In the US, where the legal job market for graduates (and their debts on graduation) is more dire than here, law students who can’t secure a graduate position are often encouraged to hang out a virtual shingle straight out of law school. While it’s not a possibility for Victorian graduates who must be supervised for two years even after admission, it presents a great example of how technology can stop new-lawyers from being shut out of the profession by the economic headwinds buffeting big law.
For lots of Australians, virtual law isn’t necessarily career-making, but it is certainly career improving. Virtual lawyers from Melbourne combine their practices with parenting obligations, significant volunteering and leadership commitments in their local communities, other professional or academic commitments, and international travel. They can do this because cloud storage of documents, video conferencing, efax, email and smartphones have freed lawyers everywhere from the rigid work practices of years gone by, letting them communicate with clients from wherever, whenever. It is a world away from needing to be seen at a desk 9 to 5, five days a week.
However, technology is doing so much more. We were inspired recently to hear the story of Carol Taylor of Taylor Law & Conveyancing who simply wouldn’t be practising but for advances in legal technology.
In 2001, Carol was a newlywed with a busy legal practice hoping to start a family. But in July 2001, as she was travelling home from the Blue Mountains after a weekend away with her husband, her car hit black ice and rolled. She was placed on life support and when she woke was paralysed from the neck down. She spent the next year in hospital undergoing physio and occupational therapy. After many months, she recovered some movement in her arms, but her hands and fingers are still paralysed.
But this hasn’t stopped Carol leading a full life, including a return to legal practice. Carol said that once her young son started school she was keen to regain the professional identity she felt she lost after her accident. She briefly considered the idea of looking for part time work at a law firm but imagined her desire for flexibility coupled with her disability would make it all too hard.
So she re-established her own practice, now called Taylor Law & Conveyancing. Carol’s wheelchair has become her mobile office. She works from her home office, which she calls ‘the shed’, from her home on acreage in the Gold Coast hinterland, assisted by her husband Rob and law clerk Sascha.
An iPad is permanently attached to her wheelchair so Carol can operate it with her knuckle. The iPad is great for FaceTime with clients, while Carol’s husband also modified a cordless phone so she can operate it hands-free from her wheelchair.
Like many virtual lawyers, Carol also uses a virtual receptionist service and an ‘e-fax’ service. She would prefer to have kept using her Mac but, like many before her, reluctantly moved to PC because LEAP Cloud doesn’t work on the former.
Carol makes the most of social media to market her practice. Word of mouth is her main source of work. However, this extends to online word of mouth, particularly through her local community’s Facebook page and the stellar reviews she receives on Google and her firm’s own Facebook page.
But the real gamechanger has been dictation software. Carol uses Dragon NaturallySpeaking Premium and a bluetooth headset. It took some getting used to, but it now generally understands what she says the first time. She uses the standard software, not the legal version, as she thinks all lawyers should strive to avoid Latin in their client correspondence anyway. We agree! She says she really appreciates the quality of the Dragon software when she attempts to dictate to Siri on her iPad instead.
The challenges are plenty. The biggest tech problem she is currently facing is sourcing a now-discontinued Logitech trackball, as she isn’t able to use a mouse or a trackpad. Other issues she has overcome through perseverance or a little ‘MacGyvering’ by Rob - not only did he modify the cordless phone but using Blu-tack and a rubber secretarial thimble, he also made Carol a splint that lets her type by tapping.
Whatever life throws at them, Carol and Rob get through it and Taylor Law & Conveyancing is moving from strength to strength, having just celebrated its first birthday.
Such is the power of her determination and imagination. The legal tech which lets Carol practise law isn’t glamorous, but it’s changed her life.
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