Donna Seyle* reports on her impressions of the LawZam video service…

My son and his girlfriend live in San Francisco, both 4th year architecture students. She was born and raised in Bangkok, and came here for her education. We all love her to death, and were terrified that their relationship might fall apart when she decided to spend three months at home in Bangkok with her family. The good news: she’s back and all is well. How did they do it? Two hours everyday on Skype.

If videoconferencing can keep a fledgling 9-month-old romance alive through a 3-month separation, do you think it can effectively enable a lawyer and potential client to determine if they want to pursue an attorney/client relationship? My guess is yes, absolutely.

Amidst the burst of new legal start-ups offering services ranging from practice management to marketing functions, LawZam.com emerges, increasing the value for both lawyers and clients when engaging via legal networking services by adding an important communication component: the ability to see the person you’re connecting with.

LawZam works much like other legal networking sites such as RocketLawyer.com or LawPivot.com. Lawyers sign on to join their network of available sources, and clients contact the site to ask a question or request services. The site then searches through their lawyer network to connect the client with a choice of lawyers who have the ability to respond to their needs. (Clients also have the option to search through the lawyer database for lawyers in their jurisdiction, area of law or name.) However, rather than facilitating a written question and answer format or telephone contact, LawZam offers a secure live video chat service in which to interact.

Much has been, and is being, written about the ethics and effectiveness of virtual legal services, including those that facilitate communication between attorney and potential client. Certainly emerging practices must come under scrutiny to test their viability in a new legal marketplace. The most common criticism of these services concerns the nature of virtual communication and its suitability to the legal process and development of the attorney/client relationship.

Nonetheless, the legal services industry is bringing to the table a dizzying array of legal service and networking choices. While not all start-ups will survive, those with a clear vision of how their service fits into the patterns of society’s current lifestyle will succeed in building the framework of an industry that is moving forward at warp speed.

By adding videoconferencing capability to a legal network platform, LawZam addresses a significant virtual communication issue and provides a way to ameliorate some of the validity to that objection. It does so by assessing and responding to a cultural milieu where communication by device is almost the norm. In a smartphone world, society functions and business is transacted via email, text messaging, voicemail, you name it. Documents are delivered via secured client portal services, and reviewed in deal rooms that provide real time collaboration functions. LawZam has raised the bar for legal networking sites by bridging the gap between traditional law practice face-to-face interaction and the communication norms of lifestyles based on technology.

Susan Cartier Liebel, the founder of Solo Practice University, is quoted as saying “Law practices will be more and more totally in the cloud in the future, not bound by brick and mortar facilities, at least not for many practice areas. Even doctors are doing ‘health calls’ via Skype now. Clients expect efficiency from their lawyers, which translates into both time and dollar savings to the client and that’s what lawyers must provide if they are to remain competitive.”

Those who do not acknowledge this reality will fall to the wayside as legal start-ups like LawZam steamroll their way across vast deserts of law firms still advertising in the yellow pages. We live in a computerized world that includes lawyers and their potential clients. Our culture is busy integrating the communication options offered by technology into their lifestyles. Conducting business online is a huge component of that integration. With the rise of sites like LawZam, handling legal matters online are becoming a societal standard, and a client expectation.

* Donna Seyle runs Law Practice Strategy, a US consultancy providing practice management and technology strategies for law firms http://lawpracticestrategy.com