Category Archives for "Law and Technology"

COVID-19 Information

COVID-19

NOTE: This post will remain at the top of our News page indefinitely. The interactive map and chart below are continually updated. (In the chart, I have included the countries where the majority of my family, friends, and clients reside. If this information is of interest to you and I have omitted your country, please let me know and I will be happy to add it).

Like you, I am deeply concerned about the coronavirus (COVID-19) crisis, and the well-being of my family, friends, clients, and colleagues during this time. I recognize the unique challenges we are all facing, and I want you to know that I am here for you during this time. 

Almquist Law is fully operational and stands ready, willing, and able to help you as we all navigate these uncharted waters. While other law firms have faced logistical struggles adapting their practices to the challenges presented, I have fortunately not had to make any changes in order to provide services safely and securely to my clients.

The "new normal" in the way that other law firms look, operate, and deliver services has been "my normal" for many years.

I have long used cutting-edge technology to communicate with clients and to deliver services. The Internet, email, global mobile phone service, video conferencing, online invoicing and payments, "bots' with artificial intelligence, online research, automated document assembly, etc. have allowed me to streamline my practice for better service - at less cost - to my clients,  and have permitted me to enjoy my "digital nomad" lifestyle. 

Please stay safe and remember that this too shall pass.

Our Client Onboarding System

We are constantly looking for ways to be more efficient, with the goal of saving time and money for our clients. In our pursuit of that goal, we use technology to automate tasks whenever possible. One task that was ripe for automation was our client onboarding procedure.

Our system was already in place when I stumbled upon a blog post from Automio, a legal tech company with offices in New Zealand and Australia. The author does a great job of explaining the "why and how" of automated onboarding system: 

"Clients dislike meeting with lawyers. They dislike the inconvenient meeting times, the travel to and from the lawyer’s office, finding the lawyer’s office, finding a car park, finding out no one knows the law firm’s WiFi password, filling out new client forms, drinking sh*t coffee, having to explain their problem to get the lawyer up to speed … basically meetings with lawyers suck.

Yet the first meeting with a client is an important opportunity to impress the client with your wit and intellect, and to demonstrate the value you can provide and the results you can get. But is all that form filling out and getting up to speed on the client’s issue really an efficient use of your time and your client’s time? Is it adding value? The short answer is no."

So true!

The article goes on to describe a solution which is virtually identical to ours:

Step 1: Have the client answer an online interview

When a potential new client gets in touch, we provide them with the link to our onboarding page where a bot walks them through an interview and gathers information necessary to perform a conflict of interest check, open a file, prepare an Engagement and Fee Agreement, and set up access to our Client Portal.

The interview can be conducted at the client's convenience, in the comfort of his or her office or home.

Once the client has finished the interview, we are notified by email (and a transcript of the interview is sent by email to the client.

Step 2: We add the client’s answers to our practice management software
Step 3: Create terms of engagement

The client’s answers to the online interview instantly create a customized Engagement and Fee Agreement. We hold on to this draft agreement until after we've met with the client (see step 5), and then make any tweaks necessary before sending to the client for signature.

Step 4: The client schedules an online meeting

Upon receipt of the client's answers to the interview, we provide him or her with a list of available dates and times for an online video conference.

Step 5: We meet with the client online

By the time of this meet with the client we, of course, already have all their client information and the basics of the matter for which they seek representation, so we can dive straight into it without wasting any time.

Step 6: The Engagement and Fee Agreement is sent to the client

During our meeting with the client we’ll find out any additional information needed to update the Engagement and Fee Agreement. The Agreement is then sent to the client for signature using our electronic signature software.

Once the Agreement is signed, the client is given access to the Client Portal where secure communication and delivery of documents will take place. 

The client is now "onboard" and we are ready to provide whatever service(s) the client requires.

Video Conferencing

video_conference

UPDATE (September 10, 2020): In recent days, I have been going through past news articles posted here, and have been deleting or archiving those that are no longer relevant or current. 

I wrote the article below on August 2, 2018, long before our lives were upended by the COVID-19 pandemic. At that time, the norm in the legal world was to conduct meetings, conferences, court appearances, seminars, etc. physically, in person. Doing these things via video conferencing, although not unheard of, was rare. Many months later, however, as restrictions imposed by the pandemic set in, law firms made a rapid transition to meeting and providing legal services virtually. Now video-conferencing technology has become essential for law practices and is the new norm (which I believe will endure even after the pandemic has subsided).

I have always been "ahead of the curve" when it comes to incorporating technology into my practice, and I sometimes found that a degree of "technophobia" made a small number of clients a bit skeptical and resistant to abandoning the old way of doing things. For that reason, I felt it would be helpful to explain why I had embraced video conferencing technology. 

Today, the following explanation is no doubt unnecessary, as everyone - lawyers and clients - have accepted the "new norm". However, I decided to keep this article online, even if the value of most of it may only be as an "historical artifact". However, I encourage you to read the portion of the article explaining the platform that we use for video conferencing.

