-day basis critical to my tasks operated out of a different city/office location than I did. This never made sense to me as far as why I had to be restrained to my office. So many other aspects of the business world are becoming “virtual” and separated from the physical office space, so why not law?
Technology has made critical advances where it is no longer necessary to have meetings in person in the sense of a traditional office. It’s easy, and more convenient, to do meetings via video calls from the comfort of wherever I am, and more importantly, wherever my clients are. This set-up allows me to be more flexible in how I offer services to my clients, and allows me the freedom to work and travel, because I can help my clients from anywhere. There has been movement, particularly in Washington State where I hold my bar license, to encourage virtual practice by lawyers because it expands the availability of lawyers to more rural areas where people may have to otherwise travel hours to a bigger city to meet with an attorney specific to their legal issue.
JH: My firm offers legal services dedicated to creators, innovators and entrepreneurs. The majority of my practice handles U.S. visas for artists, musicians, the movie and television industry, cultural events, and businesses who hire foreign employers with certain skill sets. I also do some copyright and trademark work. For those in Washington State, I offer general counsel subscription service, where smaller businesses can have me on call for a given number of hours in a month to provide legal services— risk assessments, legal research, contract revisions/review, anything that comes up in the day to day business life. The purpose of this is to give smaller businesses an affordable way to have counsel they can build a relationship with, to get to know their business, and not have to spend resources on a full time lawyer in-house or pay hourly rates upwards of $500 to hire outside counsel. This general counsel subscription can work well for musicians or other artists, who are their brand and still require the same types of business services as any other small business. We really focus on artists of all kinds and smaller businesses who need other options that will work for them.
JH: The number one benefit is convenience. We all lead busy lives these days. No one loves to have to take time off work to go to any appointment during the work day. The virtual law firm model allows flexible scheduling for consultations. For example, telephone or video chat can be done from a client’s desk during their lunch break. We offer weekend and evening hours as well. I don’t have to travel into an office and neither do my clients, so it is that much easier to accommodate appointments outside 9-5 operating hours.
Other benefits include lower overhead to operate the firm so cost-savings can be passed on to the clients in terms of legal fees, greater access to lawyers in communities where maybe there is one general practitioner, or no lawyer who practices that area of law. As one example, in Green Bay, where I grew up, my brother needed an attorney to help him with a specific matter.e had to find someone in Milwaukee which is 2 hours away, because Green Bay is limited in the types of lawyers practicing there. It is difficult to find business immigration lawyers in Green Bay. Businesses go to Minneapolis or Milwaukee to get that need met. Green Bay isn’t even a “rural” community. It’s a city. Enter the virtual firm. I can work with clients worldwide from wherever we are, and clients do not have to travel or pay for the attorney to travel, which saves precious time and money for that business.
JH: No one likes a surprise legal bill, especially when quoted a flat fee, then down the road a bill arrives charging for administrative costs or emails and phone calls. The all-inclusive legal fee is one flat fee that is the full legal fees for the cost of work the attorney will do - which includes as many emails and phone calls to your lawyer, as much advice as is needed, printing, postage, and any other thing that might be billed hourly by a traditional lawyer. The goal is transparency. You will get one flat fee for the specific service and that’s it, unless you change the scope of the work significantly from the original, or you open a different matter.
JH: It is definitely a certain comfort level a client needs to have— in their own ability to use the technology, or being comfortable communicating over the telephone, video chat and email, rather than in person. One critical aspect is using a secure client portal setup for transferring documents and communicating. I also use a VPN everywhere I travel to ensure my communications are secure on unsecured networks. There are a lot of considerations to take in to ensure the security of client information but there are enough tools out there that do these things now. It's a matter of vetting and finding the right ones.
JH: In 2017, when Donald Trump took office and signed an executive order banning those from certain countries from entering the USA, chaos erupted. Procedures were not put in place to ensure U.S. Citizens and Legal Permanent Residents, or those otherwise here legally, could return to the U.S. Lawyers across the world banded together to help those stranded in foreign countries who were being denied boarding to come home to their jobs or their families, or detained for long periods of time without the ability to speak to a lawyer. U.S. Citizens were being detained in immigration custody as well. People’s rights were being trampled. For about 3 weeks straight, I worked in the background managing non-stop requests for attorneys and making sure those people were being connected with the legal help they needed. Many people were worried when they landed in the U.S. they would be detained. It was a mess. I had no experience with immigration law at that point but definitely got a crash course. At that point, I left it to the more experienced immigration attorneys to do the work on the ground but did absolutely everything I could to make sure people in need were connected with the lawyers who wanted to help.
JH: My office in Los Angeles was closing, so I lost my job. I decided to travel and figure out what to do next. I knew I wanted to be my own boss but needed to find my footing on the direction of a law practice. Dingle is this small, traditional Irish town that seems to be at the end of the world. It’s filled with artists of all types - musicians, writers, artists, and photographers - you name it. Speaking with locals is how immigration law became a direction. People were describing how hard it had become to get a visa to travel to the U.S. to perform and there was a need for U.S. lawyers who could help.
My website was designed by a local Dingle design firm. Between working with them, and talking to the locals during my time there, the practice direction took shape It was incredibly interesting to me how my professional goals from childhood organically came full circle. I wanted to work in the entertainment business my whole life, to help artists, and it naturally ended up where the areas of law I wanted to do (immigration, copyright, general legal services like contracts) all fell under “needs of artists.” Immigration for creators became the main focus of my practice.
JH: Our firm strives to be transparent, convenient, accessible, innovative, and operate with the utmost integrity. You will know what is going on with your case always. And you will always have easy access to us to answer your questions. We have an online scheduling link on the website that allows current clients the ability to schedule a call with their attorney whenever they need to with a couple clicks. We can work with you from anywhere in the world you are. We will try to find solutions to your legal issues. We are not your traditional law firm. We are professional, experienced and have the legal expertise to service clients with the belief that life is too short to put on a suit every day and sit in the same office. And we are helping the environment by being paperless!
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