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While some lawyers may fear the impact the World Wide Web has on the practice of law, others see the Internet as a way to make the delivery of legal services more efficient, convenient and accessible for people everywhere. The Internet and e-mail can also serve to make a large national firm with many offices operate as one office, while those technologies can level the playing field for small firms and sole practitioners. And the Web can make operating an international law business as easy as setting up shop in a small town. “The legal industry offers a classic Internet opportunity — fragmented suppliers, fragmented customers, information-intensive services, and dissatisfaction with the status quo among lawyers, clients and those who would be clients,” said Boston lawyer Kenneth L. Carson, vice president of legal products for www.mycounsel.com. At a Boston Bar Association education program earlier this month, Carson and several other attorneys discussed the role of the information revolution on the legal profession, as Internet technology becomes an integral part of all business practices. A NEWCOMER Carson likened the law firm system to an ecosystem that’s been stable for about 100 years, but a new species, namely technology, is evolving to disrupt that system. “Internet companies focusing on the marketplace for legal services will inevitably disrupt the existing ecosystem,” Carson said. “These sites range from ones that focus on serving lawyers to sites where lawyers bid against each other, to sites that focus entirely on clients.” An American Bar Association white paper cites more than 120 Web sites involved in the delivery of legal services to consumers and small businesses, everything from drunkdrivingdefense.com to whistleblowers.com, he said. On an international level, lawyers should look at the Internet as “traveling to another country,” said Jeffrey M. Aresty, an international law practitioner in Boston. Many lawyers are leaving large firms and setting up their own small business when they realize they can practice international and other areas of law in cyberspace, he said. Sole and small-firm practitioners can deliver legal services if they begin to think about the Internet as a different communication model from phones and faxes, he said. For the first time, the legal profession is facing a marketplace in which clients will determine what services they want to purchase because of all the free legal information that’s available on the Web, according to Aresty. Access to the Internet and e-mail has enabled large firms that have offices all over the country to conduct business seemingly from one office, said Gordon P. Katz, a partner at the Boston firm of Holland & Knight. “There are people (in other offices) you may never see, but you can communicate with them,” Katz said. E-mail in particular helps Holland & Knight’s 1,000-lawyer operation keep track of what others are working on and to keep those with similar legal interests in the same loop, he said. The firm has 65 to 70 practice groups, all of whom can keep abreast of what is happening within each group via e-mail, said Katz, who said he receives 20 to 30 internal e-mails a day. Newsletters are also distributed by e-mail to clients and prospective clients as a marketing tool, he said. With such a large firm, the possibility of having conflicts with prospective clients is not uncommon, he said. The firm is able to alert its lawyers to whether someone they are representing had an opposing party who was represented by a different attorney in the firm. “We need to know whether we can take on a client,” Katz said. Holland & Knight also uses an Intranet system which allows staff to have access to administrative information such as reimbursement forms and which clients have paid their bills, he said. THE USER-FRIENDLY INTERNET From Carson’s perspective, the Internet allows people anywhere at any time to get access to consumer-friendly legal information and services. “Until now, the process of finding basic, accurate information about the law and about lawyers has been inefficient, outdated and intimidating,” he said. “The lack of accessible and convenient resources is a leading reason that many American families go without the legal information and assistance they need.” One area of legal service that may be on the increase is an “Internet mediated consultation with an attorney, with quick turnaround, and not for too much money, paid for online by credit card,” Carson said. “If these new online legal ventures can create efficient delivery mechanisms and consumer-friendly interfaces, there is an expanding role for lawyers in peoples’ lives, instead of a shrinking one,” he said. “The work will be different — clients will have to read up on a legal issue before they e-mail their attorney — they will want things done in Internet time and they won’t be coming in for an office visit.”

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