Why I've Embraced Video Conferencing Technology

I have long enjoyed the "digital nomad" lifestyle. 

In recent years, I have worked from hotel rooms, apartments, shared work spaces, coffee shops, and other places in Singapore, London, Hong Kong, Miami, Berlin, Saigon, Belfast, Amsterdam, Tokyo, Panama City, Paris, Buenos Aires, San Francisco, Liverpool, Guadalajara, and Vancouver - among many other places -  (as well as from my homes in Scottsdale, Arizona, and on the North Pacific coast of Costa Rica). Modern technology has allowed me to be "paperless". Work-related communications are conducted via email, telephone, or through my firm's client portal. The use of electronic signatures relieves me of reliance on postal or courier services. My mobile phone works anywhere in the world. Client files are securely kept on my client portal online (and I carry an encrypted backup on a 1 TB micro SD card the size of my little fingernail). Legal research is all done online. Invoices for legal services are sent electronically and are payments are submitted online. What once required expensive office space with support staff, a file room, library, telephone equipment closet, desktop computers and monitors, printers, photocopier, fax machine, network server, storage space for paper, printer toner, file folders, etc. now all fits in a laptop computer that is .33 inches thick and weighs only 1.7 lbs.

Years ago, before I decided to become untethered from the traditional "office" paradigm, a client would meet with me by first calling my receptionist and scheduling an appointment. Then, at a time dependent on the distance between respective offices, either I or the client would have to put aside whatever we were working on at the time, pack up all the relevant paper files needed for the meeting, and travel to the office of the other person. After checking in with a receptionist, I or the client would sit in a reception area and thumb through an old Time magazine waiting to be called for the conference. When finally invited in to the office or conference room, several minutes of "pleasantries" would be exchanged, before we would get to the real subject matter of the conference. Following the "meat" of the conference, we would pack up our files, exchange more pleasantries and say our "goodbyes", before traveling back to our respective offices to make notes of the meeting. This might take all day - or all afternoon - just to accomplish 30 minutes of actual productive meeting time. At a lawyer's rate of $400 per hour or more, a conference that should have cost only $200 may actually cost the client $1,600 or more in fees, plus travel expenses, parking charges, and so on.

Today, most of my work-related communications are conducted via email, telephone, or through my firm's client portal. However, in many cases, there are benefits to "face-to-face" conversation.

For that reason, for situations that warrant it, I encourage video conferences. A video conference facilitates a "face-to-face" conversation and all the benefits that go along with it, without the associated time, cost and expense.

What are the benefits of "face-to-face" communication? Here are six:


1. Shows body language
According to research, more than 90% of human communication consists of body language. When you see the way that the person you are talking to reacts, you are able to better understand how they are feeling. You get live feedback translated through the body language and facial expressions. You can also hear the tone of voice which makes it easier to interpret the person’s feelings, and you are able to show your own reactions and emotions.

2. Builds relationships
Another benefit of face-to-face communication is that it helps in expanding your network and enhancing future communication. It provides a "feel" of friendliness which can have the effect of boosting the success of your business and personal relationships. Email and phone conversations don't give you the same opportunity to build camaraderie.

3. Values the other person
When you make the effort to actually see the other person, and when you show them through your expressions that you are listening and that you care about what they are saying, you show that you value the other person and what they have to say. 

4. Boosts effectiveness
Efficiency is so important, especially in the business world. Imagine having to explain a whole project through an email and then spend the whole day responding to questions. A face-to-face meeting between people allows the issues to be all be addressed at once, and boosts overall creativity and energy.

5. Enhances confidentiality
Although (with limited exceptions) all communications between attorney and client are confidential and privileged, face-to-face communication eases the revelation of sensitive or delicate information to a trusted person in a private setting. 

6. Enhances trust and credibility
With face-to-face communication, you can explain clearly and answer questions with integrity. You are able to actually see how your words and actions align. This enhances credibility and helps build trust.

There are disadvantages to physical face-to-face meetings. 

As described above, the scheduling, traveling to, and participating in a physical face-to-face meeting is inefficient, time-consuming, and expensive. Also, some people find it uncomfortable or anxiety-inducing to communicate physically face-to-face.

These disadvantages can be overcome by scheduling a video conference.

The Video Conferencing Platform We Use

I've spent considerable time trying and testing various platforms, including the common ones, like Zoom, Skype, Webex, Hangouts, etc. and the lesser known 24sessions, eyeson, and others. Although, most of these can get the job done, none of them had all of the features that I needed or wanted. 

We ultimately chose our own branded platform (based on "Vectera") for the following reasons:

1. Security. It is essential that communications between lawyers and clients be confidential and secure. Our platform facilitates a secure handshake to connect all parties to the conference. All audio and video livestreams between the parties are delivered peer-to-peer by means of WebRTC. As the leading web communication technology WebRTC streams are DTLS end-to-end encrypted. No audio and video data are sent to, or stored on, the Vectera servers. (If peer-to-peer fails due to restrictive firewalls, the TURN servers kick in. The underlying streams stay end-to-end encrypted while they pass through the TURN servers to reach the final receiver). Any documents, notes, shared whiteboards, uploaded during a session can be permanently deleted at any time. Any uploaded that the parties wish to retain in the "meeting room" is stored on ISO 27001 Certified EU servers, subject to strict EU data protection regulations and 24/7 physical site surveillance.

2. "Meeting Rooms". We create a unique persistent video "room" for each of our clients, so that we and the client can keep track of all content and communication in one single place. The client is provided with a unique link to his or her virtual meeting room. All notes, documents and meeting recordings remain available in this virtual meeting room, and the client can come back to the virtual room any time to revisit the previous conversations. When we meet with the client again, we can pick up the conversation where we left off.

3. Ease of Use. The only thing a client needs to join a video conversation is a browser (and all browsers are supported). There is no need to download (or update) software packages or installers. A video meeting is started with one click from mobile, tablet or desktop. The user interface is very intuitive and easy to navigate.

Electronic Signatures

electronic_signature

An electronic signature is an “electronic sound, symbol, or process, attached to or logically associated with a contract or other record and executed or adopted by a person with the intent to sign the record.” In simpler terms, it is a signature that you can use electronically, either by inserting a preformatted signature into a document, or by using a third-party tool that allows you to sign something from your computer.

Electronic signatures are legally binding in most business and personal transactions in almost every country in the world.

There are clear advantages to electronic signatures over "pen on paper" signatures.  Even for traditional "brick and mortar" law practices, electronic signatures dramatically cut turnaround time for documents, and they eliminate the hassle of dealing with paper, printers, scanners, postal services, and couriers.

For my practice, the ability to use electronic signatures is essential. I am a "digital nomad" and when I require a signature on a document, I am just as likely to be in Costa Rica or Singapore as I am to be in Scottsdale, Arizona. I am able to get a document signed by multiple parties, each of whom might be on opposite sides of the globe, within minutes, without leaving my desk. 

We utilize the "Docsketch" electronic signature system which fully complies with:

  • The Uniform Electronic Transactions Act, also known as UETA of 1999;
  • The Electronic Signatures in Global and National Commerce Act, which is commonly known as the ESIGN Act of 2000; and 
  • The EU Electronic Identification and Authentication Services Regulation (910/2014/EC), commonly referred to as eIDAS, which took effect on July 1, 2016 and replaced both EU Directive on Electronic Signatures 1999/93/EC and other EU member state laws that were inconsistent with eIDAS.

Each of these acts reinforces the validity of electronic agreements. According to the ESIGN, for example, a contract “may not be denied legal effect, validity, or enforceability solely because an electronic signature or electronic record was used in its formation." In Arizona, as in at least 46 other states that have also adopted the UETA, electronic signatures are recognized the same way as “ink” signatures if they meet the requirements of the UETA. (*Click HERE for a boring discussion of the details of these requirements).

Docsketch allows us to not only collect digital signatures but also to authenticate each signature, including recording the time and date when the electronic signature is provided, recording the IP address of the signatory, and recording the email address utilized by the signatory to provide the digital signature. These precautions ensure the signature can be defended against any challenge of authenticity.

If and when you receive a document to be signed, you will be guided through the simple steps required.

Under the UETA, an “electronic signature” must consist of “an electronic sound, symbol or process … executed or adopted by an individual with the intent to sign the record.” Simply using email to communicate and transmit documents does not trigger the UETA. The UETA does not supplant common law principles of contract formation. The circumstances surrounding the electronic signature must show that it was adopted with an intent to do a legally significant act. The UETA still retains the logical common law rule that a signature is only valid if the signer intends to sign something.

Also, the electronic signature must be “linked to, or connected with, the electronic record being signed.” (UETA § 2, official cmt. 7). The official comments to the UETA illustrate the concepts in play. “In the paper world, it is assumed that the symbol adopted by a party is attached to or located somewhere in the same paper that is intended to be authenticated, e.g., . . . the classic signature at the end of a long contract.” UETA § 2, official cmt. 7. In the digital world, such “tangible manifestations do not exist.” Id. Thus, the record or documents attached to an email need to be logically associated with an electronic signature to evidence a similar level of connection.

Finally, the UETA applies only when the parties to a transaction have agreed to conduct it by electronic means. A.R.S. § 44-7005(B). Parties, however, do not have to expressly agree for an electronic signature to be effective. The UETA allows consent to be implied by the actions of the parties in transacting electronically. Whether the parties impliedly agree to conduct a transaction by electronic means will be determined from the context and surrounding circumstances of the transaction, including the parties’ conduct. Therefore, where parties have been negotiating a contract only through email correspondence or have agreed to all of the terms over email, the courts will more likely find the parties have impliedly agreed to transact under the UETA.